FRIDAY NIGHT ‘CLASH’ EXPECTED, AS OMAHA HEADS TO ATLANTA (OFFICIAL GAME PREVIEW)
(LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA- Thursday, June 2, 2016)
The Omaha Heart (1-0) have a laundry list of motivation as they head into Georgia tomorrow to face the Atlanta Steam (0-0), a team which they played three times last year. In 2015 the Steam humiliated the Omaha squad, winning all three contests and outscoring the Heart 212-13. Yes, that’s correct; The Atlanta Steam scored 212 points (32 touchdowns) against Omaha last season in three games. To put that into perspective, the team that wins this season’s Legends Cup Championship would have a hard time scoring 212 points during the six total games (four regular season and two playoff), as they would need to average just over 35 points per game.
With the major off-season rebuild for Omaha, which resulted in the discovery of a great coach focused on defense, a solid quarterback and some key offensive weapons, it’s safe to say this match-up won’t be like the one-sided blowouts that took place a year ago.
Both teams are on a mission right now to accomplish something neither franchise has done before. While Atlanta is beginning the quest for their first Legends Cup Title, something they believe this group can attain, Omaha is working toward achieving their team’s first playoff berth. When looking at the recent history and ‘Wow Clips’ gathered from this Eastern Conference rivalry, you can bet there will be boxing gloves needed tomorrow night in the Infinite Energy Arena.
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Las Vegas Betting Line
Atlanta- 9 points | Over/Under 55 points
The off-season rebuild in Omaha has proven early success with their Week-2 win against the New England Liberty and for the first time in team history, the Heart are off to a 1-0 start. The offense looked great and the defense had a big performance, as the Heart defeated the Liberty 26-6, scoring twice as many points as they did the entire 2015 season. The indignity and embarrassment felt after last year’s performance, has been a huge motivation for the returning players this 2016 season. Omaha owes it to their loyal fan base to perform at a high level and compete for a Championship and first year Head-Coach Tony Doremus is focused on building a team that all of Nebraska can rally behind for years to come.
Quarterback Lindsey Howell who went undiscovered by the previous coaching regime did not attempt many passes in her debut, but did connect with veteran Linsey Noble for a 30-yard touchdown strike, proving her arm is a threat. There was some vulnerability however, as one of Howell’s handful of passes thrown was an interception late in the first quarter. Expect Howell to pass more against Atlanta as the league expects offenses to have a balanced attack.
Omaha’s running game should perform well against an Atlanta team that struggles to defend the run, with the recent addition of Nicki Bernhardt who will get the start over Sarah Jane Thompson and Shaylynn Durham. Despite Durham’s great performance running the ball against New England as she rushed for two touchdowns, Coach Doremus gave Bernhardt the start over Thompson and Durham. This decision should improve the defense as Thompson and Durham will be fresh at Defensive-end and Linebacker respectively.
Key for Omaha
Omaha will need to play a physical game with a chip on their shoulder, showing Atlanta that they are not even close to the same team as last year. Mistakes, lousy execution, and poor ball security were the demise of the 2015 Heart, so minimizing, improving, and eliminating those respectively will be important to stay in the game Friday night. Quarterback Lindsey Howell will need to be effective throwing the ball, to prove that Omaha’s passing game should be taken seriously. Omaha needs to attack the Steam defense up front, much like Chicago who has had success running the ball on Atlanta, and try to get starting running-back Nicki Bernhardt some opportunities to make plays. Defensively, the key will be to get pressure on Dakota Hughes and focus on keeping Lauran Ziegler contained.
Players to Watch
The Steam finished the 2015 season with an ugly performance against the Chicago Bliss in the Eastern Conference Championship, being blown-out 41-6. This offseason actually granted the Steam an opportunity to regain some confidence and momentum due to the fact that five of the current Steam players were on the All-Fantasy Team that defeated the Western Conference down in Guatemala last December. With the new additions of rookies and free-agents, this Atlanta team appears to be better than any other squad Dane Robinson has coached in the past three seasons.
Atlanta has made the playoffs every year since their inception, but have failed to deliver the ‘ATL’ faithful a Legends Cup Title. Atlanta looks to improve upon their 1-3 all-time playoff record this season and show the rest of the league they are the real deal this year. You can guarantee Lauran Ziegler, Dina Wojowski, and Adrian Purnell want a playoff victory more than just about anyone in the LFL, as they each played on the Jacksonville/Tampa Breeze teams that were win-less in the post-season during three appearances and after losing again last year in the playoffs, it’s become a huge motivation for them as they watched some of their former Breeze teammates Bryn Renda and KK Matheny taste playoff victory and win the Cup in Seattle last year.
Last season Quarterback Dakota Hughes put up incredible numbers during the regular season completing 59% of her passes (45 of 76) for 585 yards with 17 touchdowns and only 1 interception. You do have to take into account that 13 of her TD passes came against Omaha and the other 4 were against Chicago; so it is wise to expect her numbers to deflate some this season because there are no teams as poor defensively as Omaha was a year ago. With the additions of Theresa Petruziello and Amanda Ruller this off-season, who join receiving targets like Lauran Ziegler, Adrian Purnell, and CoCo Montgomery, this passing game could still be one of the top in the league this season.
Key for Atlanta
The running game on both sides of the ball is a key area that Atlanta needs to focus on. Their ground attack against Chicago last season didn’t pose much of a threat and Chicago was able to focus on defending the pass, while at the same time their defense struggled to defend the run against Chicago. These two areas were big concerns for Coach Robinson heading into the off-season and he feels that the right personnel changes and adjustments have been made to play physical upfront to improve both areas. The defensive success will depend much on the performance of D-Ends CoCo Montgomery and Brittany Demery, alongside linebacker Dina Wojowski, which appears to be one of the top defensive lines in the league this season.