NEW ENGLAND LIBERTY HOST LFL FOOTBALL NIGHT FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER ON SATURDAY (OFFICIAL GAME PREVIEW)
(LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA- Thursday, June 23, 2016)
This Saturday, LFL Football heads to New England for the first time ever, a part of the country where football expectations are high. The New England Liberty (0-2) will begin the second half of their season, in which they will host both eastern conference powerhouses, starting with the Chicago Bliss (0-1) on Saturday night.
Even with the home-field advantage, the Liberty are big underdogs against the Bliss who are arguably the best franchise in the LFL all-time. With four Legends Cup appearances and two Championships in six seasons, the Bliss have consistently been the Goliath year-to-year. In a true game of David versus Goliath on Saturday night, the question will be how well the Liberty have improved over the last couple months and if one of the rookies will come up with a big performance in their attempt to go toe-to-toe with the best.
Watch LFL Football Night weekly on CW, MyNetwork TV or Regional Sports Networks (check local listings), also on the LFL’s official YouTube channel, www.YouTube.com Saturdays 9p/8c.
Las Vegas Betting Line
Chicago- 12 points | Over/Under 55 points
The Chicago Bliss are set to begin their back-to-back week stretch against two teams that most expect the Bliss to handle with a bit of ease. After facing potentially their toughest opponent already this season with Seattle, the Bliss now look ahead at their three remaining Eastern Conference games to finish out the regular season. Chicago has dominated in conference play over the past three seasons, where their only loss within the conference was in 2013 against Los Angeles to begin the season. Since then, the Bliss have won every regular season game within the conference except for a tie with Seattle in 2014 when they competed in the West before moving to the East last season. Chicago expects to continue their dominance this season and advance to the postseason in search of their fourth consecutive Legends Cup appearance.
This is a much different offense from the 2013 and 2014 Legends Cup Champion Bliss as only one of the seven starters, Deena Fagiano, was a part of those two teams. This new-look offense is led by the talented Australian quarterback Jacinda Barclay who played well in her first appearance in the US completing 10-of-22 passes for 129 yards with 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions against Seattle. Barclay only had a couple weeks to prepare with her new team before that Week-6 loss to Seattle, but after having over a month to work with teammates and coaches, expect her to have much more composure and confidence heading into Saturday’s game in New England.
A big loss to the offense was the injury of ChrisDell ‘Ferrari’ Harris who sustained a sprained knee. Her presence is a big threat for opposing defenses as she is among the top running-backs to ever play in the LFL and she has been in the top 5 for receptions in the league for the last couple seasons as well. Javell Thompson will get the start in place of Harris and will have an opportunity to showcase her speed and running ability. Other offensive targets will be Tamar Fennell and AJ Johnson who both had a touchdown reception against Seattle. Fennell recorded four receptions for 49 yards and Johnson hauled in two receptions 21 yards in her LFL debut.
The defense was without a primary starter against Seattle with the absence of veteran Yashi Rice. This week, with the defensive-end tandem of Rice and Chantell Taylor back in the starting lineup, the Bliss will be much improved. Rookie linebacker Kristin Morrison was not a big factor in defending Seattle, but she certainly has tremendous talent and athleticism so you can expect her to have a breakout game in the next couple weeks. This secondary is one of the most experienced in the league with starting corner-backs Di’Andra Frye and Dominique Collins, then at safety with Kim Perez and Tamar Fennell. Collins is coming ofF the best game of HER career where she had six tackles, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles. As a team built around dominant defense, expect them to look to blank the Liberty Saturday night.
Key for Chicago
The Bliss need to set the tone early and make the Liberty play up to their level and not the other way around. Establishing an early lead will allow Barclay a cushion giving her time to build her confidence and get comfortable playing with her new team. Avoiding mental mistakes, turnovers, and injury will be important for Chicago. Back-up running back Javell Thompson filling in for the injured ChrisDell Harris needs to protect the ball and get downfield to help move the chains offensively. Without Harris in the line-up on offense, someone will need to rise to the occasion and make a name for themselves. With defensive-end tandem Chantell Taylor and Yashi Rice back for Chicago, the defense will need to put the kind of pressure it is capable of on Drake and stop New England’s ground game.
Chrisdell Harris – Sprained knee – Out
Kelsey Bolstod – Thumb – Out
Kim Perez – Thumb – Probable
Chabria Survillion – Thumb – Probable
Yahshi Rice – Groin – Probable
Players to Watch
New England Liberty
Earlier this year during team training camps, much hype was built around this Liberty team that brought in a hand full of talented rookies with high potential. Despite the talent, this new team has struggled in a number of areas on and off the field so far this season. Numerous offensive and defensive holes have hindered cohesiveness, while the rough 0-2 start led to a lack of commitment within the depth on the roster. The bright spot for this franchise is the fact that the majority of starters are still intact and have been preparing for this game against Chicago ever since their Week-4 lost to Austin on April 30th.
In her two games this year, quarterback Alex Drake has showcased her ability of being fully capable of playing quarterback in this league and many analysts still see a strong upside for the rookie. Drake has displayed good statistics this season and against Austin, she had a very efficient game with completing 17 of 28 passes for 104 yards, throwing one touchdown and one interception against an Acoustic team, that has fared well in the Western Conference this season. Kristen Beckman is Drake’s go-to receiver and the Drake to Beckman tandem is one that fans in the New England area should get accustomed to for years to come. Beckman has caught 9 receptions in the two games this year for 84 yard, 7 catches of which came against Austin. They have not yet connected for a touchdown so look for their first connection for a score on Saturday night. The running game is the area that has struggled most on offense this season. Taking out the teams yardage on quarterback scrambles, the Liberty are averaging just over 2 yards-per-carry, a mark that just won’t get it done in this league. The offensive line will need to improve in providing space for the running backs.
The defense has given up 68 points combined against Austin and Omaha already this season, two teams that do not have the caliber of established offensive weapons like Chicago. Personnel adjustments and position changes have been made to this Liberty defense, and with nearly two months of preparation, many expect a lot of the concerns will be mended. Up-front was the primary issue for this defense and none of the top tacklers were at the d-line or linebackers positions. In fact, the three leading players with tackles were all in the secondary in their game against Austin, where Jessica Johnson had 8.5 (8 solo), Kristen Beckman had 6 (all solo), and Kenia McKeon had 4.5 tackles (4 solo). This week Lulu Jackson and Jolie Efezokhae will be starting defensive-ends with Danielle Green at linebacker. Tessa Alexandria was moved from linebacker to strong-safety and will be joined by free-safety Kenia Mckeon and corner-backs Astrid Cruz and Kristen Beckman.
Key for New England
In the trenches both offensively and defensively will determine if new England can compete with Chicago. Playing physical up-front against Chicago and filling gaps is what the Liberty need to do in order to slow down Chicago’s running game. Tessa Alexandria and Danielle Green will need to both have great games and be a contributing factor in forcing turnovers defensively. Offensively, establishing a run game of their own is the best way for the Liberty to sustain a drive and open up the passing game. Quarterback Alex Drake needs to have her best performance of the year so far and minimize if not eliminate any turnovers.