Predators send message that defense is for real in historic romp of Storm
TAMPA -- Rob Keefe pumped his fist in the air, and his defense went running off the field after its first stop of the Tampa Bay Storm offense. Keefe knew heading into the 2016 season that the Orlando Predators had a defense capable of being one of the best in the AFL. Now, he's proven it.
Sure, there will be tougher competition this year for the Preds, but their defense was all over the field on this night and showed why they're going to be amongst the favorites to win the ArenaBowl this season.
The fact that the Predators whooped up on the Storm for the fourth straight time in the War on I-4 by a 76-25 count was almost a footnote for the evening. What clearly stood out was the dominance of a defense which has the swagger of its head coach.
And for good reason.
One only has to look at the All-Arena teams over the course of the last few seasons to realize just how dominant this defense has been. Orlando's starting defense tonight featured Mike Lewis, Terrance Taylor, Darryl Cato-Bishop, Monte Lewis, Terence Moore, Kent Richardson, Varmah Sonie and Paul Stephens. Here's a list of the All-Arena teams these guys have made.
Mike Lewis (4) - 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014
Willie McGinnis (2) - 2014, 2015
Terence Moore (1) - 2015
Kent Richardson (1) - 2012
Varmah Sonie (1) - 2014
And that doesn't include the fact that Stephens should've been All-Arena in 2013 when he had 12 picks for the Shock in 2013, or the fact that Taylor should've been All-Arena in 2013 for the Shock when he had seven sacks and seven forced fumbles.
Sure, there's a long way to go for this defense to go down in the annals of league history, but there aren't many teams who have had seven All-Arena caliber players (and a rookie!) on their roster at the same time.
The Preds finished their first game of the season with stops on seven drives (not including the stop at the end of the first half). Five of those drives ended in turnovers, and three of those turnovers came on the opening plays of drives. In fact, Orlando's defense scored on consecutive plays to start the second half to take a 34-13 game and turn it into a tremendous romp, one which ended as the biggest defeat in Storm history.
The defensive line for Orlando flexed its collective muscle on the second Tampa Bay drive of the game, stuffing Undra Hendrix on a run for a three-yard loss on a 2nd and goal situation from the 1-yard line. That ultimately caused the first of the stops on the evening and was the official start of the disaster for the Storm offense. From there, the line got home all night long. Though the Predators only came up with a total of one sack, pressure on Adam Kennedy and then Jonathan Bane proved to be the reason for all of the turnovers.
First it was Lewis' fumble recovery for a touchdown in the third quarter. Then it was Stephens' pick six on the very next play from scrimmage. Then Sonie had a pair of picks, the last of which ended the game and preserved the 51-point margin of victory.
Kennedy only went 12-of-25 for 150 yards with three TDs and two INTs. Bane was no better at 5-of-8 for 65 yards with a score and a pick. The Storm ended with just 212 yards of offense. They went 1-of-5 on third down and 1-of-4 on fourth down. Percentages like that are a recipe for disaster for any team.
This stuff doesn't just happen though, and it isn't all bad offense on the part of the Storm. This is tremendous defensive skill on an Orlando team which might end up being the best in the AFL.
The other footnote from this game is that the Orlando offense wasn't stopped a single time. There were some shaky moments for sure, but Randy Hippeard got the job done time and time again. His 20-of-30 stat line with six scores and no picks wasn't phenomenal, but that type of performance will get the job done for the Preds significantly more often than not this year.
In the end, the Predators are 1-0, and the Storm are 0-1, and that's never meant less than it does this year when all eight teams will make the playoffs. However, messages are sent loud and clear across this league all the time, and the message that was definitively sent on Friday night is that Orlando is the team to watch out for early in 2016.