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Mark Grieb is the guy to watch for the San Jose SaberCats. The long-time quarterback was by far the biggest question mark going into the 2011 Arena Football season, and it's pretty clear the questions have been answered, for the most part. Obviously, one game does not a season make, but one game where the ball was thrown with such efficiency and poise goes a long way in telling one part of the story.
Whatever the case, the team's performance, especially Grieb's, was enough to put them at the top of Examiner's AFL Power Rankings through the first week of play. This of course means that I voted as well, and as you can probably guess, I've got San Jose on top of my own personal rankings:
1. San Jose SaberCats
There was no doubt here, the SaberCats were the only team to score sixty or more points in week one (76 to be exact) and they did it against the defending ArenaBowl champions, the Spokane Shock. What else is there to say? Expectations were high coming into the year, and the bar is now set for the rest of the season. Mark Grieb and the SaberCats offense will need to continue to produce the kind of point totals they did in week one, and they have to display the same efficiency as before. The SaberCats are riding the top of my personal power rankings.
For the rest of my personal rankings, the link is right here. In other news, the SaberCats are currently riding the top of the Coach's Poll. They came in second in the Preseason Coach's Poll, receiving only a couple votes, but this week they've received a whopping twelve votes to make the top. The top three is rounded out by the Orlando Predators and the Arizona Rattlers. The Spokane Shock, week one victims of Grieb and Co., fell from the top spot to fifth. The rest of the list is below.
From the opening kick, the San Jose SaberCats dominated the Spokane Shock, in their first game since July of 2008. On the opening possession, quarterback Mark Grieb and receiver Rodney Wright hooked up twice, including a 25-yard touchdown reception to give the 'Cats a lead they would not relinquish. Then, when the Shock took the field to respond, Courtney Smith picked off Spokane quarterback Kyle Rowley and took it back for six more points. The domination became a trend throughout the duration of the game.
The Shock didn't look bad, but their offense never got an opportunity to get things going at the level they wanted. Rowley threw the ball 22 more times than Grieb did, going 30-for-47 with five touchdowns. Looks like a good number until you see that he also was picked off three times. Rowley was generally inaccurate, missing open receivers and generally looking shaken up throughout the game. He did have 364 yards to his credit, with Raul Vijil grabbing thirteen of his thirty receptions, 161 of his 364 yards, and one of his touchdowns, including a beautiful score in the second half where he split the defenders with subtle head movement to make them stumble and caught the 25-yard touchdown.
There were a few bad calls here and there, but it evened out. Spokane was called on a bad pass interference call, but San Jose had a touchdown called down at the one yard line. The caveat for the Shock was their inability to overcome such things when presented with the opportunity. They lacked execution, and at times, they lacked good coaching. The Shock looked like they were the ones who hadn't played Arena Football in two years.
Grieb was amazingly efficient, going 21-for-25 for 222 yards and six touchdowns. Nichiren Flowers had four touchdown receptions, while Chad Cook set a career high in rushing touchdowns with three. Courtney Smith made several big plays on special teams and had the aforementioned pick six on the opening drive, he's getting my gameball tonight as a difference maker. Late in the fourth, he barreled through a blocker to make a huge tackle at the legs of the Spokane return-man, who seemed to have daylight in front of him.
The SaberCats are in business, and next week play host to the Kansas City Command.
The San Jose SaberCats are getting their 2011 Arena Football League season started the right way. They lead the defending ArenaBowl Champion Spokane Shock by a score of 48-27 going into the second half. San Jose quarterback Mark Grieb already has four touchdowns spread among three receivers. The Shock seem, well, shocked at the developments. The SaberCats are essentially an expansion team right now, and they're up big on the 2010 champs.
Grieb has 135 yards on 10 completions with no interceptions against his four touchdown passes. He's getting good protection from the boys up front and is just carving up the Shock. Rodney Wright is once again his favorite target, with 72 yards off of five receptions and a touchdown. Receiver Nichir Flowers has two touchdown receptions on top of 23 yards. Samora Goodson has two catches for 40 yards and a score of his own. Chad Cook provided another offensive score with a two-yard rush.
Quarterback Kyle Rowley is providing most of the offensive power for the Shock, as they only have two rushing attempts thusfar. Rowley is 18-of-27 and looks a bit rusty out there, throwing two touchdowns, but also two interceptions. Both picks lead to points for the SaberCats, Courtney Smith and recent addition Dwight Mclean providing the defensive turnovers. Gabe Nyenhuis, the reigning defensive player of the year also has a sack for the SaberCats.
The name of the game is offensive efficiency and turnovers, and the SaberCats are providing both.
On Friday, the San Jose SaberCats will play their first game since July 27, 2008, when they took on the Philadelphia Soul in ArenaBowl XXII. That game was a loss for San Jose (to the tune of 59-56) but the point remains that big games are a regularity with the SaberCats. Their first game in the AFL back in 1995 was against the defending ArenaBowl Champion Arizona Rattlers, so it is fitting that their return to Arena Football in the 2011 season begins with a game against the 2010 ArenaBowl Champion Spokane Shock.
The Shock are coming off their first full AFL season, in which they posted a 16-3 record and, as noted, a win in ArenaBowl XXIII. Lead by quarterback Kyle Rowley, who connected on 371-of-566 passing attempts with 102 touchdowns against only 11 interceptions, Spokane shocked the league and took everyone by storm, including the Tampa Bay Storm, who they beat in the championship. Rowley hooked up with Raul Vijil 82 times for 1083 yards and 33 touchdowns last season, and he remains the Shock's number one target.
San Jose sports a pretty decent quarterback-receiver combination as well, if you're keeping score. Quarterback Mark Grieb returns for his 11th season as a SaberCat, as does his number one target, Rodney Wright. Wright caught 134 passes for 1453 yards and 42 touchdowns in 2008, San Jose's last year in the AFL. Grieb, in 2008, had 4611 yards off of 415 completions with 100 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.
Grieb has been the quarterback for all three of San Jose's ArenaBowl championships, and ranks fifth in AFL history with 38,846 passing yards. He's among the all-time leaders in completions with 2,956 and touchdowns with 715. He's the most efficient and accurate quarterback in league history with a 123.2 passer rating and an AFL-top 67% completion rate.
The Shock had a lot of things go right for them in 2010, but if San Jose is anything up to their previous form, they'll have their hands full. Gabe Nyenhuis, the reigning AFL defensive player of the year, is possibly the biggest new piece for the SaberCats. He figures to be a big difference tonight, and brings some needed stability to a team makin their return after two years of inactivity.
It's unclear how much rust there will be, how long it will take to break in the playing shoes for the SaberCats. They have key players returning, and Darren Arbet remains the team's head coach (and now part owner). It's not as cut-and-dry as "the SaberCats will win if they are not rusty," as the Shock are a very talented team coming off a championship, but it is a big factor and expectations are high in San Jose.
We know what kind of team the Spokane Shock field, but we don't know how players like Grieb and Wright will look in 2011. That's the x-factor, and betting one way or the other seems reasonable at this point.
In just a matter of hours, the San Jose SaberCats will begin their 2011 Arena Football League season after two years of inactivity. That's one year due to the league not being around, and another year of inactivity in the new incarnation of the league's first year, 2010. They've assembled their roster, they've had their training camp, they've got coaches with a history of winning in the league, and they've got a lot of hype.
This story stream will take us through the first seven games of their eighteen game season, to the first bye. We'll have previews, in-game updates, news and recaps pertaining to each game and all things SaberCats. First, we'll take a quick look at the schedule for the first seven games.
Game 1: vs Spokane Shock on Friday, March 11, 2011, 7:45 p.m. PDT
Their first game in two years, the SaberCats want to hit the ground running the right way. In 1995, their first year in the league, the San Jose took on the defending champion Rattlers, and though they did not win, they played well and let the league know that they'd be a force. They went on to win the division. This game against the Shock is important, and many questions will be answered, but one has to wonder what kind of rust will need to be shaken off and what kind of kinks will need to be worked out. Don't forget that the Shock are Western Division foes, and this will be big for the course of the season.
Game 2 vs Kansas City Command on Friday, March 18, 2011, 7:30 p.m. PDT
The first time the two teams will meet - at least under the current iteration. They did meet once, in 2008, when the Command were known as "Brigade," a 36-44 win for the SaberCats that doesn't hold any bearing at this point in time. Or maybe it does, considering the SaberCats will have multiple players from that game on their roster this go-round as well, including starting quarterback Mark Grieb and wide receiver Rodney Wright, a combo that hooked up 14 times for 257 yards last time. This game should show whether or not anything from the first game was really indicative of the SaberCats, or if it's indicative of a team that hasn't played in two years trying to shake off some rust.,
Game 3 @ Chicago Rush on Friday, March 25, 2011 5:30 p.m. PDT
The Rush had a very good 2010, blowing out teams in the games they won, and keeping things very close in the games they lost. They couldn't get things done in the playoffs and fell to Milwaukee 64-54, and this offseason they've experienced a number of changes. Quarterback Russ Michna returns, and many are expecting him to do well this year. The SaberCats lead the all-time series 7-4, going 5-3 in the regular season and 2-1 in the postseason.
Game 4 vs Iowa Barnstormers on Friday, April 1, 2011 7:30 p.m. PDT
At this point, we should have a good idea on how the SaberCats are looking. Their "money" guys like Mark Grieb and Rodney Wright hopefully will have shown something by now. The Barnstormers made their return to the AFL last year, after spending nearly a decade in af2, and the season was lackluster, with a 7-9 record and no playoffs. There's been some roster turnover, and it's hard to put together a real look at this team at this point, but go ahead and check back in week four. San Jose is 3-3 overall against Iowa, 3-2 in the regular season with one playoff loss.
Game 5 vs Utah Blaze on Friday, April 8, 2011 7:30 p.m. PDT
The SaberCats and Blaze have faced eachother six times, and are split down the middle 3-3 over those meetings. To make matters more interesting, neither has won more than one game against the other in a season, splitting the meetings in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Had they played in 2010, though ... maybe the SaberCats would have fared better. The Blaze were abysmal in 2010, and not a whole lot has changed. Ron James remains their head coach, but they do have a new quarterback. There hasn't been much to illustrate that they've changed, so if San Jose is at all up to form, they should be taking this, layoff or no layoff. Another Western Division matchup for the SaberCats.
Game 6 @ Tulsa Talons on Saturday, April 16, 2011 5:00 p.m. PDT
2010 was the Talons' first year of AFL play, and it went well on their part, going 10-6 and making the playoffs, but they did suffer a loss to Tampa Bay in the first round. They're keeping Mitch Allner as their head coach and I expect good things out of then in 2011. The SaberCats will need to be on their game to win this tough road game.
Game 7 vs Philadelphia Soul on Saturday, April 23rd, 2011 7:30 p.m. PDT
The Soul began in 2004 and, like the SaberCats, are making their return after missing the 2010 reincarnation of the Arena Football League. They're 2-2 against the SaberCats, including one win that fans in San Jose will want to forget. It was in ArenaBowl XXII, a hotly contested affair in which the Soul stopped San Jose from repeating as ArenaBowl champions, winning to the tune of 59-56, their first ArenaBowl win. The SaberCats haven't been able to avenge that loss, perhaps now is the time, just before a nice, relaxing bye week.
This stream will take us through those games, be sure to follow along for all news and follow us on Twitter @sbnbayarea and myself at @ninnyjams. A look at the entirety of the roster and a preview for the first game will be coming shortly, stay tuned!