By Jaylon Thompson / The Alliance
ATLANTA—The Atlanta Legends are in win-now mode.
After falling 36-6 to the Orlando Apollos last week, the Legends are hanging onto slim playoff hopes. They face an uphill battle to secure a playoff spot and trail the Birmingham Iron by two games in the Eastern Conference Standings.
Every game is crucial moving forward. The Legends will finish the season with games against the Iron, Salt Lake Stallions and the Memphis Express.
The Atlanta Legends (2-5) travel to face Birmingham Iron (4-3) this Sunday, March 31, at 4 p.m. ET at Legion Field. The game can be seen on CBS Sports Network. Tickets to all Legends games are available here.
It starts with a pivotal road game against the Iron this week. The Legends lost the previous matchup in Week 3 and look for retribution. Many players know the importance of the game. They feel getting back to the basics is the key to winning.
“We have to just get back to the basics and forget about this game,” Legends receiver Justin Thomas said. “We have to get ready for the next one. (Our goal is to) just come in and do your job with a new game plan, and just go from there.”
The Legends had success against the Iron in Week 3. The offense stretched the field with 347 total yards and scored three times (two field goals and one touchdown). The unit also averaged 5.3 yards per play.
The ball movement could play a big role in the return matchup. Under new head coach Ken Zampese, the Legends averaged over 30 minutes in time of possession. If they can cash in long drives with red zone points, the Legends have a chance to pull out a victory.
Defensively, the Legends must stop the run. The unit allowed Iron running back Trent Richardson to rush for three touchdowns in the first game. The linebackers will need to shut down the rushing attack to keep the game close.
The Stallions provide a different challenge. Neither team has faced each other, and it will be a clash of similar styles.
Salt Lake has a great defense and are led by defensive end Karter Schult. The explosive lineman has seven sacks to lead The Alliance. He can get into the backfield and make plays for his teammates. As a unit, the Stallions give up the fewest rushing yards and are second in passing defense.
The Stallions are a tough team at 2-5 overall. However, their record doesn’t highlight the entire story. Salt Lake lost all five games by a total of 34 points.
In Week 9, the Legends will have their hands full. The defense will need to step up and make Stallions quarterback Josh Woodrum uncomfortable in the pocket. The offense will have to rely on the arm of quarterback Aaron Murray to decode the Stallions at home.
The Express might pose the toughest challenge. In the season finale, the Express host the Legends in Memphis.
The Legends won the first matchup in Week 5. Running back Tarean Folston led the charge with 106 total yards and two touchdowns. He was key in the 23-20 victory.
However, this is a different Express team due to the arrival of Express quarterback Johnny Manziel. The former Texas A&M standout could be the starter in Week 10.
He poses a unique threat to the Legends. Manziel is a pure dual-threat and can really shift the momentum of a game. It will be up to the Legends to spy on Manziel and keep him in the pocket. If they can do that, they have a good chance to win and potentially clinch a playoff spot.
The road won’t be easy. The Legends must take it one game at a time. However, they have a chance to do something special.
It starts this week against the Iron. Should things break their way, the Legends are just talented enough to make a last-ditch playoff run.
“I think attitude is everything,” Legends linebacker Jeff Luc said. “Attitude really sets the tone as far as the effort you’re going to give and how dedicated you are in what you’re doing. ”
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Jaylon Thompson covers the Atlanta Legends for The Alliance of American Football. Follow him on Twitter JaylonThompson.