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The Tommy Grady Conundrum

Don Eisenbarth
Wednesday May 29, 2013


The Blaze have a friend in mediocrity. In the 6 seasons they have existed in the AFL, the Blaze have only been above .500 once, last year. Halfway thru their 7th season the Blaze find themselves at 4-5, again on the verge of both good and bad, but really being neither.

 
There is a really good team lurking inside the Utah Blaze. I mean, there's a REALLY good team. The team that could win the ArenaBowl is there. The talent’s there. The ability is there. The execution is there, sometimes, but it's not there consistently, as so far this year it's not been there in the one position where it matters most.
 
At 4-5 the Utah Blaze have had moments of brilliance, and moments of disaster. The Blaze victories have been defensive masterpieces. The Blaze are allowing an average of 38.75 points per game in their victories. They're the only team in the AFL who have held the Spokane Shock under 60 points. They held one of the best 2nd half team in the Iowa Barnstormers to 13 points in the second half of their last home game, and they held the San Jose Sabercats to only 35 points in last week’s game. (The Sabercats lowest point total of the season)
 
The Blaze defense has allowed 307.8 total offensive yards per game and are currently ranked 3rd in the  league. They also have had 25 stops in the last five games, which is really impressive when you notice that stretch included games versus Spokane and at Arizona and San Jose.
 
Yet, while the Blaze have a clamp down defense that prevents yards, they are still allowing points to be scored on them. The Blaze have the 8th ranked scoring defense allowing 52 points per game. How does a team have a top 3 defense, and still allow so many points? Easy. You have the quarterback who leads the league in interceptions.
 
Tommy Grady's 21 interceptions have killed the momentum in all of the Blaze games.
 
“A lot of it is just mechanics and timing,” said Head Coach Ron James after the last home game. “We've been working on it week to week. This week, early in the game he was having a problem with one of his calves, and he wasn't able to get away from the center as quick as he wanted to. That effects how you set up and throw. We'll gave to get him looked at, but I think he'll be all right. We have to have an answer to his inaccuracy. We'll get it squared away.”
 
Grady's health has been a question since he showed up in the first home game with his throwing hand wrapped. As far as his hand, or his legs or any other part of him is concerned, Grady is adamant that he is in a good condition. “I'm fine. I'll be ready to go next week,” said Grady after the home game two weeks ago. As far as the interceptions are concerned, Grady is a bit more talkative. “I feel like I've never had so many bad breaks. There's some that I make the wrong read, but I'm real confident in what I'm doing. I know what I'm doing. I need to keep getting better each week.”
 
Grady is facing an average of 2.33 interceptions a game. The interception rate has a direct correlation to victory. The Blaze are 2-0 when Grady has had 1 interception, 2-2 when he’s had 2 interceptions and 0-2 when he’s had 3 or more interceptions. Grady has yet to have an interception free game.
 
But this season isn’t the status quo for the 2012 AFL MVP. For comparison, Grady's worst season was his rookie season with the Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz and he had 21 interceptions that season. Grady is already at 21 this season and we’re only halfway done.
 
“I've been playing for a long time,” continued Grady. “I've never really had a year where I've had so many bounce up and so many balls off the wall or off the fingers that haven't been caught. Usually they get dropped or they fall down to the ground but this year the other guys are catching them. I need to find a way to change that and take care of the ball.”
 
Those who have been paying attention have noticed the “bad breaks.” There’s no official stat on bad bounces, but unofficially I’ve seen 10 or so interceptions where the ball was tipped or deflected and caught by an opponent. Whether off of the walls, linesman’s hands, Blaze receiver’s hands, or the face of an official, these tipped balls and bad breaks attribute the Grady’s interception rate and over time those bad bounces add up and lead to mental issues.
 
Grady’s completion rating is the lowest of his career, a whole 3.5% lower then his rookie season. The incompletions aren’t just timing issues and receivers letting the ball drop (although there has been some of that), in the last three games (especially the home game against Iowa) Grady has just been off, under throwing and overthrowing receivers, throwing to covered receivers while others run wide open. 
 
“I think he's a lot more hesitant then he has been, because now he's thinking about where he needs to go with the ball as opposed to just reacting to it,” said Head Coach Ron James about Grady’s incompletion rate. “That comes with the confidence and timing. When it hasn't been there by this part of the season, then you're second guessing things that used to be rote memory. We have to keep plugging away at it, luckily our defense has been playing stronger in the last couple weeks to be giving us extra opportunities, but we can't always rely on that in arena football. We have got to solve that issue.”
 
But how do you solve that issue? Can you teach confidence? Can you teach timing? You can’t bench Grady, can you? Jason Boltus is a fine backup QB (and a very decent mack linebacker as he’s proved over the last two weeks), but is he really the answer? Who else is out there? Can Grady just “get over it” and start playing the way that Blaze coaches and fans know he can?
 
What if this continues? How do you get the defense to continue to produce when they know the offense is just going to give up the ball? During the final minute of the San Jose game, the Blaze defense was able to get a stop on downs and give the offense the ball on the San Jose 24 with 32 seconds left on the clock down by 1. The Blaze offense proceeded to go out and throw 4 incompletions and lose the game. No points, no first downs, no yards. The Blaze offense just went out and lost. How do the Coaches hold a team together after that? When one side of the team is on fire and the other is crashing in flames, how do you get a united Blaze?
 
These are the questions that face Utah as they start the 2nd half of the season. Two games out of the playoffs in a tough western division, the Blaze are on the bottom looking up, and they are running out of time to answer these questions. But if they can solve the Tommy Grady conundrum, and if luck can start being on their side, the Blaze still have the talent to be a postseason contender, and a championship contender.


 
Don Eisenbarth has been following the Utah Blaze since 2006, but this is his first year covering for ArenaFan. Born in Provo to a family of BYU fans and having graduated from the University of Utah, Don has enjoyed all sides of the Utah college football landscape for decades and is excited for the return of professional football to the Beehive State. You can follow him on twitter at http://twitter.com/bigdondoo
The opinions expressed in the article above are only those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, opinions, or official stance of ArenaFan Online or its staff, or the Arena Football League, or any AFL or af2 teams.
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