Offense unstoppable, 'D' unable to stop
by Brian Distelberg, CobraZone
If any team in the AFL is the quintessential model of the league's high-scoring image, it's the Houston Thunderbears. Fifty one points per game. A league-best 311 yards per game. Robert Hall has thrown for 2,822 yards and 43 touchdowns, and rushed for eight more. Terrence Melton has 10 touchdowns and leads the league's fifth-best rushing offense, one that has scored on the ground four times in two games this year. Ben Bronson has caught 18 touchdown passes, averages 18.7 yards per kick return and leads the league in all-purpose yards.
The Thunderbears, however, are just 3-7, clinging to the last playoff spot and in the midst of a four-game slide, including losses to second-year Buffalo and expansion Los Angeles in their past two games.
Blame it on the defense.
The Houston defense has about as much success at stopping opponents as the offense has had difficulty to move the ball. That is to say, not much. The Thunderbears allow 336 yards per game, including 315 through the air, both league-worst marks. Houston gives up 58 points per game. Last week, they allowed Todd Marinovich to tie an AFL record with 10 touchdown passes, en route to a 72-66 overtime loss. "We're just not stopping people. Teams are scoring at will on us," said head coach Steve Thonn after the loss.
And while those words might leave Fred McNair and company licking their chops, Houston's dominant offense looms large over a Cobras defense that failed to stop Nashville from scoring a single time in last week's 54-31 loss.
The Cobras would like to prove that their still better than Los Angeles, who they beat in week 2. More importantly, they'd like to win at home. Most importantly, they'd like to win, period.
Getting the call in the secondary will be veterans Adrian Lunsford and Tommy Johnson at defensive specialist, who must compensate for the Cobras' offensive-oriented two-way players, like newcomers Antwaun Wyatt and Greg Harris. Double-teaming Bronson might work, but the Thunderbears do have other threats, including Gerald Dockery and Ed Howard. Brad Keeney, the Cobras' leading sacker, might have some success putting pressure on Hall; opponents have sacked him 22 times this year, and OL/DL Patterson Owens will sit with groin and back injuries.
Interestingly, though not reported in the Cobras' press release, newly-signed WR/DB Kotto Cotton played with Houston this season, according to statistics from the league's official site. If true, Cotton's role might be that of a spy, a not-uncommon practice. If the Cobras seem to know what Houston is doing before they do it, Cotton may be the one to credit.
Sneakiness aside, what the Cobras will need Friday is a big dose of defensive fundamentals. Stops will be critical in what is likely to be a shootout. Scott Szeredy has only been forced to attempt field goals 18 times this year, and has had to kick from over 40 yards just five times. Can the Cobras stick Houston deep?
If they can, they may be looking at win number two.