ANAHEIM, Calif. – The LA KISS (0-4) are on the hunt for the team’s first win in 2015 against a squad seeking its third-straight, the three-time defending ArenaBowl champion Arizona Rattlers (3-1), in a National Conference West Division matchup. Both teams are looking for their first divisional win of the season. Kickoff is set for 10:00 p.m. ET on Saturday, April 25 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., and can be seen nationally on the CBS Sports Network.
As an expansion team last season, the KISS played the 2014 ArenaBowl champions twice, losing both games by a combined score of 153-72. The KISS will look to tell a different story this season; however, they will need to do so this week without the assistance of dynamic quarterback Adrian McPherson, who was placed on injured reserve earlier in the week. Brian Zbydniewski and recently acquired Matt Bassuener will lead the LA offense in his place. The KISS do boast a group of gifted receivers that includes Donovan Morgan, Thyron Lewis, and rookie Jabin Sambrano, who caught four passes for 61 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his Arena Football debut last week. This is an offense that is still finding its way – but improving weekly – all while constantly playing catch-up thanks to a defense that has struggled significantly so far.
Still, LA remains one of the few teams not to have scored 50 points in a game this season while struggling to keep opponents off the scoreboard. In Week 4, Predators quarterback Randy Hippeard was able to connect on 26 of his 29 pass attempts against the porous LA pass defense that is now tasked with containing the League’s reigning MVP, Nick Davila. The “Latin Laser” is coming off his best performance of the season, too – which is saying something. Against a comparable Portland secondary last week, Davila passed for 319 yards and nine touchdowns. Pass defense is the most glaring weakness on the KISS and needs to be remedied on-the-go if it wants a chance at stopping Davila long enough to keep up with Arizona’s offensive might. That responsibility will fall on the shoulders of KISS defensive backs De’Audra Dix and Marcus Trice. Dix and Trice have accounted for both of the team’s interceptions on the season and Trice has established himself as one of the League’s most tenacious rookie defenders, forcing a pair of fumbles already.
Of course, it would make the secondary’s jobs much easier if LA’s defensive line got after Davila frequently. The KISS allow the most sacks and have recorded the fewest sacks in the AFL this season. Second-year defensive end Darryl Cato-Bishop has collected one-and-a-half of LA’s two sacks total this season. For Cato-Bishop and nose guard James McClinton, getting to Davila is going to be difficult; however, while Arizona’s offensive line is certainly sturdy, it is not impenetrable, having allowed four sacks this season.
Of course, Davila rarely struggles to find an open receiver among his tremendous set of playmakers. In 2014, Davila threw 13 touchdown passes in his two games against LA and the same weapons that helped inundate the KISS last season are back. Wide receivers Rod Windsor and Kerry Reed missed the first two games of 2015, but have made up for lost time by scoring 16 touchdowns combined in Weeks 3 and 4 – Windsor has been responsible for 10 of them. Even in their absence, Davila found reliable targets in Markee White and Chase Deadder.
In order to keep pace with Davila & Co., the KISS QBs will have to avoid Arizona defensive backs Jeremy Kellem and Arkeith Brown. Kellem and Brown have poached opposing quarterbacks for five interceptions between them. Kellem leads the League in passes defended, breaking up 12 passes and grabbing three interceptions.
There are elements to the LA offensive game that can allow the KISS to keep up with a persistent Rattlers offense. However, this contest will be won or lost with the secondary play. If LA can contain an MVP quarterback long enough for its own offense to grab and keep a lead, the KISS can win their first game since the middle of 2014. Otherwise, the Rattlers will head back to Arizona victorious, yet again.