For the third time this season, the Spokane Shock found themselves a play or two away from winning an Arena Football League game.
The latest example was Utah, which scored on its first 10 possessions and made two second-quarter defensive stops hold up for a 69-62 win over the Shock last Friday. It was another example of the fine line between winning and losing. The Shock mastered that balancing act in the franchise’s first five years but they’ve lost their touch with a 1-4 start this season, three of those losses by a touchdown or less.
“It’s always just one or two plays, one or two mistakes,” defensive back Alex Teems said. “We just have to figure out how to finish games. Obviously we’re not far off.”
There is plenty of blame to go around. Offensive issues have been well-chronicled. Kyle Rowley has had a pair of three-interception games. The offense committed five turnovers against Iowa. Spokane is last in the AFL in fourth-down conversions (1 of 7).
The defense hasn’t fared much better. The unit ranks 17th of 18 AFL teams in scoring defense (56.6 points per game), 16th in rush defense, 15th in rushing TDs allowed and last in pass efficiency (128.3). They’ve given up 26 passing touchdowns while intercepting two passes, both by linemen.
Spokane hasn’t generated a consistent pass rush and it struggled against the run, what little of it there is in the pass-happy AFL. Opponents are completing 69.1 percent of their passes.
Head coach Rob Keefe, who also serves as defensive coordinator, insists the talent level is among the league’s best and the X’s and O’s are sound.
“I will never blame it on them, it is my fault we’re 1-4,” Keefe said. “But it’s funny because the players are starting to have my back now, where they’re saying, ‘Look, we have to make some plays, too.’ We’re all in this together. We’re great physically; we just have to be good mentally.”
Opposing offenses are utilizing quick passes to get rid of the football before the pass rush can get to the quarterback.
“Out of 33 passes by Utah, 28 were one-, two- or three-step drops,” Keefe said. “That’s not a defensive line problem, that’s a defensive back problem. Being a defensive coach, yeah, I’m frustrated. I have to teach them a little better, but we really don’t believe it’s the schemes.
“When you’re on the back of a player, which we had on 22 of 26 completions, you have to make a play. Again, it’s the finishing of things.”
Keefe said he’d give the line a “B” grade thus far and the secondary a “C.”
“Deep down we know we’re three possessions from being 4-1,” he said. “Offensively we don’t expect to be stopped and defensively we want to get two stops. Right now it’s not happening either way, but I do see progress on this team.”
Add defensive lineman Mike Alston (knee) to the injured-reserve list. Keefe said Alston will be replaced by Beau Bell or Micah King. Both can play “Mac” linebacker or defensive end. … WR Markee White is progressing in his recovery from a severely sprained foot and expects to return in 2-3 weeks. … Receivers Greg Orton, who was banged up a couple times in Friday’s loss, and Raul Vijil, who didn’t play, participated in Wednesday’s practice. DB Ruschard Dodd-Masters, on suspension last week while he dealt with a family situation, also practiced. … Spokane’s 2010 ArenaBowl championship rings arrived Wednesday and are being distributed to players and staff.