06/21/2012 6:19 AM
In a season of continued ups and downs, the Cleveland Gladiators look to get back on track this week as they travel to the Sunshine State for a matchup with the Jacksonville Sharks. Cleveland comes in having lost four straight games, including a 54-42 loss to the New Orleans VooDoo this past Saturday.
After starting the season 6-3, the Gladiators found themselves just a half game back of the Eastern Division leading Philadelphia, but couldn’t pull out the victory over the Soul at home and haven’t been able to get in the win column since. Now sitting at 6-7 on the season, Cleveland will need to find a way to beat a tough Jacksonville squad, who also comes in at 6-7.
The Sharks are currently riding their own losing streak, having dropped back-to-back contests to Georgia and Philadelphia. If the playoffs started today, Jacksonville would be in as the #3 seed in the American Conference based on head-to-head tiebreakers over New Orleans, Tampa Bay, and Cleveland. In their last matchup on April 21st, the Sharks snagged a 54-49 victory over the Gladiators at Quicken Loans Arena.
One of the strengths for Jacksonville this season has been their running game, which currently ranks second overall in the AFL at 433 yards (33.3 yards per game). Having any kind of formidable ground attack in the AFL can keep defenses honest and is a powerful tool in assembling long, clock-draining drives. Leading the way on the ground has been dual-threat quarterback Bernard Morris and fullback Rendrick Taylor. Morris and Taylor rank second and third in the AFL in rushing yards, respectfully. As far as passing, Morris comes in having completed 113-of-206 passes for 1,361 yards and 31 touchdowns. This will be the Gladiators first look at the former Power signal-caller this season, as he did not play in the previous matchup.
On the other side, Cleveland is still ranked 1st in the AFL in total defense, including 2nd against the pass and 10th against the run. In the secondary, defensive back Levy Brown has shut down opposing receivers all season long. Brown intercepted his franchise-record eighth pass against New Orleans last weekend.
On offense, look for Gladiators quarterback John Dutton to put on an inspired effort, as Cleveland is still very much alive in the Wild Card hunt. Dutton enters Saturday’s matchup having completed 297-of-462 passes for 3,258 yards and 64 touchdowns this season. His top targets continue to be wide receivers Dominick Goodman and Robert Redd. Both wide outs have eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark this season, as Goodman has racked up 1,269 yards and Redd with 1,012. However, an X-Factor for the Gladiators might be the play of wide receiver Carlese Franklin. Franklin has been stellar as of late, most recently catching ten passes for 131 yards this past Saturday.
Kickoff is set for 7:00 pm at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena this Saturday.