Preview: Week 2 Big Matchups

May 3, 2024
By Sam Weiger

New York Empire at Atlanta Hustle | Super Series
Saturday, May 4 - 7:30 PM/ET - Watch link

A high-quality game between the Empire and Hustle might be on the cards. New York is anticipated to step up significantly following a so-so performance in their season opener, while Atlanta will be fueled by a sense of urgency after a blowout loss to Carolina last week. 

New York, the two-time defending UFA champions, have some questions to answer following their narrow victory over the Montreal Royal by a mere two goals. Despite this less-than-stellar performance, there are reasons why Empire fans should still feel confident heading into a much tougher test in Atlanta.

While New York's offense didn't click on all cylinders against the Royal, it's worth noting this hasn't been uncommon for them early in the season. Throughout the first half of 2023, they struggled to reach the end zone. However, their defense remained a reliable force, consistently leading them to victory. Against Montreal, their defense again came to the rescue, recording 17 blocks and inducing 25 Royal turnovers. The Empire achieved this against a Montreal team that appears considerably more talented this season.

Additionally, New York’s key players stepped up in crucial moments last week. With the absence of Jeff Babbitt and Ryan Osgar, superstars Jack Williams and Ben Jagt rose to the occasion as anticipated. Antoine Davis, the 2023 UFA Championship Weekend MVP, made a couple of impactful blocks last week, and 2023 UFA First Team All-Rookie Liam Haberfield flaunted his two-way ability. But it was John Randolph who truly stood out as New York’s top performer last week, sparking both the offensive and defensive lines.

Hustle fans have more to be concerned about following their team’s Week 1 showing. Atlanta typically doesn't perform as well on the road, but the extent of their loss by eight goals in Carolina last week caught many off guard. There's no glossing over this defeat; the Hustle seemed notably disjointed. They encountered difficulties in winning aerial battles, turned the disc over more than usual, but their biggest hurdle was the O-line’s defensive lapses. In Week 1, no team allowed a higher opponent D-line conversion rate than Atlanta.

They'll have to improve their defense against the Empire's D-line, which had the league’s second-highest conversion rate in each of the last two seasons. New York's defensive line, led by Randolph, poses a major threat to the Hustle. To counter this pressure, Atlanta's offensive line needs to focus on minimizing turnovers. Christian Olsen, Bobby Ley, and Austin Taylor are on the hot seat after a rough outing last week. Their combined completion percentage of 88.49 percent simply won't cut it against the Empire's dangerous defense. Atlanta’s success hinges on these quarterbacks cleaning up their accuracy.

The Hustle will be pleased to have Matt Smith back this weekend after his absence in Week 1. Smith ranks second all-time in goals scored in UFA history. Jeremy Langdon, Atlanta's plus/minus leader in their most recent game against New York, will also make his debut for the 2024 season.

Despite the return of these players to the lineup, the Hustle will still fall short to New York. Last week, Atlanta underperformed in numerous areas: shortcomings in capitalizing on break chances, fewer blocks than usual, a decreased huck percentage, and more. It's difficult to imagine a team that looked very uninspiring just a week ago suddenly transforming into a first-class unit capable of defeating the UFA's top team.

One Big Number:
- Atlanta allowed Carolina to convert 85 percent of their D-line possessions.
57 - New York's D-line was the only one in the UFA to record a conversion percentage above 57 percent in each of the last two seasons.

DC Breeze at Philadelphia Phoenix | Game of The Week
Sunday, May 5 - 5:00 PM/ET - Watch link

Every regular season game between DC and Philly in the past two years has been incredibly close. Are we going to get another thrilling finish this week? 

It’s definitely possible, considering the Phoenix have oddly found themselves in numerous tightly contested matches in recent years. Over the past two seasons, Philadelphia has been part of an unprecedented 13 games decided by a margin of two goals or fewer. That’s over half of all their games since the start of the 2022 season. 

The Phoenix, despite having achieved mediocre records in the past two seasons, played six of these 13 close games against UFA elites New York and DC. While showcasing their ability to contend with any team in the UFA, the Phoenix struggled under pressure, losing nine of these 13 games and falling short in every encounter with New York and DC.

The good news for Philadelphia is that they face a Breeze team that might be lacking in confidence. Last week, DC's performance fell short of their 2023 standard. During the Super Series contest versus Salt Lake, their D-line displayed uncharacteristically porous defense and appeared frantic during their break chances. Unfortunately for DC, it seems that the departure of key D-line players during the offseason, along with other absences, has contributed to this decline in performance.

We didn't see seven notable D-liners from the 2023 squad in Week 1: Moussa Dia, Jasper Tom, Alexandre Fall, Joe Merrill, David Bloodgood, Rhys Bergeron, and David Cranston. These players accounted for six of the eight plus/minus leaders from last year's D-line. 

Their shorthanded D-line was unimpressive. The D-line particularly struggled to seize break opportunities from the start, experiencing a couple of lackluster defensive possessions. Kevin Healey and AJ Merriman exacerbated the situation by resorting to forced throws into the end zone, suggesting a loss of confidence in the D-line's ability to move the disc upfield.

Despite a steadier O-line, deep throws were an issue for DC, and the absence of Christian Boxley and Ben Oort dampened their end zone presence. Fortunately, against Philly's subpar offense, these issues might not be game-breakers. 

To overcome the Breeze, Philly’s D-line must excel in both defense and capitalizing on break opportunities, a strength they demonstrated last season. Therefore, Max Trifillis, Paul Owens, and Eric Witmer will be important players to watch.

However, the focal point of our Game of the Week will be Boyle's ability to strategize and bolster DC's weakened defensive line. Will rookie Breeze head coach Lauren Boyle make any major adjustments? Because if DC replicates their Week 1 performance, the Phoenix could score an upset in their season opener. The Breeze took considerable time to find their footing against Salt Lake, so it will be interesting to see their early-game performance in this matchup. 

One Big Number:
- Last week, the Breeze D-line managed to convert just 30 percent of their break chances, ranking second lowest among the 16 teams that played in Week 1.
55.33 - Philadelphia's D-line had a conversion rate of 55.33 percent, ranking third in the UFA last season.