Nichiren Flowers catches one of his four touchdowns against the Spokane Shock in week one. (San Jose SaberCats/Aric Crabb

San Jose SaberCats AFL Schedule, Previews, Recaps: Team Tops Power Rankings, Coaches' Poll

The San Jose SaberCats got a big win in week one of their return to the AFL and are now looking ahead to week two. Stay tuned to this stream for previews, live updates, news and recaps through the first bye week of the SaberCats 2011 season, and don't forget to follow @sbnbayarea on Twitter!

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SaberCats Defeat Shock In Big Way, Win 76-48

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.


San Jose SaberCats Preview: Spokane Shock Coming To Town For AFL Kickoff

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.

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