By Jaylon Thompson / The Alliance
ATLANTA – Atlanta Legends head coach Kevin Coyle knows a difficult challenge awaits his team on Saturday afternoon.
The Alliance’s top team, the Orlando Apollos, come into town reeling from their first loss. The Apollos fell to the Arizona Hotshots last week and seek to rebound on the road.
The Atlanta Legends (2-4) conclude a three-game home stand against the Orlando Apollos (5-1) this Saturday, March 23, at 2 p.m. ET at Georgia State Stadium. The game can be seen on TNT. Tickets to all Legends games are available here.
Containing the Apollos won’t be easy. Orlando averages 27.6 points per game and has a ton of playmakers on both sides of the ball. The Apollos feature experienced quarterback Garrett Gilbert and sensational stars Charles Johnson (wide receiver) and Keith Reaser (cornerback).
Gilbert leads the league in passing yards (1,625) and has thrown 10 touchdown passes. He is a special talent that likes to spread the ball around to his playmakers. Johnson, his top target, has 33 catches and 521 yards. Reaser has three interceptions this season.
This week in practice, the Legends have focused on stopping Orlando’s speeding rocket. The team understands that a win requires discipline and detail. The players have worked hard in the film room and on the field.
Collectively, they want to turn around a 2-4 start.
“Every week has been important as we let our share slip through our fingertips,” Coyle said. “Last week, we weren’t in the game and let it get away early.”
A win will keep the Legends playoff hopes alive. It will also showcase their ability to hang with the best in the league.
“We know we can play with anyone in this league,” Coyle said. “I think we have proven that. This is a big opportunity for us to right the ship down the stretch.”
The Legends know what’s at stake. Now it’s time to execute the game plan. Here are three critical areas the team must win to defeat the Apollos at home.
The Legends are at their best when the chains are moving. In the last three weeks, the Legends have possessed the ball for over 30 minutes. Under offensive coordinator Ken Zampese, the team has emphasized ball control. The ability to hold the ball helps develop a rhythm and assists the defense as well.
The Legends aim to convert third downs against the Apollos. In their two wins, the offense was 17-for-33 (52 percent) on third down. In four losses, the Legends were 17-for-52 (33 percent).
It’s important for the Legends to stay on the field. Prolonged drives can keep the electric Apollos on the sideline.
The Legends must keep the Apollos on the sideline with a balanced run game. A successful rushing attack can set up easier third downs and increase the chances of a home victory.
“The ability to control the clock and time of possession will be big,” Coyle said. “In doing so, we got to come back with points on the board. … The Apollos are athletic on defense and we will have our work cut out for us. Third downs will be a huge factor in the game.”
The Legends look to limit their turnovers. In Week 1, the Legends got behind early with four turnovers against the Apollos. Orlando capitalized with touchdown drives following each mistake.
The turnovers took the Legends out of the game. Coyle said turnovers can’t happen in the return matchup. He hopes to maximize his possessions and play smart on Saturday night.
“This team is explosive, and they are the leading offense in the league,” Coyle said. “The fewer possessions and opportunities they have can certainly play in our favor.”
Win 50-50 margin
The final area the Legends must win is the 50-50 margin. These are the contested jump balls, the fumble recoveries, and the short-yardage situations.
In the previous matchup, the Legends didn’t do a great job maintaining the football. They dropped passes and missed open receivers. It seemed like the Apollos were always one step ahead of the team.
Coyle believes things will be different on Saturday. He wants his team to battle for each opportunity. It starts with making the tough plays on the field.
“We have to catch the ball,” Coyle said. “In the games we caught the ball consistently, we moved the chains.”
The Legends get their opportunity to prove it on Saturday night.
“Winning solves a lot of things,” Coyle said.
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Jaylon Thompson covers the Atlanta Legends for The Alliance of American Football. Follow him on Twitter JaylonThompson.