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Week 12 Game Preview - Empire at Valor

Wednesday June 27, 2018

After coming off a pivotal victory on the road against the first-place Baltimore Brigade (7-3) last Saturday, the Albany Empire (6-4) look to wrap up a two-game road trip with a win at the Washington Valor (1-9) on Friday, June 29th 7:00 pm at the Capital One Arena. With the victory over the Brigade, Albany clinched the tiebreaker over Baltimore and has kept themselves alive for contention of the one-seed heading into the playoffs. Playoff implications are on the line for the Empire with this week’s matchup at Washington as a win could potentially put Albany in a tie for first place going into the regular season finale next week. The game will be broadcast live on Facebook.com/AFLWatch Alt 105.7 fm.

The Empire managed to put a halt to their brief two-game skid with a 56-49 victory in Baltimore, handing the Brigade their first loss at home in 2018. Quarterback Tommy Grady continued to be dominant with 14 completions for 199 yards and seven touchdown passes; a performance that earned him the game’s MVP honors. The elite receiving duo of Joe Hills and rookie Malachi Jones combined for 13 catches for 163 yards and an impressive seven touchdown receptions. Defensive back Marrio Norman led the Empire defense with 10 tackles, earning Defensive Player of the Game. Currently, Norman sits at 57.5 total tackles on the season, ranking second in the league. Jack linebacker Terence Moore had another interception on Saturday, adding to his league-best five on the season. Coming into Friday’s matchup with the Valor, the Empire are undefeated against Washington (3-0) during their 2018 inaugural campaign.

The first matchup to look out for is between the Valor’s starting quarterback, Arvell Nelson, and Albany’s defensive secondary. The Empire have yet to see Nelson this season in action with the quarterback only playing in four games thus far. Nelson has solidified his starting role for the Valor by earning the team their first win of the season during a Week 9 visit to Philadelphia. Against the Soul, Nelson threw four touchdown passes and rushed for two more on his way to being named the MVP of the game. In last week’s defeat to the Soul, Nelson made another offensive impact with a four-touchdown performance of two passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns. Nelson presents himself as a dual offensive threat due to his versatility and ability to get the ball into the end zone through the air and on the ground.

The Empire defense face a tall task in containing Nelson and his 6‘5” frame. The key to victory in this matchup is for the Empire to continue to utilize their effective pass rush to ensure Nelson does not get too comfortable. On the season, the Empire lead the league with 15 sacks. Defensive end Joe Sykes leads the league with seven sacks and is currently tied for the all-time AFL record in career sacks with 60.5. Terence Moore is another player who can impact the way Nelson plays as he leads the league with five interceptions on the season, including an interception return for a touchdown the last time these two teams met. Nelson has been prone to turnovers in his brief stint at quarterback this season. In just four games, Nelson has thrown a league-high six interceptions. If the Empire defensive front is able to not only keep Nelson in the pocket, but force pressure on him, it is inevitable that he will make an errant throw to an Albany defensive back. Washington’s offense has struggled to put up points all year long, including being shutout in the second half just a week ago. If Albany is able to create extra possessions by turning the Valor over, the game could get out of hand in a hurry.

Another matchup to look out for is between Washington’s top receiver, Reggie Gray, and Albany defensive back, Marrio Norman. Gray leads the Valor in multiple receiving categories including receiving yards (670), touchdown receptions (15), yards per game (67), and total receptions (59). Gray is the top option on the Valor receiving unit and will likely be targeted often in this week’s matchup with the Empire. In Washington’s last meeting with Albany, Gray caught eight passes for 48 yards and a touchdown reception, becoming just the 15th player in AFL history to total more than 800 career receptions. Norman is coming off a stellar performance in Saturday’s win versus the Brigade. Norman’s 10 tackles put him in the team lead in the respective category with 57.5, ranked second in the league. In a Week 4 47-23 victory against the Valor, Defensive Player of the Game Norman had nine tackles and two interceptions, one of which he brought back to the house.

The key to victory in this matchup is simple: keep the ball out of Gray’s hands. That is obviously easier said than done, but the Albany defensive backfield must find a way to limit Gray’s time with the ball and keep him out of the end zone. To counter, expect Washington to frequently throw to their number two receiver, Josh Reese. On the season, Reese ranks second on the team in nearly every receiving category behind Gray tallying up 51 catches for 594 yards and nine touchdowns. In Week 7 against the Empire, Reese compiled five catches for 51 yards and a touchdown. The Valor defense will already have a steep hill to climb against the league’s top defense but expect Gray and Reese to receive a healthy dose of passes from Nelson as Washington looks to find new ways into the end zone.

The third and final matchup to watch out for is Washington’s star kickoff returner, Chris Duvalt, versus the Empire’s special teams. Duvalt has compiled 756 kickoff return yards on the season on 47 attempts, ranked second in the AFL. Averaging just over 16 yards per return, Duvalt has been one of the few consistencies all season long in setting up the Valor offense with good field position. The speedy returner also has a 56-yard touchdown, the longest kick return of the season. Duvalt has proven to be dynamic in open field. All he needs is to find a seam or make a move on a defender and he can be gone on any return.

The key to victory for the Empire in this matchup is to limit the amount of running room Duvalt create on kickoffs. Based on the numbers, Duvalt’s kick returning ability is a clear threat that can impact the game mightily. A week ago, in Baltimore, the Empire were faced with another kick return threat in Brandon Thompkins. To counter, Albany kicker Kenny Spencer was able to hit the slack net on half of the Empire kickoffs. As a result, Thompkins was only able to catch four of the eight kicks off of the net, which effectively limited his threat in the special team’s game. Look for much of the same strategy against Duvalt. If Spencer is able to kick the ball into the slack net between the field goal uprights, then the Empire special team’s unit will have more time to run down the field before the ball even touches Duvalt’s hands. Washington’s offense already struggles gaining yards and turning the ball over, so Albany will look to make things even more difficult by pinning the Valor deep in their own territory on every kick. The league’s top defense will be licking it’s chops every time the unit steps onto the field when Washington is backed up inside of their own five-yard line.

Albany Empire 2018 Inaugural Season Presented By CDPHP.