Playoff spot set, but issues still remain for Power
July 18, 2014 9:35 PM
Pittsburgh Power wide receiver Prechae Rodriguez makes a catch at Power practice at the indoor UPMC Sports Performance Complex.
By Craig Meyer / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
With two games remaining in its benchmark 2014 season, the Power finds itself in a scenario that is equal parts advantageous and precarious.
Not only is the team assured of the first playoff berth in franchise history, but heading into the back stretch of an 18-game schedule, it also is locked into the third seed in the Arena Football League's Eastern Conference.
Game: Power (13-3) at Iowa (6-10), 8:05 p.m., today, Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, Iowa.
Internet: ESPN3.com, ArenaFootball.com
Power: Coming off an open week. In its most recent game, it defeated the New Orleans VooDoo, 48-43, July 7, marking the team's 10th-consecutive win. ... QB Tommy Grady has thrown for 983 yards, 23 touchdowns and just one interception in the team's past three games. ... Since returning from an injury, WR Prechae Rodriguez has 15 touchdowns in the past four games.
Barnstormers: Coming off 66-33 loss Monday at the Orlando Predators. The loss was the team's fifth in a row after starting the season 6-5. ... Lost to the Power in their only previous meeting this season, 57-27, June 20. That game dropped them to 1-3 all time against the Power. ... WR Marco Thomas leads the AFL in receiving yards this season with 1,785
Hidden stat: Only one of the Power's past six opponents has scored at least 50 points. In that span, it has held teams to an average of 39 points per game.
Coming off an open week, it's the kind of situation that even allowed Power coaches to scout their two possible first-round opponents in Orlando and Tampa Bay.
With that added layer of security comes a question: Should the Power rest some of its more important players in two games that carry little, if any, value?
For at least one week, it's an inquiry that will remain unanswered.
"We'll look at the last game as a possibility," Power coach Ron James said. "But for this week, coming out of a bye, we need to be sharp. We weren't sharp when we were down in New Orleans and I felt like coming back from the bye, we just need to revamp and regroup."
The decision on resting players has arisen partially out of necessity.
The team is currently enjoying a 10-game win streak and outscored opponents by 149 points in that span.
Despite the team's success, many of its top players have only recently returned to the field after dealing with injuries.
Wide receiver Prechae Rodriguez, who has a team-high 26 touchdowns this season, was hampered by a lingering foot injury that caused him to miss half the team's games, though he has played in the past four games with no signs of trouble.
Fellow receiver Tyrone Goard has missed the past four games after hurting his knee June 14 against Philadelphia, something that likely will keep him out until the playoffs.
Then there's defensive back Virgil Gray, who is tied for the team lead in interceptions and hasn't played in any of the Power's past six games. Though he would seem to be a likely candidate to rest the final two games, Gray plans on playing with a secondary that, even in his absence, still performed well.
"Those guys have been playing with each other, but I've been out of the mix," Gray said. "For me to get back in, we can get our chemistry back together."
The choice to rest players might seem like an easy one for the Power with nothing on the line in its upcoming games, but with 26 players on the roster, it's limited in terms of what moves it can make.
Even sitting a seemingly obvious candidate like quarterback Tommy Grady presents challenges. If Grady were rested, the team would go with backup Arvell Nelson under center, but such a move would risk injury to one of the team's best defensive players. Nelson, who also plays linebacker, is fourth on the team in tackles with 53.5.
So even though James appears to be in an autonomous position as coach, he's largely handcuffed.
"You're sitting three players basically every week, so it's basically a rotation between who you think is the healthiest and what the matchup is for that week," he said. "There really isn't much we can do as far as sitting guys is concerned."
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.
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