The Read Option: 25 burning questions

by Josh Farnzy

As the whistle sounds on the first quarter of the season, we sit at most likely the first point in time where the SFL can take stock of what has happened and react to any patterns/theme/trends/fear/hope/joy/pressure/excitement.

The SFL really is a buffet of emotions, my friends.

Questions remain with nine weeks left. Each team has plenty attached to them, but there is one burning question that stands out that could very well dictate how the season pivots from here…

Alamo City: Is Jay Mart the early-season MVP?

Maybe it helps that the writer of this column is both a linebacker and Class of 16 alum. That said, name me a player who has impacted the game in the first quarter of the season like him.

His stats are ridiculous and rank among the league’s best… 41 solo tackles (2nd in the SFL), 12 tackles for loss (2nd), 4 INTs (tied for 1st), 2 forced fumbles (tied for 1st). If Mart can continue this torrid pace, the MVP award - and perhaps a deep playoff run - could come to San Antonio despite a 2-3 start.

Arizona: Should the Scorpions be troubled being blanked twice?

In their wins, they have put up 21, 30 and 41 points. In their two losses? 0 and 0. Granted, one of those goose eggs was against Canton, who has virtually done that to everyone, but a repeat zero performance against the Ramblers is concerning.

If they can figure out the ground game to help DJ Moses, the only zero in Arizona will be worries about their offense. 

Atlanta: Is the Swarm the league’s best road team?

They might be. Their 3-2 start is even more impressive with four of the first five games on the road. And that means, lots of home, sweet home over most of the next several weeks. 

If Atlanta can hold serve at home, they may just get to challenge Florida in the East for a division title.

Baltimore: Is the 1-3 start a mirage or a sign?

When Baltimore started slow out of the gates last season, some wondered if the league was finally catching up to the Vultures. Well, a successful second half that culminated in yet another title game appearance put those naive thoughts to bed.

This year, the slow start seems more troublesome despite a tough-as-nails schedule. Still, 0-2 in division play may come back to haunt them when and if the division is on the line down the road.

Canton: Can anyone score on this defense?

After 16 quarters of action, the Classics have only yielded 16 total points to their opponents. Sixteen. That’s it. Their average yards allowed per rush (2.5) and per passing attempt (4.1) are second and first, respectively in the league. Is this level of dominance sustainable?

And while the defense sets a record pace, Logan Lee is putting up an MVP performance thus far as the feature back for the SFL’s top-ranked rushing offense.

Carolina: Is E.Bari Amen-Eaglin the Breakout Player of the Year?

Pretty sure that award is something I just made up, but regardless, through a quarter of Season 22, you won’t find too many young players who have made an impact like this former Annapolis star. Amen-Eaglin leads the Skyhawks in total tackles (45), solo tackles (40), pass deflections (5) and took his only INT back for six. 

Better yet for Carolina, Amen-Eaglin is part of a team defensive effort that following an opening day blip against Tulsa has yet to concede more than 24 points in a game. 

Charleston: Is this the best 0-4 team in SFL history?

They might be. A combination of powerful opponents and lapses in execution have the Predators wondering how they got to this point. Three of their four losses are by four points or less, so they are regularly close, no cigar.

Where do they start? The Predators rank last in third down conversion percentage. Moving those sticks will go a long way to moving that record that seems due by the law of averages to start improving.

D.C.: Is Monday night’s game a must-win to compete in the North Division?

The Monday night matchup between the Dragons and Classics looms large for a number of reasons. If D.C. can somehow find a way to get a win, they take the lead in the North on the strength of that tiebreaker.

If they lose? They drop two games plus that same tiebreaker behind Canton and still have to stay on the road for two consecutive games to keep pace. No pressure, Dragons.

Denver: Is Gene Struthers ready for primetime?

Struthers has shown flashes, but has had a fairly modest start to his career in Denver. This season, the young QB has completed 65 percent of his passes with a 4/4 TD/INT line thus far. Much of the offense still centers around getting Baylee O’Shaughnessy the rock and the development of #1 overall pick, Ace Ketchum.

The Nightwings rank 22nd in the league for pass attempts. If they are able to open up the playbook Struthers and get him to bring balance to the offense, this could be a sleeping giant for the next couple of seasons.

Florida: Are the Storm actually flying under the radar?

Yes and no. The defending champs have looked just as good (scary thought: maybe even better) as the Season 21 version.

But with Canton putting up historic numbers to start Season 22, maybe some of the limelight attention on the best team has escaped Fort Lauderdale. Ron Cockren has played solidly behind center and the Florida secondary have been turning over opponents at break-neck speed.

Fort Worth: Was EJ Mincin the best offseason acquisition?

So far, it may be hard to dispute this fact. The veteran wideout has given Marcus Dunhill another premium weapon to call upon in Fort Worth. The damage so far? Mincin has logged 31 catches (5th in SFL), 505 receiving yards (3rd in SFL) and three touchdowns (tied for 6th in SFL).

With Mr. Hacker on the other side of the ball and JZ Bacon continually to provide quality ground game play, the Toros are looking like the most complete offense in the SFL. Will it continue through March?

Houston: Does Houston have the best front seven in the SFL?

With apologies to the secondary for Houston, which has also played sensational this season, give it up for that front seven. The Headhunters’ starting D-line and linebackers have combined for 24 tackles for loss and kept opponents in second- and third-and-long.

Can that pressure yield more turnovers for Houston, and ultimately set their offense up for shorter fields to cash in with? 

Indianapolis: Was Monday night a turning point?

Fresh off defeating a talented Scorpion team, 20-0, there is a spark of hope in the state of Indiana. It’s the type of win that can galvanize a team that started 0-4 and propel them forward.

Colin Pierce will need to throw more than eight times (even if every one of them was complete), but stability in the passing game and another stellar defensive outing is a good recipe for heading in the right direction. 

Jacksonville: Is Sheppard Vakarian the most underrated player in the SFL?

That depends on whether you have lined up against him yet or not. The Madison-turned-Jacksonville tailback had an under-the-radar Season 21 and has continued that momentum this season,racking up 290 yards (good for 8th in SFL rushing) and three TDs on the ground. 

They’ll need him and his counterpart, Shawn Sanders, to give the team balance to make a run at a playoff spot that has recently eluded the Kings. 

Los Angeles: How will the defense make adjustments?

While the offense has had some moments, it’s hard to put W’s up consistently when you are giving up 35.5 points per game.

The good news? There is talent there to re-scheme. The bad news? At 0-4, they’ll need to find that scheme fast.

Louisiana: Is the Revolution defense championship-level?

The Revs currently rank third in yards allowed and have only allowed 65 points total on the season, only second to Canton in that category, that is, yeah know, fairly important. They have done it with a blend of stinginess in both the running and passing game.

Their balance gives reason to think the D can drive Louisiana into the playoffs. The second-most-burning question? Can the offense elevate their game, too?

Mexico City: Can the fans down south give the Aztecs an edge?

After delivering a signature win on a night where Mexico City and the league celebrated our beloved #12, there is some momentum in the Aztec camp. The offense looked sharp and the defense appeared to be rounding into form.

The win is part of a gigantic, five-game homestand that will see Baltimore, Los Angeles and Fort Worth visit them over the next few weeks. With winning percentages up around the league at home, this puts Mexico City in an enviable position to improve their record now before finishing with four of five on the road to close the season.

Minnesota: Have the Legend achieved enough offensive balance for a run?

Thus far, it seems so. Colin Hart is still the undisputed workhorse in Minnesota, but with Justin Williams and youngster Isaac Knox in the back field contributing, it feels like a more well-rounded unit.

Johnny Reno seems to have settled into a groove as well, keying on three very dynamic receiving weapons in Jay Taylor, Tee Daqueen and Deezer Powell. At 3-1, if they are able to keep Hart fresh, then playoffs just may be calling their name.

Motor City: Has the three-TE offensive scheme run its course?

The three-tight-end feature offense is a fascinating study in offensive philosophy, but all three have yet to hit double digits grabs through four games. Rookie King Jackson has a bright future, but as the V8s rank 24th in passing, is a change in style coming?

Tautaneo Rivera has been a solid ground weapon, but Motor City will need to lean on an improved passing attack to take pressure off their feature back.

Portland: Can the offense find a pulse before it is too late?

The Fleet offense sits dead last in the SFL in both passing yards, rushing yards and points scored, where they are 38 points behind the next-to-last scoring team. Cyris Jive has only one passing touchdown to nine INTs, while their normal workhorse Ezekiel Love has only tallied 168 rushing yards on the season - ranking him 28th overall.

There is time to still save the season, but they’ll need a complete course correction to right this ship.

Queen City: Is James Matthew Jr. TE1 in the SFL?

There are a lot of good choices to pick from at the hashtag-throw-it-to position of choice. Thus far, Mr. Matthew has distinguished himself from the field and helped give the green and black a primary outlet for a resurgent offense.

Statistically, with 35 catches for 488 yards and two touchdowns is, with the possible exception of Pauly Truth, a candidate to win the triple crown of tight end receiving by season’s end - one that could help lift the Corsairs to a playoff berth.

San Diego: Can the Mavericks survive their remaining gauntlet?

Baltimore, Fort Worth, at Seattle, at Canton and at Tulsa.

That might just be the most back-breaking set of games prior to the Week 14 finale any SFL squad has to face. It’s been a modest start for their offense, but the real key here? Defensive playmaking. Safeties Bob Funk and David Leathers have combined for 91 tackles through four contests. They’ll need to be the catalysts for causing more turnovers to jumpstart their offense.

Seattle: Is Ty Ptak an SFL unicorn?

With 127 yards on 25 carries, Ptak has become a regular rushing threat to give the playcallers in Seattle many interesting playbook wrinkles. Last year’s top overall pick is certainly the most interesting skill set QB in the SFL.

Can his flexibility, however, continue to translate to first downs and red zone conversions? With two of the next three Seattle games on the road should give us a better sample size for his unique style - and the Nemesis success.

Tulsa: Can the offense sustain their pace?

Quarterback Michael Brown is slinging it and Gabriel Manning is leading just about every receiving category in the league. Averaging 30 points per game and with Phoenix Jones’ arrival giving them an extra weapon in the backfield, this could be the most dynamic Desperado offense in their team’s history.

With three of their next four contests on the road, we’ll know if that offense start was a sign or just an illusion.

Vancouver: Can the offense re-start their engines?

The first two games? The Legion offense looked like a well-oiled machine and put all sorts of pressure on Portland and San Diego. The last two? Not so much, with only three against Canton (although that seems to be league average against them right now) and 12 against Carolina.

At 2-2, there is no panic in western Canada, but key matchups against Fort Worth and Florida loom as early litmus tests to see if they can get back on track.