Don't Let Blowout Fool You: Rattlers Still Rolling Towards ArenaBowl
Chicken Little, the sky is falling! The Arizona Rattlers were beaten and beaten soundly by the San Jose SaberCats on Saturday night, getting beaten 72-42. It was the worst game of the season by far for Arizona, and many figured that this was an indication that this team is beatable. For the other 13 teams in the league though, I've got some bad news for you: This is still the Rattlers' ArenaBowl to lose.
A few months ago, my co-host Tim Capper and I had Richard Obert of the Arizona Republic on to our podcast, AFL Tonight to discuss some Rattlers football. He stated that this was perhaps the best team that Arizona had ever fielded. At the time, I considered him crazy, and I still believe that the Rattlers of the late-90s and early-2000s would smoke this version of the team. However, as Arizona goes into its bye week off of its biggest embarrassment of the year, the argument could be made that this is the most dominating team in the history of the AFL.
The names speak for themselves. We all know Nick Davila is going to throw for around 5,000 yards and 110 touchdowns this season, and we know that his receivers, Rod Windsor, Kerry Reed, Jared Perry, Trandon Harvey, Maurice Purify and Tysson Poots might make up the best crop of receivers that this league has ever seen. We know that Odie Armstrong is a monster and will rush for rush around 25 TDs, and we know that this defense is simply full of ball hawks.
However, the team statistics are the ones that I'd like to focus in on at the moment. Arizona ranks second in the league in scoring at 65.3 points per game, just a shade behind the Spokane Shock for the best in league history. Though Spokane might end up bettering them, the Rattlers are going to end up breaking the all-time record for the most points in a single season in AFL history, a record set by last year's Philadelphia Soul and the 2011 Jacksonville Sharks. It only takes 245 points, or an average of 61.3 points per game over the course of the last four games of the season to break that mark, and it takes 260 points, or 65.0 points per game in the last four games to break the all-time record for average points per game scored in a season, a record currently held by the 2010 Milwaukee Iron at 65.2 points per game.
This Spokane team might have an offense that scores more points, but it also has a defense that at times has been a sieve. Sure, the Shock force a ton of turnovers, but Arizona's 42 forced turnovers far exceeds Spokane's 37. Last year, the Soul, who were considered an unbeatable team, forced 64 turnovers, by far a league record. However, they turned the ball over 41 times. This Arizona club is on a pace to turn the ball over just 18 times. The Rattlers are on a pace to be +36 in turnover margin, and that would easily be a league record.
Perhaps the most glaring stat about the Arizona defense though, is its pass defense efficiency. This is a telling stat for sure, as it not only measures the interceptions your defense is getting, but it takes into consideration the completion percentage, the touchdowns, and the average yards per pass allowed. Last season, Philly and Arizona led the league with opposing quarterback ratings of 94.8 and 96.2. Both numbers were considered astronomical. This year, the Rattlers have an 89.7 pass defense efficiency rating.
Back on the other side of the ball, we all know that third and fourth down conversions are what keeps scoring drives alive. Last year's Chicago Rush converted 55.8 percent of their third downs. No team converted more than 56 percent of their combined third and fourth downs. Arizona this season is converting on 62.0 percent of its third downs and 59.8 percent of its third and fourth down combined. Only eight drives have ended on downs this year, and the team has only attempted 16 fourth downs. Last year's Rattlers led the league in that category with just 11 drives that ended on fourth down, and the team only attempted 24 fourth downs for the whole season.
Just for good measure, the Rattlers also rank first in opposing fourth down percentage, holding teams to just 25.5 percent. Opponents are facing a whopping 3.36 fourth downs per game against the Arizona defense and are averaging less than one conversion a game. Last year's leader in fourth downs forced? None other than these Rattlers at 2.83 fourth downs per game. To force over a half a fourth down per game more than last year's outrageous number is unfathomable, and the fact that the club is stopping nearly 10% more fourth downs this year than last year's league leaders, the Pittsburgh Power is even more impressive.
Just for good measure… Garrett Lindholm leads the league in PAT percentage (.937) and in total touchbacks as well with 39.
Simply put, there isn't a team out there that is going to compete with all of this. The Rattlers are the cream of the crop in the AFL this year, and the efficiency numbers that they are putting up suggest just that. Though anything can happen on any given day, just as we saw when Arizona was beaten by San Jose last week, it really isn't likely to happen again. Outscoring your opponents by 18.1 points per game after getting beaten by 30 points last week is no joke.
These Rattlers are more than for real. They're the best in the league, and they might proportionately be the best that we've ever seen.