By Howard Balzer / The Alliance
And then there was one.
On an Alliance weekend in which the four games were decided by a total of 16 points, with three by a field goal or less, the Orlando Apollos remained undefeated in snowy Salt Lake City while the Memphis Express and Atlanta Legends won for the first time, each with new quarterbacks. The Legends also had a new offensive coordinator.
The Express defeated San Diego with Zach Mettenberger under center after he replaced Christian Hackenberg in the second half in Week 3. Atlanta, which had seen offensive-oriented head coach Brad Childress, along with offensive coordinators Michael Vick and Rich Bartel, leave their posts since the start of training camp, traveled to Arizona and played most of the game with Aaron Murray under center after Matt Simms suffered an injured right hand on the fifth play of the game.
New Atlanta offensive coordinator Ken Zampese, who was an assistant coach in the NFL for 21 seasons and was most recently the quarterbacks coach of the Cleveland Browns this past season, joined the team for practice this week and guided the Legends to an Alliance-high 454 yards. Only Orlando (428 yards against San Antonio in Week 2) and Arizona (416 against Salt Lake in Week 1) have reached 400 yards in a game this season.
Murray (254) and Simms (33) combined for 287 passing yards, and the Legends rushed for 177 yards in the victory.
Atlanta head coach Kevin Coyle would not commit to a starter for next Sunday’s game against Memphis, but Murray said afterward, “I can really see this offense just exploding from here on out.”
The Week 4 results helped create a set of crucial games with next weekend the halfway point of the season. All games are conference matchups. In the Eastern Conference, 3-1 Birmingham hosts 4-0 Orlando on Saturday and Memphis travels to Atlanta on Sunday (CBS Sports Network) with both teams 1-3. The Iron-Apollos matchup has been switched to TNT for the afternoon start. Had the Iron not last their first game of the season Sunday, next Saturday’s game would have resulted in a clash of undefeated teams.
It was two second-half turnovers by Birmingham that led to the nine points that enabled San Antonio to escape with a 12-11 victory. The 23 combined points were the second-fewest in a game this season. The 14-11 win by Atlanta over Arizona totaled the third-fewest points in a game.
A serious logjam exists in the Western Conference where the 1-3 Salt Lake Stallions are only one game behind the 2-2 Arizona Hotshots, San Antonio Commanders and San Diego Fleet. San Diego hosts Salt Lake Saturday night and San Antonio will be at Arizona Sunday night. Both games will be telecast on NFL Network.
The Fleet have a quarterback issue of their own after Philip Nelson suffered a shoulder injury in Saturday’s loss to Memphis. A new quarterback is expected to be signed this week, and head coach Mike Martz will have to decide whether to go with Mike Bercovici, who started the season opener before yielding to Nelson, or Alex Ross, who replaced Nelson on Saturday.
Getting Their Kicks In
Through four weeks of the season, The Alliance kickers have converted 83.6 percent (56 of 67) of field goals attempted, with the large majority from 20-39 yards.
Kickers are 18-for-18 from 20-29 yards; 20-for-21 from 30-39 yards; 14-for-20 from 40-49 yards and 4-for-8 from 50 yards or longer.
Four kickers have made all of their attempts, including Austin MacGinnis of Memphis, who was 4-for-4 Saturday in his first game after replacing Josh Jasper. MacGinnis’ 45-yard field goal with 2:42 remaining in the game beat San Diego 26-23.
The other three perfect kickers are San Antonio’s Nick Rose, who has made all nine of his attempts, and Atlanta’s Younghoe Koo and Orlando’s Elliott Fry, who are both 8-for-8. San Diego’s Donny Hageman is 8-for-9, and Birmingham’s Nick Novak is 7-for-8.
Three of Fry’s kicks have been from 42 or more yards with a long of 47. Rose made a 50-yarder, but his next longest after that is 39. Koo’s longest is from 38 yards. Hageman’s one miss was from 52 yards, and he has made four kicks of at least 43 yards. Novak’s long is 47, his next longest is 39, and his one miss was from 53 yards.
This past weekend, kickers made 14 of 16 attempts with the 52-yard attempt by Hageman and a 40-yarder by Arizona’s Nick Folk the only misses. Folk is 6-for-9 and has hit from 45, 48 and 53 yards, while also missing from 45 and 46 yards. Salt Lake’s Taylor Bertolet is 3-for-7, but three of his misses are from 48, 50, and 55 yards. His 39-yard miss is the only one from 30-39 that has been missed in the league in the first four weeks.
Also in the first four weeks, there have been 62 touchdowns scored, though only 11 in Week 4. The breakdown for the 62 scores is 28 each by running and passing, four on defense and two on special teams.
Margin of Victory
In the 16 games played, the average margin of victory has been 10.9 points. Eight games have been decided by eight points or less (one possession) and five by three points or fewer. All eight of those one-possession losses have come in the last three weeks following an opening weekend that had an average margin of victory of 21.3. The average is 7.4 from Week 2 through Week 4.
Howard Balzer is a national writer for The Alliance of American Football. He is in his 43rd year covering professional football and is a selector for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Super Bowl LIII was his 39th. Follow him on Twitter @HBalzer721.