Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
SAN ANTONIO — Utah entered dangerous territory after another division loss last week in San Jose. Now, with postseason implications hanging in the balance each week, the Blaze head to the Alamodome.
Utah (4-5) squares off against San Antonio (4-5) in a rematch of the opening round of the 2012 playoffs. Game time is set for 6:30 p.m. in what will be a rare Monday night contest.
Unlike last season, when both franchises unleashed potent offensive arsenals, this time around the defenses headline the action. Utah has given up slightly more than 44 points per game over the course of five weeks and ranks second in the AFL in total defense (248.7 ypg) and passing defense (229.1 ypg). Meanwhile, the Talons surrender 47 points per game and allow 254.2 yards of total offense.
The key to the game for the Blaze is up front. It’s imperative that their offensive line contains San Antonio’s relentless pass rush to avoid placing quarterback Tommy Grady in uncomfortable positions. This season, Grady has struggled exponentially under duress, which has led to his league-high 22 interceptions.
Luckily, despite being second-to-last in turnover margin (minus-13 with 32 total turnovers) Utah has been solid in the trenches and has only allowed nine sacks in nine games. If it expects to return to .500, Utah needs to defuse the Talons' defensive line led by 2012 AFL Defensive Player of the Year Joe Sykes, who set an all-time AFL record with 16 sacks last season. On the opposite end, teammate Victor DeGrate was also a first-team All-Arena selection after recording 9 1/2 sacks.
The Blaze will look to take advantage of San Antonio’s inconsistency in the passing game with their ball-hawking seconding led by Maurice Leggett, who upped his season interception total to five after snagging another against the SaberCats last week. David Hyland adds depth with 15 pass breakups — tops in the AFL — along with four interceptions.
The Talons average 224.9 yards per game through the air, the lowest mark in the AFL. They've scored on 61 percent of their red zone possessions, which also ranks last. San Antonio also ranks third-to-last in point production at 43.6 points per contest.
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