With the Arena Football League having reached the midway point, the Georgia Force’s current two-game losing streak is not grounds for panic.
At least not yet.
But as the Force (5-4) prepare to play host to the South Division-leading Jacksonville Sharks at 7:35 p.m. today at The Arena at Gwinnett Center, the sense of urgency definitely increases.
“With nine games to go, it’s really a new season,” Force coach Dean Cokinos said. “So, we’re not going to panic. ... It’s too early to put all our eggs on one game. No good comes from saying, ‘We have to win this game. They’re all equally big at this point. But if we’re going to (continue to) challenge for the division championship, then yes, we have to split (the season series) with (Jacksonville) and Orlando.”
The Force come into tonight’s game three games behind the Sharks (8-1) and game behind second place Orlando (6-3).
And they still occupy the American Conference’s second wild-card slot as they hold a tie-breaker with Pittsburgh (5-4) by virtue of their 58-39 win over the Power on April 30 at The Arena at Gwinnett Center.
Perhaps the best news for the Force is that they will get two important starters back on a defense that has been decimated by injuries.
Lineman Jerry Turner and defensive back Robert Durham are both expected to be back in the lineup after missing the Force’s back-to-back losses at home to Utah and at Philadelphia, games in which the Georgia defense allowed 142 combined points, far above their season average.
The defense will need to be at full strength to deal with a Jacksonville offense led by quarterback Aaron Garcia (188 of 266, 2,325 yards, 53 TDs), the AFL’s passing efficiency leader, and receivers Jomo Wilson (59-900, 23 TDs) and Jeron Harvey (67-754, 21 TDs).
“We’re a little better,” Cokinos said of the defense’s personnel. “But it’s been a combination of things (that have gone wrong). What it really comes down to is, we’ve been getting two or three stops each game. That still should be enough to win most games. Our biggest problem has been unforced turnovers on offense. Three of our four losses have been a direct result of unforced turnovers.”
The Force turned the ball over four times in last week’s loss to Philadelphia, and Cokinos knows the offense, led by quarterback Brett Elliott (190 of 304, 2,562 yards, 55 TDs) and receivers Maurice Purify (80-1,023, 27 TDs), Larry Shipp (59-870, 14 TDs) and C.J. Johnson (55-728, 11 TDs) must be more efficient this week against Jacksonville.
“Their defense feeds a lot off the offense,” Cokinos said of the Sharks. “They have the luxury of playing aggressively on defense because they have a veteran quarterback. So, we really have to slow down their offense and put pressure on their defense to loosen up.”