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Week 4 of the inaugural Alliance of American Football season saw the Memphis Express earn their first win of the season beating the San Diego Fleet 26-23 at the Liberty Bowl. The team played very well in this game as a whole to earn this win in a game that saw them fall behind 20-6 at one point. However, they were able to take advantage of some turnovers to get back in the game by the end of the first half. Let’s take a look at how the Express position groups performed as units in this memorable game.
Memphis Express Week 4 Grades
Zach Mettenberger (aka The Mettshow) made his first start for the Express and did not disappoint. He finished 18 of 25 in his pass attempts for 174 yards and a TD. He also ran for a TD late in the first half and converted a 2 PT conversion on a QB draw. His 72% completion rate is above expectations and he looked in control the entire game. More importantly, he had 0 INTs not giving away any momentum or field position. The wheel route TD throw to Terrance Magee was amazingly accurate and right on the money to a receiver who was actually covered well on the play. We can look forward to the his next start in Atlanta next week.
Running Backs: C+
The running back corps was generally ineffective in this one and Zac Stacy at one point looked visually frustrated on the field with the inability to run the ball. His 18 attempts for 39 yards led the team. Stacy’s 2.2 yards per carry was still better than the 2.0 yards per carry that Magee and Sherman Badie added. The grade was salvaged by the group being involved in the passing game and Magee’s well run touchdown route. In general, this was still an off day for this group.
Wide Receivers: A-
There was a couple of drops which kept them from a full A, but the group played an integral part of the win. Reece Horne caught all 4 passes he was targeted on for 63 yards. Alton “Pig” Howard added 39 yards on 3 catches, while Dontez Byrd added 20 yards on 2 receptions. Devin Lucien was involved in the ball control passing game adding 19 yards on 3 catches. Mettenberger was really able to spread the ball around amongst this WR group. Horne was impressive with his big play ability and almost fought into the endzone himself on a drive that ended in the Mettenberger TD run.
Offensive Line: B-
The line protected fairly well, allowing only 1 sack on the day. However, they lacked the push they had shown in previous weeks to help the running backs out. The penalties were also not as noticeable this week and there were no real drive killing false start penalties in this one. We are still waiting though for a complete game from this unit in which the run blocking and pass protection are good in the same game, which still has not happened.
Overall Offensive Grade: B
The team put up a season high 26 points and won the game. They did have some stalled drives and had to settle for FGs even with good field position at times. On the good side they did not turn the ball over, which in the end turned out to the be the key stat in this victory. The running backs were very quiet in this game and it is surprising they could score this much with such limited output from what has been their best offensive skill position up to this point. Mettenberger’s ability to manage the game was night and day from what we have seen previously from Hackenberg and payed big dividends in the end.
Defensive Front: A
The only real issue the defensive front had in this game was containing the San Diego QB’s when they scrambled. They allowed 105 rushing yards overall and 60 of these were from QB scrambles and runs. Ja’Quan Gardner, who came in as the league leading rusher, was invisible with only 6 yards on 9 carries. Drew Jackson was a monster and should be the AAF Defensive player of the week. He had 13 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 4 passes defensed and 1 interception. The team had 4 QB sacks overall and a lot of pressures, which resulted in so many of these QB scrambles. The unit also had some key forced fumbles on strip sacks, which lead to the decisive scores in the game.
Defensive Backs: B
The defensive backs played a very strong game overall, especially in the second half. They did get burned on a couple of big pass plays and 2 TD passes, which brings down their grade a bit. However, they responded with a very strong second half, in which they allowed less than a 50% completion percentage in. The unit was helped out with a key injury to San Diego’s starting QB Nelson, who hurt himself on one of the QB scrambles. It sounds like he will also miss another game for the Fleet and the play from Alex Ross was a dramatic drop in completion rate, yards per play and turnovers.
Overall Defensive Grade: A-
The defense came up big in the second half forcing turnovers (they had 4 takeaways for the game) and allowing the offense and special teams a chance to win the game, which they did. The Defensive front set the tone early and late in this with Drew Jackson having nothing short of a monster game. After falling behind 20-6 (6 of these points are not on the D), they tightened up and outscored San Diego 20-3 the rest of the game.
Special Teams: B
Austin MacGinness was 4 for 4 on field goals in his first game with the Express, including the tie-breaker with just over 2:00 to go the game. The University of Kentucky product provided a strong, and more importantly, accurate and consistent leg from the place kicking position. Ryan Winslow was a bit inconsistent with a couple of strong kicks, including a 58 yarder and 1 that was downed at the SD 1 yard line. His first kick he would like to forget as it was short and had no hang time and was returned for a touchdown. Punt returns for touchdowns are not something we can accept going forward from the coverage team.
The coaching staff gets kudos for keeping the team upbeat and optimistic when they fell behind early and the team responded with a monster comeback. The only real issue with the coaching was the extreme conservative nature of the play calling. They continued to rely on the run (even late when they were clearly being ineffective) and fell into 3rd and long situations repeatedly. I would have liked to see a little more downfield passing following turnovers to push the momentum the turnovers cause. The conservative play calling had them settling for FG’s instead of getting more touchdowns. Luckily, the defense played strong throughout and was able to seal the victory for them.
Next week the Memphis Express are back on the road with a trip to Atlanta to face the Atlanta Legends (who also just got their first win) where the Mettshow will try to go on tour and keep the momentum as the team from Bluff City tries to win their first road game and their second in a row overall.