SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake Stallions have proven they are stout defending the run: halfway through the Alliance of American Football’s inaugural season, the Stallions own the league’s top rush defense, giving up just 83.2 yards per game.
The Stallions' defensive line is led the league’s sack leader, Karter Schult, who has five sacks. Pro Football Focus even rates Salt Lake third in the Alliance in pass rush.
It’s positives like this that have Salt Lake players confident the team can turn around its recent fortunes, with the 1-4 Stallions coming off a heartbreaking 27-25 loss to the San Diego Fleet last week.
One area where Salt Lake defenders would love to see an improvement, though, is creating takeaways. Through five games, Salt Lake has just two interceptions and two fumble recoveries, one of which happened on special teams. The Stallions, in turn, have lost 10 turnovers.
“Going into the back half of the season, that’s the most important thing we as a defense have got to concentrate on,” Stallions linebacker Gionni Paul said.
"Every defense I’ve been on, the philosophy is, if you cause more turnovers than the opponent, you’ve got between a 60 and 80 percent chance of winning. That being said, we’ve only caused two (interceptions) this year, and we’ve had a couple fumble recoveries in there. I’m used to causing two in a game. I don’t think that it’s enough. Nobody on our defense is settling for it."
Both times the Stallions have intercepted passes, they capitalized on flipping the momentum.
In Week 3, linebacker Greer Martini intercepted Arizona quarterback John Wolford on the first play of the second half and returned the pick inside the Hotshots' 10-yard line. It led to a quick touchdown and the Stallions never trailed in picking up the program’s first win, 23-15.
Last week, cornerback Will Davis jumped an underneath route when San Diego was ahead 18-11 and driving deep in Salt Lake territory. The former Utah State standout intercepted a third-down pass at the Stallions 18, helping Salt Lake fend off a scoring threat.
“The minute (the receiver) pivoted out towards me, I just went for it," Davis said. "It’s one of those times in a game where you know we’re down, it’s late and we need a play to be made. In the red zone, it’s huge to get a turnover. At that point, you’ve got to take risks — calculated risks of course, but when your team needs a play, you’ve got to go for it. Play with what you see, and go get it.”
The loss to the Fleet last week — when the Stallions rallied from a 24-11 fourth-quarter deficit to take a 25-24 lead in the final minute before San Diego kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired — was a prime example of what winning the turnover battle can do.
Before the rally, Salt Lake was plagued by five turnovers, including two in the first half that cut short drives that had reached the red zone. San Diego turned the Stallions' three second-half turnovers into 18 points, including two defensive scores.
“We know we’ve got to put our offense in better situations. We’ve got to get them turnovers so they don’t have to drive all the way down the field," Davis said. "We’ve got to start getting the ball, and honestly, we’ve got to start getting the ball and scoring it. We can start closing teams if we start getting turnovers and getting touchdowns on defense.”
Paul pointed out the Stallions had five prime opportunities to cause turnovers last week, with only Davis' fourth-quarter interception coming to fruition.
"I dropped an interception, Cody Brown dropped two interceptions, Will Davis dropped one across the middle. That’s four missed opportunities right there," Paul said. "I think that’s a different ball game and we give the offense a better opportunity."Comment on this story
The next chance for the Salt Lake defenders to be the ones forcing those kind of devastating takeaways comes Saturday. The Stallions kick off the second half of the season with a home matchup against the Memphis Express, the Alliance’s other 1-4 team, on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The game will be televised on Bleacher Report Live.
"Every week, we have a benchmark for how many turnovers we want. There’s a realization, the defense still controls the outcome of the game if we can create more turnovers. That’s our mentality going into the game," Martini said.