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Arizona's dominant D setting high standard

Matt Loeschman
Wednesday April 20, 2016

If offense wins games and defense wins championships, the Arizona Rattlers are well on their way to a sixth ArenaBowl title.

While the Arena Football League is a showcase for the offensive side of the football with teams frequently putting up 60+ points in a game, Arizona's defense is setting the bar astronomically high through the Rattlers' three wins to start the 2016 campaign.

I've been following the team for more than 15 years, and I can't remember a series of three games where Arizona's defense looked this dominant. The only time the team held teams to 30 points or fewer in three straight games was in 1997; the Rattlers won the ArenaBowl that season. In outdoor football terms, that's the equivalent of giving up about six points per game or so. Indoor or outdoor — you play that kind of defense, you're going to win a lot of games.

Granted, the Rattlers' schedule thus far — at Portland, at Los Angeles and hosting Tampa Bay — isn't exactly a murderer's row of opponents. But that doesn't take away from what the Snakes are doing on the defensive side of the football.

“Our defense is playing outstanding football,” Rattlers Head Coach Kevin Guy said on the field following last weekend's 60-27 dismantling of the Tampa Bay Storm.

“It's a great team effort playing as a unit. We've done a good job of taking away quarterbacks' checkdowns and that lets the defensive line get to work up front — (Jason) Boltus was getting up off the ground a lot.”

It all starts up front. I could tell early on in the season opener that Arizona had a ferocious pass rush and it is being led by a pair of former San Jose SaberCats.

When the Cats folded, Guy made the move to pick up Damien Borel and Luis Vasquez — and has it ever paid off. The duo was named co-defensive players of the week to start the season and they haven't let up. Vasquez leads the AFL in sacks with four and Borel is tied for third with two. Add newcomer Dimetrio Tyson and his two sacks to the mix and it's a recipe for disaster for opposing offensive lines.

Veterans Tyre Glasper and Anttaj Hawthorne round out a nightmarish sight for Rattlers' opponents.

“We've been able to get consistent pressure,” Guy said.

In Week 2 against the LA KISS, one need only look at the disheveled hair and deer-in-headlights look on KISS QB Nathan Stanley's face to tell that he was under a blitzkrieg.

In the third straight dominating effort last weekend, the Rattlers held the Storm's Boltus to 11-of-37 (30 percent) passing. A total of 14,872 fans filled the Snake Pit for the 2016 home opener, Arizona's largest home crowd since April 2010.

Keep in mind that veteran defensive lineman Cliff Dukes is on injured reserve and eligible to return in a couple weeks. The rich are only going to get richer.

I was worried that the departure of Jeremy Kellem would adversely affect the defensive backfield. But Arkeith Brown (2 INTs) looks rejuvenated and Bubba Chapman (2 INTs) has been a real positive thus far. Markus Smith played well in two games as well.

Marquis Floyd came out of retirement and stepped in against Tampa Bay as the Rattlers were depleted at defensive back with multiple players taking part in Canadian Football League tryouts. Floyd looked like he hadn't missed a beat although Guy said in the postgame he's not sure how long Floyd will stay on the active roster.

Ironman Kerry Reed has picked off two passes from his jack linebacker spot and scored on each.

The Arizona defense by the numbers through three games:

• Scoring defense — 27.7 PPG (1st in AFL)
• Total defense — 239.3 YPG (4th)
• Rushing yards allowed — 1.3 YPG (2nd)
• Pass efficiency defense — 88.5 (1st)
• Interceptions — 6 (T-1st)
• Sacks — 10 (1st)
• Opponent third down conversions — 25.9% (1st)
• Turnover margin — +7 (1st)
• Points allowed — 83 (1st)
• Defensive scores — 5 (1st)

The Rattlers' offense is still hitting on all cylinders with Nick Davila calling the shots. Props to the newly-formed O-line for keeping the franchise quarterback virtually untouched through three weeks. The receiving corps “top four” of Rod Windsor, Maurice Purify, Chase Deadder and Reed is the best the league has to offer.

When you add that combination to what appears to be a dominant defense, records get broken. Example? The old record for largest margin of victory over a three-week span — San Jose's 110 points in 2015 — now bettered by Arizona's 80-28, 69-28 and 60-27 victories (126-point margin) to start 2016.

“I like the way our team is playing,” Guy said. “We have a few little things to fix but we'll get those worked out before we head to Jacksonville.”

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.
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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