By Jaylon Thompson and Cole Thompson / The Alliance
Georgia State Stadium
Sunday, 4 p.m. ET/Atlanta; 3 p.m. San Antonio
CBS Sports Network: Ben Holden, Adam Archuleta, John Schiffren (sideline reporter). Get Tickets Here.
ATLANTA — Two of the hottest teams in The Alliance do battle on Sunday afternoon at Georgia State Stadium.
The San Antonio Commanders are riding a wave of momentum after back-to-back wins against the Birmingham Iron and the Arizona Hotshots. The offense is taking off behind reigning Offensive Player of the Week Logan Woodside.
The signal-caller is third in The Alliance with 1,025 passing yards. His performance has guided the Commanders to the top of the Western Conference. As a result, the offense is thriving overall. San Antonio can win both through the air and on the ground.
The Legends must contend with the high-powered attack. Over the last two weeks, the Legends have played better on both sides of the ball. They are peaking at the right time and shining during a two-game winning streak.
The Legends are getting it done with ball control. The offense has taken off under new offensive coordinator Ken Zampese. In the last two games, the unit put up 864 yards and outscored opponents 37-31.
Look for the Legends to apply pressure on Woodside. The defensive unit had 13 hurries against the Memphis Express last week. If they can control the tempo, they have a great chance to pull out another home win.
The Commanders have a similar game plan. Defensively, they generated eight turnovers against the Iron and Hotshots. They also have a league-high 17 total sacks and will look to make life difficult for the Legends’ upstart offense.
Given the familiarity between the teams, this should be a great matchup. Both teams are in the thick of the playoff race and willing to lay it all on the line.
Fans are in for a treat on Sunday.
When the Commanders have the ball
The Commanders have searched for consistency all season. When clicking, the Commanders are nearly unstoppable on offense. However, there are some areas they would like to see improve. One is in the backfield. The Commanders want to strike a balance between their rushing attack and their passing game.
Every week, it seems as if one unit has outperformed the other. In Week 4 against the Iron, the Commanders collected 162 rushing yards and a touchdown. However, the offense mustered only 106 yards through the air.
Conversely, Woodside set a new personal best with 290 yards in Week 5. The former Toledo quarterback completed two passes for 50-plus yards against the Hotshots, including a 57-yard pass to Alonzo Moore — the longest pass of the weekend.
Still, the run game stumbled forward for just 78 yards. With the team trending upward, the Commanders must find a balance. A strong outing from Woodside and running backs Kenneth Farrow II and Trey Williams could be deadly for the Legends defense.
The Legends hope to attack Woodside early and often. They want to make him uncomfortable in the pocket and force turnovers. It starts on the defensive line. The positional group has 11 sacks this season and are led by pass rushers J.T. Jones and Tracy Sprinkle. Both players have caused havoc in the backfield with six combined sacks.
If the Commanders can control the clock early, they should be able to hold Atlanta’s offense.
When the Legends have the ball
The Legends have stormed back after an 0-3 start. They have relied on their offense to guide them towards two consecutive wins. Zampese has emphasized ball control and pace throughout the game. As a result, the Legends ran 76 plays last week. They were 10-for-18 on third down and scored twice in the red zone.
The Legends hope to find more consistency against the Commanders. Although averaging nearly 38 minutes with the ball, the Legends left several opportunities on the field. All week, Legends head coach Kevin Coyle has drilled situational football. He wants the offense to cash in those scoring chances against the Commanders.
It starts with quarterback Aaron Murray. The University of Georgia product has thrived since being inserted into the starting lineup. He’s completed 47 of 76 passes for 560 yards and a touchdown in two starts. Murray can push the ball down the field and get it into the hands of his playmakers.
The Commanders will have their hands full. Murray has shown the ability to run and escape the pocket. It’s going to be up to Jayrone Elliott (4.5 sacks) and the rest of the Commanders defense to contain the Legends attack.
Commanders Players to watch
WR Greg Ward Jr.: Mekale McKay is the Commanders’ deep threat, while DeMarcus Ayers is an ideal slot receiver. Ward is a perfect mix of both and finding most of his success around the intermediate level. Should the Commanders fail to attack down the field, Ward has a great chance to feast inside the numbers.
OLB Shaan Washington: Washington cooled down after his Week 1 success against the San Diego Fleet. He’s now ready to have another big outing. A former teammate to Legends offensive tackle Avery Gennesy, Washington should know the ins and outs that could allow him to pressure Murray all afternoon.
K Nick Rose: The Legends’ last two games have been decided by a total of six points. Rose is looking to earn his right as the league’s top kicker and a duel with Younghoe Koo could be imminent. For the season, the Texas product has gone 10 of 10 with a long of 50 yards.
Legends Players to watch
RB Tarean Folston: Folston is coming into his own this season. He leads the team in rushing (156 yards) and is second in receptions (14). Last week, he put up 106 total yards and scored two touchdowns against the Memphis Express. He could be in line for another big game against the Commanders.
DT T.J. Barnes: At 6-foot-6 and 379 pounds, Barnes is a behemoth in the middle of the Legends defense. He can take on double teams and create a lot of one-on-one matchups. Barnes could play a big role against the Commanders by collapsing the pocket. If he generates interior pressure, it could be a long night for Woodside and the San Antonio offense.
K Younghoe Koo: The Legends have depended on Koo a lot this season. He is 11-for-11 and drilled back-to-back game-winning field goals. Koo is the reigning Special Teams Player of the Week and is a key weapon when the Legends cross the 35-yard line. Look for Koo to play a big role in this matchup. By the numbers
San Antonio leads The Alliance with 17 sacks on the season. … Farrow II’s 305 individual rushing yards leads the league and the team’s 686 total yards on the ground are just five yards behind the Orlando Apollos for The Alliance’s overall best. … The Commanders continue to be one of the most efficient third-down offenses in the Alliance. They have converted 34 of 76 attempts on third down — good for an Alliance-best 44.7 percent. … Over the last two weeks, the Legends are averaging nearly 38 minutes in time of possession. … The Legends rank first in four different categories in The Alliance. … Receiver Seantavius Jones is averaging 15.1 yards per catch. … Punter Cameron Nizialek averages 45.8 yards per punt this season.
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Jaylon Thompson covers the Atlanta Legends for The Alliance of American Football. Follow him on Twitter JaylonThompson.
Cole Thompson covers the San Antonio Commanders for The Alliance of American Football. Follow him on Twitter @MrColeThompson