Power fight urge to look ahead with playoffs looming
The season has been so successful for Power coach Ron James that even when he makes an off-the-field decision, it works in his favor.
At the beginning of the Power's off week July 13, James was faced with free time. It is customary in the Arena Football League for a team that doesn't have a game at the end of the week not to practice.
So James decided to prepare on his own for the playoffs, which begin for the Power on Aug. 3 in Orlando. At the time, the Predators and the Tampa Bay Storm were contending for the American Conference South championship and the right to meet the Power — the No. 3 seed — in the first round.
James chose to ignore the Storm's game tapes and instead watched those of the Predators. A few days later, the Predatars clinched the division title. Time well spent, coach.
“I played the percentages,” he said.
Predators work got shelved this week, however, when Power players and coaches readied themselves for their final regular-season game against the Philadelphia Soul at 5 p.m. Saturday at Consol Energy Center. The game is the Power's first at home in 35 days.
The stakes are higher for the Soul (9-8), who can clinch the fourth and final American Conference playoff berth with a victory. They will miss the postseason with a loss and a Tampa Bay victory over Cleveland.
The Power are 2-0 against the Soul, but Philadelphia scored 113 points, averaging about 12 more than what the Power allowed overall.
The Soul have made steady improvement since back-to-back, one-point losses to Pittsburgh and Cleveland last month. They beat Iowa, 84-48, and then their defense was dominant in beating division champions Orlando, 42-35, and San Jose, 42-20.
“They have been in that playoff mode the last couple weeks,” James said. “We expect their ‘A' game, and we have to produce likewise.”
Yet James must be careful. He wants to maintain momentum generated by the Power's 11-game winning streak but not at the expense of further injury. Defensive back Virgil Gray is back after missing two months with a high ankle sprain, and he returned an interception 48 yards for a touchdown last week against Iowa. But wide receiver Tyrone Goard remains hobbled by a knee injury and probably won't play.
“Anytime you play Philadelphia, it's going to be a good game,” James said, “but we know what is ahead of us. We are trying to walk that fine balance to go into the playoff game healthy.”