Passing dominates in arena football, but Tampa Bay presents an additional headache for opposing defensive coordinators.
Quarterback Adrian McPherson leads the AFL with 14 rushing touchdowns and 183 rushing yards. The 6-foot-3, 227-pounder ran for five scores in a season-opening loss to Jacksonville.
McPherson leads the fourth-ranked Storm (3-2) against No. 1 Spokane (5-0) tonight at 7 at the Arena.
“It kind of takes away your ‘Jack’ linebacker,” Spokane coach Andy Olson said. “We’re going to have to spy the Jack a lot. It’s not a huge concern; we have great tackling guys. We’re going to do our best to contain him and make him throw the football.”
Spokane has one of the league’s stingiest defenses, holding four of five opponents below 50 points while allowing 19.2 yards rushing per game, fifth in the AFL. The Shock has five double-figures wins, the closest a 76-61 victory over Chicago. They’re tied with Tampa Bay for second in the AFL in turnover margin at plus 10.
Beyond McPherson’s scrambles and designed runs, he has 21 touchdown passes and just one interception to rank fifth in pass efficiency. His primary targets are ex-Shock receiver Joe Hills (38 receptions, 592 yards, 14 touchdowns) and Greg Ellingson (33-454-4). Hills set a franchise record with 259 yards receiving in a road win over Utah.
“It’s already hard as a DB to cover in arena football,” said Shock defensive back Paul Stephens, who intercepted five San Jose passes last week, “but to extend the play and cover for longer periods of time makes it even harder.”
Spokane’s defense has made steady improvement, Olson said, but he’d like to see more pressure from the front. Terrance Sanders has a team-high 28 tackles and Beau Bell has 3 1/2 of the Shock’s nine sacks.
“We had seven quarterback hits (versus San Jose) and our goal is 10 to 15,” Olson said. “Our big focus is to not give up the big play, make teams drive down the field, get them in the red zone and make them think a little bit.”