SaberCats-Rattlers: What to watch for

SaberCats-Rattlers: What to watch for
May 31, 2014, 6:00 pm
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The Rattlers put their undefeated record on the line vs. the visiting SaberCats. (SaberCats)

Nick Laino

The second longest rivalry in the AFL renews itself Saturday when the San Jose SaberCats (7-3) travel to the low desert to face their arch rivals in the Arizona Rattlers (10-0). San Jose is riding five game winning streak, holding opponents to 35 points or less during that stretch. The Rattlers have been perfect so far, leaving opponents in their wake with an average of 66.3 points per game.

Here are some things to watch for in Saturday night's heavyweight battle in Arizona:

Rivalry renewed
For the 43rd time, it will be Arizona vs. San Jose on an Arena Football field. No longer division foes, San Jose holds a slight edge in the series at 22-20. Recent history has favored the Rattlers, which have won four of the past five games, including ending the SaberCats year each of the past two seasons.

The SaberCats have not lost a game since April 12th when the Rattlers came to Cats Lair and squeaked out a 57-51 win on a touchdown pass with seven seconds on the clock. Arizona holds a three-game lead in the race for home field, and a loss would put San Jose in a deep hole. A win for Arizona would clinch the West division with seven games remaining.

The road to the Arena Bowl as of right now goes through the Snake Pit.

For San Jose to return to the championship, they must find a way to beat their rivals which they will see one more time on June 27th.


Road tested
San Jose has a 5-1 record on the road this year. They were a Reggie Gray TD away in Pittsburgh from being a perfect 6-0. In those road games, San Jose has allowed more than 35 points only once -- and that was the 48 points the Power scored in their only road loss. If you include the final road game from last season, a 78-20 win in Pittsburgh, San Jose has won six of their last seven regular season road games.

Arizona, house of horrors for San Jose, have just two wins in their last six trips to the Snake Pit.


Sack masters
The SaberCats have been giving opposing quarterbacks fits this season. The defense leads the AFL with 23.0 sacks this season.

Five players have recorded a sack, including Jason Stewart who is second in the AFL with 8.5 sacks. Arizona has a sack master of its own in Cliff Dukes. In 2011, Dukes had a career best 12.5 sacks while earning First Team All-Arena honors. Although he is not putting up those numbers this season, he does lead the Rattlers with four sacks to go along with 25.5 tackles.


Rushing attack
San Jose has brought back a wrinkle on offense that it had not seen in a long while: the running game. The SaberCats own the fourth-best rushing offense in the league at 22.9 yards per game. Their 17 rushing touchdowns are third-best in the AFL. Odie Armstrong, who returns to Arizona for the first time since being acquired by San Jose, has a season best 12 carries for 39 yards and two touchdowns.


Fourth time is a charm
Due to the nuances of AFL rules and regulations, fourth-down conversions are a lot more prevalent than in an outdoor game. This season, San Jose has made it an art form as they are a second-best on the season (65 percent). In their 23 attempts on fourth down, the SaberCats offense has converted 15 of them. Third down is just as good, as San Jose has converted 28-of-61 attempts (46 percent).


Snake Charmer
Nick Davila is becoming one of the all-time greats to ever play quarterback in the AFL. Not only has he led the Rattlers to back-to-back Arena Bowl championships, he is the only signal caller in league history to have 100 touchdowns in four straight seasons. This season, Davila  looks for his fifth straight, having already amassed 77 touchdowns.

He has also done something the Hall of Famer Shedrick Bonner couldn’t -- and that is beating San Jose. Davila is 4-2 against the SaberCats in his career and has beaten the club in the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.


Quotable
“They’re the best right now; they have been the best for the past three years. I don’t get into that stuff; it is a great opportunity for us to see where we are at.” – Darren Arbet, on if he gets caught up in the San Jose vs. Arizona rivalry

“One of the biggest games on our schedule, you always want to beat the champion.” - Jason Stewart, on how big this week’s game is

“I am really not going to be focused on what they say or what they do; I am going to be focused on getting a huge victory against a really good team.” – Odie Armstrong, on returning to Arizona as a member of the SaberCats

“It is a big game, to be the best you have to beat the best at this point they are the proclaimed best. This is a great measuring tool to see where we stand.” - Reggie Gray, on how this is a good measuring stick for San Jose

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