No Sykes doesn't mean no problems for San Jose offensive line
STOCKTON -- You're going to be hard-pressed to find anything the San Jose SaberCats didn't do well this year. They had what amounted to be the best statistical defense in the free substitution era of the AFL, and their offense featured the second-team All-Arena quarterback and the wide receiver of the year.
However, if there is one bugaboo which San Jose must get around to beat the Jacksonville Sharks on Saturday in ArenaBowl XXVIII, it would be figure out how to get the big uglies who are trying to pound Erik Meyer into the ground off of his back.
The SaberCats have allowed three sacks in two games thus far in the postseason, which is right in line with the 1.72 sacks per game they allowed in their historical regular season.
Now, don't get us wrong; there's nothing "bad" about what San Jose's offensive line has done, and it isn't a mistake that Rich Ranglin is still highly regarded as one of the best linemen this league has.
There's a chink in the armor though, knowing that the combination of Cornelius Dixon, Jeff Maddux and Colin Madison hasn't done the job at the other offensive line spots in these playoffs alongside Ranglin. And as history will tell you from these last two weeks, when you open the door just a crack for the Sharks, they're likely to just barge right through.
Of course, the task for the Sharks' defensive line is going to be made a lot more difficult without Joe Sykes, who broke his leg two weeks ago versus Orlando, ending his season. You can't replace the AFL's version of J.J. Watt with any one man, but to the credit of the others along the Jacksonville defensive line, three sacks in two games against two of the best offensive lines in the league is no small feat.
Dan Raudabaugh, who has two first-team All-Arena offensive linemen protecting him, including the offensive lineman of the year in Shannon Breen, was unofficially knocked down nine times in the American Conference Championship Game. That's a month's worth of knockdowns for Raudabaugh in general.
Theoretically, this is a defensive line which should be a lot better than it showed this year. Richard Berry and Jerry Turner are both vets capable of causing all sorts of havoc, while Jason Holman is your prototypical throwback lineman who can and will go both ways, manning both the center and nose tackle spots.
It's not all about sacking Meyer either. Part of what makes San Jose's offensive line look better is the fact that Meyer can run for his life, and he is every bit effective as a quarterback on the move as he is standing in the pocket. He got himself out of a lot of trouble against the aggressive Arizona front four last week and made just enough plays to win the game.
Against the Sharks though, the story might be different. Jacksonville's defensive backs have played an incredibly physical brand of football over the course of the last two weeks, and that's going to certainly throw off the timing between Meyer and his vets. If you parlay pressure on the quarterback with timing which even just slightly off, men like Greg Reid, LaRoche Jackson, Alvin Ray Jackson, Terrance Smith and the newly activated Micheaux Robinson can and will make San Jose pay.
It might not be the end all, be all of this game, but if this one comes down to one really good pass rush against one sometimes-suspect offensive line, know that this is the one facet of the game where the Sharks might truly have an advantage in ArenaBowl XXVIII.