Among the countless factors that determine Arena Football League outcomes, two of the most important from an offensive standpoint are turnovers and red-zone efficiency.
Spokane is struggling mightily with both.
Six quarterbacks have taken snaps in an injury-plagued season and they’ve combined to toss a league-high 22 interceptions. The Shock’s 32 turnovers rank 11th in the 12-team league.
Inside the red zone (the opponents’ 10-yard line), Spokane has scored on 38 of 57 trips, including one field goal. The Shock’s 66.7 conversion percentage is last in the AFL. They’ve had three fumbles, four interceptions, five turnovers on downs and three missed field goals.
“Games are won and lost in the red zone,” coach Andy Olson said. “Anyone can (throw) hitches down the field, but once you get in the red zone that’s when defenses tighten up, when things become a lot faster and harder to read.
“With all the youth we’ve had at quarterback, that’s been the major problem. We don’t have enough experience there, and it goes with wide receivers, too, knowing how to get open in short spaces. We haven’t had a ton of big plays so we’ve been in the red zone a lot.”
Spokane was 18 of 23 (78.2 percent) in the red zone in its first six games, but a couple of narrow losses left the Shock with a 2-4 record. It started to unravel in the record-setting 83-28 loss to San Jose when the Shock went 0-for-4 inside the SaberCats’ 10. They’re 2-for-6 with a 59-percent success rate in the red zone in their last 10 games.
Spokane came up empty in two red-zone trips, including its last series of the game, in the 34-28 loss to L.A. on Sunday.
“As I studied film of the four games I’ve been here, it’s been us,” said quarterback Arvell Nelson, who joined the team last month. “We get in the red zone and we run the wrong route or miss a throw or a block. It’s always us, never what the other team is doing.”
Arizona, which visits Spokane on Friday, yields points in the red zone at an 86.4 percent rate, 10th worst in the league. Spokane, though, is just 3 of 5 in the red zone in two previous losses to the Rattlers.
Nelson to start
Nelson, who sparked Spokane’s second-half comeback against L.A. on Sunday after the team went scoreless in the first half under Warren Smith, will start against Arizona. He’s completed 19 of 37 attempts for 208 yards in limited action. The 6-foot-5 Nelson has rushed for 35 yards and two touchdowns.
It’ll be Nelson’s first start at quarterback since his 2012 PIFL season with the Alabama Hammers. He’s come off the bench in the last two games and as Erik Meyer’s backup in 2013.
“I actually prepare like I’m the starter every week,” Nelson said. “My mentality no matter where I am on the field is I’m going to give everything I’ve got.”
Wide receiver Rashaad Carter, sidelined for nearly two months after having surgery to repair a torn ligament in his thumb, has been cleared to return and participated in practice Wednesday.
Carter, a graduate of Tusculum College in Tennessee, had 51 receptions for 648 yards and 11 touchdowns in the first eight games. He finished with 74 catches for 780 yards and 17 TDs as a rookie in 2014.
Carter joins a young receiving unit that includes second-year pro Nick Truesdell and rookies Anthony Amos, Jabin Sambrano and Samuel Charles, who was injured during Sunday’s loss.
“I might be a little rusty coming out but I feel like I can still come out and make some plays,” Carter said.
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