04/08/2011 12:04 PM
- The 3-0 start by the Gladiators this season matches the same start the 2008 squad had in their inaugural term in Cleveland. That original Cleveland Gladiator team went on to make the playoffs and advance all the way to the National Conference Championship in what was a memorable first campaign for the AFL in Northeast Ohio.
While it’s entirely too early in this season to be thinking playoffs (at least out loud), it got me wondering what other similarities there might be between the two teams. Along with some parallels, there are some differences that really set the two apart.
One big resemblance between the two squads can be seen in the points scored. Through three games, the 2008 team put up 184 points, while this year’s team has scored 182. In 2008, the ground game was just as prevalent as the passing game, whereas this season the offensive attack has been predominantly through the air. Marlion Jackson and the ground game got going early that first season, with seven rushing touchdowns in those first three contests. This year, the Glads have thrown for 21 touchdowns versus four rushing scores. Either way, both teams knew how to put points up on the board.
Robert Redd’s hot start in 2011 is something that should be familiar to Gladiator fans. His numbers through three games in each of his two seasons in Cleveland are very similar:
Redd, 2008- 20 catches 257 yards six touchdowns_
Redd, 2011- 20 catches 289 yards five touchdowns
These very comparable stats show that Redd is displaying the top form he showcased back in 2008. Even after being out of the Arena Football League for two years, he clearly hasn’t missed a beat.
A third similarity, one that sets the elite apart from the rest of the field in an AFL season, is turnovers. With such close quarters and a short distance to travel to score in arena football, turnovers are crucial in changing the momentum of a game. One stop can be all the difference in the shootouts that frequently take place in any given contest.
In both seasons to this point, each team had a +4 turnover margin. The 2008 team had four interceptions, returning one for a touchdown. This season, the Gladiators have had seven picks and have returned one for a score. The Glads have forced turnovers in all three of their opponent’s first possessions of the game thus far this season, showing that they have been seizing the momentum from the get go.
A huge difference with this year’s Gladiators has been the addition of Troy Bergeron. Troy has been nearly unstoppable in his first three contests with the team, grabbing 22 passes for 372 yards and 13 touchdowns. He leads the league in scoring average with 26 points per game and is the major catalyst for the offense.
The 2008 team was lead throughout the season by Otis Amey, who had 17 catches for 201 yards and seven touchdowns at this point in the season. While Amey’s play was solid, Bergeron is a special player that can beat defenders long or break a play with the ball already in his hands. He has been arguably the biggest difference for Cleveland this season and will continue to be a nightmare of a matchup for defenses the rest of the way.
Another difference between the two seasons can be seen in the points allowed. While both teams started out the same at 3-0, the 2011 Gladiators have allowed significantly less points thus far. The 2008 team allowed 169 points in the first three games with the average margin of victory being about six points, while they have allowed a mere 129 points this season with nearly an 18 point average win margin. A lot of that can be attributed to the huge 40 point victory over the defending American Conference champion Tampa Bay Storm in Week 3.
Finally, a noticeable difference rests at the quarterback position. While the high level of play is consistent between the two seasons, the 2008 team had a seasoned veteran at the helm, while this year’s team has a rookie leading the way. Raymond Philyaw went 61-of-89 for 746 yards, one interception and 16 touchdown passes. In one less start, Kurt Rocco has gone 42-61 for 602 yards, two interceptions and fifteen scoring tosses.
While Philyaw was excellent in the three wins in 2008, combining Rocco and injured quarterback John Dutton’s statistics through the first three starts produces staggering numbers: 73-of-121 for 843 yards, two interceptions and 21 touchdown passes. The passing offense has been sensational to start 2011. Rocco learned from the best under Dutton in a short period of time and has been executing Coach Thonn’s system extremely efficiently in stepping in.
The veteran leadership that Philyaw and Dutton brought to the table are irreplaceable, but the Gladiators have found a quality young leader in Kurt Rocco who appears more than ready and willing to step in and fill the big shoes that were left before him.
While there are some similarities between the two seasons, they are completely different teams with different offensive and defensive philosophies. So why bother to even compare the two? The excitement and electricity of that 2008 team and their storybook run is still fresh in the minds of football fans throughout Northeast Ohio. This season has begun with great success in matching that 3-0 start, bringing with it anticipation and optimism for what’s to come with the rest of the 2011 AFL season.
As Clevelanders/Ohioans, it’s in our DNA to get excited about our teams and dream about what’s to come. Why stop now?