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Week 5 Game Preview - Empire at Valor

Wednesday May 9, 2018

After a rout victory against the Washington Valor, 47-23, the Albany Empire take to the road for a rematch against the Valor on Saturday, May 11 at 7:00 p.m. at the Capital One Arena. The game will be broadcast live on Facebook.com/AFLWatch and ALT 105.7.

“Last time I won a championship we started off 0-2,” said Rob Keefe, Head Coach of the Albany Empire. “We will look to build on this momentum and carry it into our next game. We are confident, there is no reason not to be, but now we are off and running and we won’t look back.”

Still looking for their first win of the season, the Valor will look to take better care of the ball in the rematch versus the Empire. Albany had a field day on defense in the teams’ first meeting in Week 4 causing four turnovers and holding Washington to a mere 23 points. The star-studded Empire defense starts upfront in the trenches. Despite not having a sack in their Week 1 loss against the Philadelphia Soul, the Empire have accumulated five sacks over the last two games causing havoc for opposing quarterbacks. The defensive line is led by veteran defensive end Joe Sykes who currently shares the lead for the most sacks all-time in the Arena Football League with 57.5. In the last two games, Sykes has tallied four sacks and forced two fumbles; both statistics Sykes leads the league in. Look for Sykes to come off the edge and be in the face of Warren Smith for the second consecutive week and cause errant throws.

Sticking with the defense, keep an eye on defensive back Marrio Norman. Last week against the Valor, Norman was all over the field and a huge part of a defensive unit that only allowed 23 points. Norman led the way with 10 tackles and two interceptions; one of which he brought back for a touchdown. Norman is a hardnosed back who loves to get in the face of opposing receivers. Through the team’s first three games, Norman leads the team in tackles (20.5) and interceptions (2). Look for him to see a lot of Valor wide receiver’s Josh Reese and Rod Windsor on Friday. These two are the Valor’s top targets by far and will look to find the end zone more than three times against the Empire at home. Last week, Windsor found pay dirt for the Valor twice while hauling in nine catches for 79 yards. Currently, Windsor is tied for the league lead in reception touchdowns with Empire wide receiver Joe Hills.

If the Empire defensive unit is as dominant as it was in Week 4, the Valor will have a long night on offense. The Valor were held to only 15 points prior to the last minute of the game when they chipped in a late touchdown. Though the Valor are fourth in the league in scoring, they still average 43.3 points per game. Look for Washington to get wide receiver Josh Reese more involved in the offense. Reese is currently second on the team in catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. In the Week 4 loss to Albany, Reese was limited to just two catches and 11 yards. The Empire won’t have to change up the game plan too much but expect the Valor to try to get the ball to Reese more often in the rematch. The key to victory for the Empire remains the same: get to the quarterback. Expect Sykes, Willie McGinnis, Darryl Cato-Bishop and Nick Seither to be putting constant pressure on Warren Smith and never let him feel comfortable in the pocket. This will create turnover opportunities for the Empire’s ball hawking defensive backs. Though Marrio Norman was the beneficiary of the pressure a week ago, look for big plays out of Varmah Sonie, Arthur Hobbs and Brandon Stephens as they look to take advantage of poor throws forced by the defensive front.

The next matchup to lookout for is rookie standout receiver Malachi Jones versus the Washington Valor defensive backfield. All eyes have been on star receiver Joe Hills in the past two games, but Malachi Jones holds the team lead in receiving yards with 226. Jones has shown the ability to burn a defense in multiple ways. His first two games in the AFL, Jones broke out for 40+ yard touchdowns. In the team’s Week 4 rout against the valor a week ago, Jones added another receiving touchdown to his total while also successfully recording his first rushing touchdown of his young campaign. While Hills provides the downfield deep threat for the Empire, Jones gives quarterback Tommy Grady an option on short to medium routes over the middle of the field. Jones has averaged six catches per game over the team’s first three contests. If Jones can record another six catches in Week 5 against the Valor, expect at least one of them to be broken for a big gain and possibly a touchdown. The Valor secondary led by Dominic Addison and Michael Knight will have their hands full trying to contain Jones while Hills clears out space on his deep routes.

The key to victory in this matchup is for Tommy Grady to not force the ball and find the open receiver. His favorite target has been his old friend Joe Hills, but he has also turned the ball over trying to connect with Hills down the field. Last week a deep ball to Hills was nearly intercepted, but Hills was able to pick up the ball as it bobbled out of the defenders’ hands and run it into the end zone for the touchdown. Look for Grady to utilize Malachi Jones over the middle of the field and receiver Collin Taylor near the dashers. Taylor, the team’s third option receiver, has quietly accumulated 14 catches for 160 yards and three receiving touchdowns on the season. Look for Taylor to remain a constant and reliable target for Grady throughout the game and pull in a hand full of targets. The Valor will have a tough time trying to deal with Empire receiving unit, so expect big numbers and a high score for Albany during their visit to the Nation’s Capital.

Tickets for the remaining Empire home games are still available at TheAlbanyEmpire.com. Ticket packages include: pro-rated season tickets, family four packs, group and corporate outing experiences, birthday party packages, Bud Light Party Zone tickets, Pioneer Bank Field Zone tickets, Pepsi Family Zone tickets and single game tickets. For additional information, please call 518-53-2200.