PHOENIX – The Spokane Shock have struggled on the road, their starting quarterback is injured, both lines will see personnel changes and they’re facing the best team in the Arena Football League.
They know what they’re up against tonight, and they still like their chances.
“They know how good we can be at times and we know how great they are this year,” Shock head coach Rob Keefe said. “From a media standpoint, fan standpoint, they’re the favorites and we’re the underdogs, but when you go into it as a rivalry it makes it more intense.”
Intensity will be a given when Spokane (9-9) takes on the Arizona Rattlers (16-2) to open the National Conference playoffs at 7 at US Airways Center. The teams have met five times, with Spokane winning four close outcomes and Arizona pulling away for a 68-46 victory earlier this month.
Arizona quarterback Nick Davila, who guided Spokane’s offense in 2008 and 2009, leads the league in pass efficiency (127.7) and touchdown passes (117). Former Shock defensive back Virgil Gray ranks third in interceptions (10) and first in kick returns for touchdowns (five).
Of 20 statistical categories for offense, defense and special teams, the Rattlers rank in the top seven in 17, the top two in seven. They enter the playoffs on a nine-game winning streak. The best of the seven other playoff teams is a two-game streak.
The Rattlers have avoided injuries most of the season. Davila, fullback Odie Armstrong and three offensive linemen have started all but one game. On defense, the secondary and two of three defensive linemen have started every game. Ex-Shock linebacker Kevin McCullough and Mac linebacker Tyre Glasper have started all but four games.
“They’re well-coached, they have veterans with knowledge of the game and all those intangibles make them the best we’ve played,” Spokane defensive back Terrance Sanders said. “We have a great opportunity on our hands.”
Arizona, like Spokane, lost a couple of players to the NFL, most notably receiver Rod Windsor. He’s been replaced by ex-Washington State Cougar Chris Jackson, who had five touchdown catches last week.
Spokane is just 2-7 on the road. Starting quarterback Erik Meyer is out with a shoulder injury, but Kyle Rowley led the Shock to titles in 2006 and 2010. Meyer was at the helm in the last meeting, but he left with full-body cramps in the third quarter and Arizona pulled away.
“I struggled against them in the second half, but after seeing the film it was a couple of mistakes that I was able to correct mentally,” Rowley said.
Can Spokane correct its inconsistent road play?
“Last year we were great on the road,” Rowley said. “The mistakes are obvious. I know we’re ready for these away games.”
Many of Spokane’s roster decisions will depend on the status of DB Alex Teems (hip pointer). “It’s a matter of what percentage he’s at and whether he can get to 90 percent by (today) or if he’s in that 60-65 range,” Keefe said. Freshly signed Marquise Charles is an option. … Six receivers traveled, but Keefe hasn’t decided on the five that will play. … Brandon Leyritz or Myniya Smith will join Chris Pino and Raymond McNeil as offensive line starters. On the defensive front, Jon Williams returns and Michale Spicer, who started last week, was released to create roster space for WR Markee White.