Concentration, discipline, focus. Playing not to lose instead of playing to win. Relying on the franchise’s successful tradition to win games. Expecting somebody else to make the key play.
Spokane Shock head coach Rob Keefe was asked several times by media members earlier this week to diagnose the problems with his 3-5 Arena Football League team. His responses indicate that it’s not one tidy, easy-to-fix issue.
“What I’ve been most disappointed in is the lack of concentration during clutch situations,” said Keefe, after answering a string of questions about replacing veteran quarterback Kyle Rowley with rookie Bill Stull. “It’s very easy to win when you’re up 61-30 or you’re up by 20 points, but you saw how quickly Arizona came back (from a two-touchdown deficit). It’s, ‘Who wants the ball at the end of the game?’”
While acknowledging several concerns, Keefe also stresses that Spokane has 10 regular-season games left, beginning Saturday night against the Dallas Vigilantes at the Arena, and there’s still time to make a playoff run.
Four of nine National Conference teams will qualify for the playoffs. Spokane is tied with Tulsa for sixth in the pecking order, but has games remaining with the top five: Arizona (7-1), Dallas (6-2), Chicago (5-3), San Jose (5-3) and Utah (4-3). After Saturday’s game, four of Spokane’s next five opponents sport 2-6 records.
“I still believe with all my heart we’ll be in the playoffs,” Keefe said.
Dallas figures to be in the playoff mix with a one-game lead over Chicago in the Central Division. The Vigilantes have won four straight, including a pair of road games, but they haven’t faced a rugged schedule. Their six wins (two are over Kansas City) are against teams with a combined 13-35 record. Their two losses were to 5-3 Georgia and 4-3 Utah.
Dallas ranks fifth in scoring offense (58.0) and 10th in scoring defense (51.5). Quarterback Dan Raudabaugh’s stats (62.7 completion percentage, 38 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 110.1 efficiency rating) are worse than Rowley’s (64.9 completion percentage, 54 TDs, 11 interceptions, 111.8 rating), but he’s only been sacked four times and the Vigilantes are finding ways to win.
“We still have not shaken the ArenaBowl championship cloak,” Keefe said. “I think people expect to come in here and put on the jersey with this winning tradition and it’s going to take care of itself. Guys are playing their hearts out, but are you mentally tough, do you have what it takes to concentrate on fourth down, if you are down in the fourth quarter? Who is going to step up and make plays?”