The Atlanta Legends knew they had a tall task ahead of them when they came into this matchup with the Arizona Hotshots. Losing their first three games of the season, everyone knew the pressure was on to get that first win in team history. Their opponent? Sitting at 2-1 in the top spot of the Western Conference with a league MVP caliber Quarterback at the helm.
Atlanta got off to a fast start with a couple long runs by Running Back Denard Robinson, and a well executed screen pass to Wide Receiver Malachi Jones. The Legends marched the length of the field, and looked as if they were setting things up to put some points on the board. The game changed with one snap when Quarterback Matt Simms took a hit, fumbling the ball, and suffering from a hand injury on his throwing arm.
In comes fan favorite, Aaron Murray. Off the bench the offense didn’t miss a beat, and marched up and down the field all night. Murray would go 20 for 33 with 254 passing yards, and 54 yards rushing on seven carries. Murray’s mobile out-of-the-pocket playing style really helped the offensive line out, and expanded plays allowing receivers to get open down field.
One of my keys to the game I discussed in my last post was how the Legends really needed to implement the run game, and have success doing so. And they finally did. The Legends came out running the ball early and often. Atlanta totaled 177 yards on the ground, and if you don’t count the -10 yard loss by Younghoe Koo on the fake field goal, they spread the carries out between seven total players. QB Aaron Murray actually led the team with his 54 yards on 7 carries, which mostly consisted of QB keepers. New guy Brandon Radcliff made a strong first impression as well. He showed great signs of speed, strength, and athleticism. Radcliff ended his night with 48 yards on 12 carries, and I would expect to see a lot more from Brandon throughout this season. Another guy who I was glad to have a breakout game was none other than Denard Robinson. Former University of Michigan QB had come out the gates kind of.. sluggish? To say the least. After 10 total rushing yards in his previous three games it was great to see Denard break off the first play of the game for 15 yards. Denard would go on to record 43 yards on 9 touches and his first touchdown of the season. The overall rushing performance from Sunday was a complete turnaround from what we’ve seen this season, and it’s a huge part of a successful Atlanta offense.
The Atlanta defense had a tall task to take on with the three headed monster that is the Arizona Hotshots offense. John Wolford at QB, Jhurell Pressley at RB, and Rashad Ross at WR. All three players rank top five in yards for each of their respective positions, and have terrorized defenses throughout the league all season long. But that Legends defense held strong, only giving up 11 points. Defensive lineman Tavaris Barnes, JT Jones, and Tracy Sprinkle all recorded sacks as the defensive line was very disruptive, and caused issues up front all game long. While the D-Line got the job done on the front end, arguably the top Safety duo in league got things done on the back end as well. FS Ed Reynolds II recorded 8 solo tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and recorded the safety to give Atlanta the first two points of the game. And his counterpart SS Tyson Graham Jr. recorded 7 solo tackles, and a pass deflection. Atlanta has an incredibly talented defensive group, and its more than just the players previously mentioned. They are very deep and skilled at linebacker, and there is a ton of speed out wide at cornerback. Look out for this defense to really find its groove and give teams fits putting points up on the board.
The most consistent phase of the Legends game all season long has been the Special Teams. Kicker Younghoe Koo went 2 or 2 from 28 and 33 yards, and is a perfect 8 for 8 on field goals this season through four games. Koo kicked the go ahead 33 yard field goal to give Atlanta a 14-11 lead with 1:03 left in the game. Which led to the Legends first win of the season. Punter Cam Nizialek has quietly been a phenomenal punter this season. His three punts Sunday totaled 105 yards, and his longest was 46 yards.
The only downfall from Sunday’s game has been an issue the Legends have faced all season long. Failure to execute has really hurt them this season. For the second week in a row the Legends have left points off the board by failing to convert a 4th Down & 1 from the 1 Yard Line. But it gets worst. In a scoreless game, in field goal range, with a kicker who hasn’t missed this season, the Legends pull one out of Kirby Smart’s playbook and ran a fake field goal. And it went horribly wrong. It was a loss of 10 yards, and a turnover on downs, and the scoreboard still read 0-0. If the Legends can convert on these chances and take points when they can, it could lead to more wins.
The Legends return back home to Atlanta for the next three weeks of the season. They try to keep their winning streak going this Sunday, March 10th, at 4pm ET. The game will be played at Georgia State Stadium in Atlanta, and if you can’t make it out live you can catch it all on CBS Sports Network.
All in all, this Legends team is much improved from the earlier weeks this season. Even at 0-2 in their conference, they play Eastern Conference rival Memphis this weekend, which almost becomes a must win to move up in the conference standings. The playoff push is on, and its very obtainable. I look forward to watching and covering this team as they try to break into the playoff race.
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