Sharks welcome Storm to arena Saturday
A win over Tampa Bay would clinch a playoff berth for the Sharks.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville Sharks return to Sea Best Field this week, as the take on the South Division rival Tampa Bay Storm on Saturday, July 25 with kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m. ET.
Following last week's victory over the Philadelphia Soul, Jacksonville (8-7) enters this week with a chance to clinch a playoff berth, as a win over Tampa Bay (6-9) on Saturday night would guarantee that the Sharks will play postseason football. The Sharks also remain in control of their own destiny for the South Division title, as if Jacksonville wins each of its final three games, it will capture its fifth division crown in six seasons.
But victory will not come easily this week, as the Sharks have already dropped a pair of matchups with the Storm this season. Each of those previous meetings were played in Tampa, as the Sharks fell by a 63-28 count in Week 6 and a 63-56 score in Week 12. In that second matchup, the Sharks erased a two-score second-half deficit to tie the game at 56, but yielded the game-deciding touchdown in the final minute.
This week, the Sharks hope to maintain the same offensive efficiency that the team displayed in last Saturday's 74-67 win against the Soul. After losing a fumble on the game's opening drive, Jacksonville's offense scored a touchdown on each of its 10 remaining full possessions, the only exception being one untimed down at the end of the first half. The Sharks featured a balanced attack in that game, as Derrick Ross scored three times on the ground, both Tiger Jones and Joe Hills caught three touchdowns of their own and London Crawford added a score.
While the offense played their part by matching Philadelphia score-for-score, the Sharks' defense came up with key plays in the final quarter. With his team trailing by a 60-53 count, Greg Reid intercepted consecutive passes, returning the first for a game-tying touchdown and using the second to set his offense up with a short field. Then, in the final minute, strong coverage across the board kept Philadelphia from scoring on its final drive, as Terrance Smith brought down a Soul receiver in bounds to burn off the remainder of the clock.
This week, Reid, Smith and the Sharks' secondary will look for opportunities to make plays against Storm quarterback Jason Boltus, who has thrown more interceptions (20) than any other quarterback in the AFL this season. The Sharks picked off Boltus a total of three times between the first two matchups, but the Tampa Bay signal caller has been able to push through those picks to lead the Storm to victory both times.
Tampa Bay's offensive line has proven to be vulnerable this season, as the Storm have yielded 27 sacks to this point in the season. This could play into the hands of Joe Sykes and the Sharks' defensive line. After he was shut out in last Saturday's game, Sykes remains just one sack away from breaking his own single-season AFL record. Sykes recorded one sack in the first two meetings between these teams, and he will look to get after Boltus early and often to give his secondary an opportunity to make a game-changing play.
One recent trend in matchups between the Sharks and Storm is Tampa Bay's ability to quickly change the course of the game with an extra possession. In the second quarter of each of their last three games against the Sharks, Tampa Bay has gotten in the end zone and then quickly recovered a bar-ball kickoff for another score. Each time, those recoveries have put the Sharks into a hole from which Jacksonville was unable to emerge. By avoiding such a pitfall this week, the Sharks could give themselves a much better chance at victory.
Based on recent trends, this week's game could feature high scoring in each direction. The Sharks put up 74 points in each of their last two home games, but have also given up at least 60 points in three of the last four games. On the other side, Tampa Bay has yielded at least 64 points in each game of its current three-game losing streak.
In the event that both offenses light up the scoreboard, this week's game could come down to which team wins the turnover battle. The Sharks hold the edge in that category overall, as Jacksonville ranks tied for second in the League with a plus-17 turnover margin. On the flip side, Tampa Bay ranks tenth out of the AFL's 12 teams at minus-11 in 2015. As the Sharks look to lock up their playoff future, they will aim to continue that trend on Saturday night.
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