2010-2011 EASTERN CONFERENCE PREVIEW
As last year’s champions of the Eastern Conference move westward, the rest of the conference appears poised to take advantage. The blue-collar Bliss of Chicago was the one clear force in the eastern conference last year, while the Tampa Breeze, Miami Caliente and Philadelphia Passion all flashed moments of excellence, but could never quite put all the pieces together. Enter two new teams from Baltimore and Orlando, boasting a huge football reputation and a flashy coach, and you have the makings of five hungry teams fighting for one vacant crown. Here is a look at the upcoming teams in the 2010-2011 season:
MIAMI CALIENTE – Perhaps one of the most offensively talented teams in the league, the Caliente appeared to have enough firepower to challenge any competitor on any day. But if they want to improve over last year, they are going to have to overcome the defensive inconsistencies that plagued them. For instance, they allowed an average of 104 rushing yards per game, including a league high 11 touchdowns in the red zone last year. But on the other hand, they also somehow managed to finish second in the league in stopping opponents on third down, showing they have the capability and the talent to put together a solid defense. They also have a superstar to build the defense around in safety Tina Caccavale, who was tied for most interceptions in the league last year.
Despite all the defensive inconsistencies, Miami was still able to reach the Eastern Conference Finals on the backs of one of the most explosive offenses in the league. The Caliente have a franchise quarterback in Anonka Dixon, who has arguably the best arm in the league, and a team leader in wide receiver Tina Caccavale, who seems to have a talent for finding the ball once it is up in the air. These two helped Miami become the second best scoring offense in the league at almost 25 points per game, and both are coming back this year with no signs of slowing down.
BOTTOM LINE: If the defense can focus on stopping the run on a consistent basis and the offense continues their momentum from last year, it would be no surprise to anyone if Miami became the class of the Eastern Conference.
PHILADELPHIA PASSION – If any team could challenge Miami this year, Philadelphia has the solid offensive play and good coaching to do it. Additionally, they have one of the most dynamic players in the league in running back Tyrah Lusby. Lusby was first in rushing, third in receiving, and tied for first in interceptions in the entire league. This team is definitely not devoid of talent from an offensive perspective, as they also have a second, very physical running back in Tabby Haskins who can pound it in from close. Together this offense averaged 24 points a game last season and could be even more talented with a quality replacement for Jackie Danico, a solid, fundamentals driven quarterback who didn’t quite have the arm strength and leadership to take Philadelphia to the next level.
Similar to Miami, Philly lacked the rushing defense needed to put together a solid championship run last year. Whereas Miami was inconsistent, Philly just appeared to not be big enough, or disciplined enough, to stop some of the bigger backs in the league. This yielded a defense ranked second to last in the league in total defense and dead last in rushing defense. Coach Chandler Brown attributed this to tackling and vows improvement through change. “My defense will be rebuilt this season,“ Brown wrote in an email, “we’re going to be aggressive, but not have as many mistakes as last season. I honestly feel like we were the worst tackling team in the league last season, so there will be a premium on girls who aren’t hesitant to hit.”
BOTTOM LINE: If they can juice their linebacker corps in the offseason and get a few more defensive stops when it counts, there is no reason to think the offense is not good enough to take this team far next season.
TAMPA BREEZE – Tampa was good on offense and solid on defense last year. They were first in total offense, third in total defense, and have a multitude of solid players for next season. They were one play away, essentially, from the Eastern Conference finals last year, and had the most realistic shot of taking down the Bliss. Yet, the numbers were a little misleading; yes, they were first in total offense, but they ranked sixth in points scored. They had a quality passing combo in Denisha Crawford and Jenn Myers, but lacked a true leader at the position where leadership is needed the most. Tiffani Powers was a solid runner, but needed to be relied on more in a conference where rushing was the most powerful weapon. Perhaps they can develop Jennifer Langston into an even more dynamic receiver than last year, but the season could be difficult without a more developed rushing attack.
What they can rely on is defense. They were third in total defense and third in points allowed last year. Defensive player of the year Elizabeth Gorman returns next season, and she seems poised to make a statement next year, “as you know our season results did not reflect the talent and heart of our team,” Gorman said in a recent interview. “With the coaching staff and lineup for next year we anticipate a winning season and (there is) no question that we should be in the running for the top teams in the LFL.” Combined with the stopping ability of Tiffani Powers, they have the potential of being the top defensive team in the conference.
BOTTOM LINE: They are certain to hold teams within striking distance next year, and anytime you can do that you can win games.
WILDCARDS: BALTIMORE CHARM AND ORLANDO FANTASY
Two new teams enter the conference this year poised to take advantage of the departure of Chicago. The Orlando Fantasy is coached by Ben Bennett, a product of Steve Spurrier’s high-powered ‘Fun N’ Gun’ offense. He plans to utilize that offense this upcoming season, so look for some dynamic and high-powered offensive players to enter the fray. You can expect them to put up points, so look for the Fantasy to be competitive from the beginning.
Baltimore is a football town, and the Charm have garnered perhaps the biggest buzz this offseason. The town knows football and they expect a quality product, so look for the team to produce early and often. Do not be surprised if the team makes some big moves this offseason to match the excitement around them.
EARLY CONFERENCE WINNER PREDICTION: Tampa Breeze
SURPRISE TEAM: Orlando Fantasy
MVP: Tyrah Lusby