Rattlers defense quietly setting strong tone
The Arizona Rattlers have dealt with a lot in the first 12 games of the 2015 season.
Major injuries, suspensions, players quitting mid-week -- but one constant has remained all year -- solid defense.
In fact, that defensive strength is a huge reason the Rattlers sit at 10-2 and still have a shot at nabbing home field advantage in the two-horse National Conference.
When the San Jose SaberCats came into the Snake Pit earlier this season, they won decisively. They undoubtedly looked like the best team in the Arena Football League. Their defense harassed Arizona all night and I remember thinking, “these guys might not lose a game all year.”
Fast forward a few weeks and the outlook has changed just a bit. Although it will be difficult for Arizona to overtake San Jose for the top spot in the conference, the SaberCats unfathomable loss at the hands of the hapless LA KISS gives Rattler Nation renewed hope for a fifth straight ArenaBowl berth and possible fourth consecutive championship.
The SaberCats will not finish 18-0 in the regular season. They can KISS that goodbye. San Jose's embarrassing home defeat to a team that had lost 14 straight on the road tells me there could be some weaknesses to be exposed.
Rattlers Head Coach Kevin Guy even posted a video of himself doing a “happy dance” on social media following what many called the biggest upset in AFL history.
Guy was probably dancing again following the Rattlers' 55-35 win over the Orlando Predators on June 20. Arizona's defensive unit recorded seven stops in the game.
Jeremy Kellem is playing at a league defensive MVP level. He is simply making a play every game to help Arizona win. Kellem has swiped at least one interception in the past five games and now has a league-high 11 picks this season.
In the AFL, defensive backs know they are going to be beaten from time to time. It is just the nature of the game. That is why the plays you can make individually are so huge when possessions are vitally important.
I openly questioned acquiring Rayshaun Kizer prior to the season only to let him go before he even played a game for the copper and teal. But Kellem has proved me wrong and proved Guy to be a genius.
Veterans Arkeith Brown and Marquis Floyd continue to play at a high level in the Rattlers' secondary.
A.J. Cruz has been an incredible find for Arizona. Grabbed off the scrap heap after being released by the KISS, not only is the diminutive Cruz near the top of the league in kickoff return average and kick return touchdowns, he also is frequently manning the jack linebacker spot on defense.
With Arizona experiencing injury problems at wide receiver, Cruz has been plugged in there as well to prove he is truly a “jack of all trades.”
Like Kellem, Cruz seems to make at least one big play every game to give Arizona the upper hand.
On the defensive line, Tyre Glasper is near the top of the league charts in sacks while lanky youngster Mike McAdoo is making big plays in his first few games as a Rattler.
Quarterback Nick Davila's return from injury has also sparked the Rattlers. The reigning league MVP looks like he hasn't missed a beat after sitting out for more than a month. With the offense back on track and the defense showing its strength week after week, the Rattlers might easily be 14-2 when they head to California for a crucial July 31 rematch with San Jose.
Taking a closer look at the numbers, San Jose has given up the least points in the league while Arizona has surrendered the second fewest.
These two bitter rivals are on a collision course for another dogfight in the conference title game. The only real question is who will be the host?
Matt Loeschman is the business editor/city reporter at the Williamson County Sun and a color commentator for SHN Sports in Georgetown, Texas. As a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, he bleeds burnt orange but is also an avid fan of the Arizona Rattlers, Arizona Diamondbacks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Stars, Texas Stars, Houston Rockets, Houston Dynamo and Austin Aztex. With nearly 20 years of experience in print journalism and radio, Matt has covered sports ranging from high school to the pros along with local news. He has followed the AFL since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter @MattLoeschman.