06/24/2015 4:07 PM
JACKSONVILLE – The Jacksonville Sharks have returned from their bye week and will square off against the Cleveland Gladiators on Saturday, June 27. Kickoff on Sea Best Field at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena is set for 7:00 p.m., as Saturday's game will be broadcast live to a national audience on CBS Sports Network.
This is the second and final matchup between these two teams in the regular season, as Jacksonville (6-6) traveled to Cleveland (7-6) back in Week 7, emerging with a 46-43 victory on the Gladiators’ home turf. That win proved to be the start of a five-game winning streak that propelled Jacksonville back into the thick of the South Division race. The Sharks currently sit just a half-game behind the 7-6 Orlando Predators with six games remaining.
The Sharks were not able to maintain their winning streak heading into the bye week, as Jacksonville fell to the Tampa Bay Storm, 63-56, back on June 12. In that game, the Sharks’ defense yielded just seven points in the second half – holding Tampa Bay off the board until the final minute when the Storm scored the game-winning touchdown.
This week, Jacksonville is looking to recapture the defensive consistency that was prevalent throughout the team’s five consecutive wins. In the first matchup against the Gladiators, Jacksonville racked up five turnovers, at one point stopping Cleveland on four consecutive offensive possessions. Gladiator signal-caller Shane Austin has thrown 13 interceptions this season, the third highest total among all Arena Football League quarterbacks. The Sharks picked Austin off three times in the first matchup, and will look to create pressure up front to create playmaking opportunities in the secondary.
Despite the turnovers, Cleveland’s offense features a potent group of wide receivers for Austin to find downfield. Though leading receiver Dominick Goodman is currently on inactive reserve, Collin Taylor and Amarri Jackson have combined to haul in 48 touchdown passes in Cleveland’s 13 games. Jackson also serves as the Gladiators’ primary kick returner, and has brought back a pair of kicks for touchdowns this season. The Sharks will have to neutralize Jackson in both phases of the game.
Offensively, the Sharks enter this week having scored 55 or more points in four of their last five games. Tommy Grady tossed seven touchdowns without an interception in Jacksonville’s most recent game, and will look to protect the ball in similar fashion this week. Grady now ranks fourth in the league in both pass efficiency (116.0) and touchdown passes (64).
In the Sharks’ last game, wide receiver Joe Hills tied a significant franchise record, as he became just the second player in team history to catch six touchdown passes in a single game, joining Jeff Hughley, who accomplished the feat in 2011. Hills shares a huddle with Tiger Jones, who has now racked up 10 100-yard games this season and leads all AFL wideouts with 1,423 receiving yards in 2015. Hills (104 receptions, 28 touchdowns) and Tiger Jones (103, 26) both rank in the AFL’s top five receivers in those respective categories as well.
When the Sharks have the ball, they must be wary of the playmaking ability of Cleveland Jack linebacker Joe Phinisee, who has returned three of his four interceptions for touchdowns and recovered a fumble for a score. As a team, the Gladiators have racked up nine non-offensive touchdowns in 13 games. By contrast, the Sharks have just one, Alvin Ray Jackson’s pick-six against the Los Angeles KISS in Week 10. Jacksonville allowed the Storm to return a kickoff and recover a bar ball for scores in their last game, and cannot afford to give Cleveland a similar opportunity.
Finally, one of the Sharks’ strengths lies in the red zone, as Jacksonville ranks fourth in the league having scored on better than 84 percent of their offensive possessions. A primary key to this success is the presence of Derrick Ross, who is largely unstoppable in short yardage situations. Ross has scored 20 of his 23 rushing touchdowns from inside the red zone. With that said, Cleveland features the fifth-best red zone defense in the league. This matchup of strength versus strength could prove pivotal in Saturday’s matchup.
About the Jacksonville Sharks
The Jacksonville Sharks are members of the Arena Football League (AFL). The ArenaBowl XXIV and four-time South Division Champions are presented by Sea Best Seafood and play all home games on Sea Best Field at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. Season Tickets for the 2015 season are now available, two tickets as low as $99. To reserve your season tickets or for more information, please call (904) 621-0700. Follow the Sharks on facebook at facebook.com/jaxsharks and on Twitter @jaxsharks, as well as the Attack Dance Team at facebook.com/sharkattackdance and Chum at facebook.com/chumsharks.
About the AFL
Since its inception in 1987, the Arena Football League has showcased a fast-paced and exciting game to millions of fans in a myriad of markets across the country. The ESPN family of networks and CBS Sports Network will nationally broadcast AFL games each week for the entire 2015 season. The AFL schedule culminates with ArenaBowl XXVIII Saturday, August 29, 2015 on ESPN.