The 2014 Legends Cup rematch will be the 2015 Eastern Conference Championship as Chicago is now in the East, but this is more than just a rematch. For Atlanta, this game is a statement to the world that the Steam have finally arrived. Many within Legends Football League circles believe that the Atlanta Steam have the best young quarterback/wide receiver duo in Dakota Hughes and Lauran Ziegler. As proof of their impact on the field, both Hughes and Ziegler have a finalist’s spot in this season’s MVP race. If there’s one feeling in Atlanta that’s been lingering all season though, it’s that the Steam remain unproven. Atlanta has grown tired of being the team of the future. For the players, coaches and fans in red and black, the future is now.
The defending champion Chicago Bliss may have something to say about Atlanta’s desire to claim the throne in the Eastern Conference. They remain unbeaten on the strength of a running game that’s built around ChrisDell “Ferrari” Harris and while their quarterback, Heather Furr, has been called unorthodox and overrated – you cannot argue with the results. She protects the football, throws high-percentage passes and does more than her part on a tenacious Bliss defense. She’s the face of a franchise that heading toward being the LFL’s most winningest franchise of all-time, and they play with a high level of confidence because they’ve earned the right.
Following a Cinderella-like playoff run in 2014 that ended with a loss to Chicago in the Legends Cup game, the Steam are now 0-3 against their Eastern rival. Not being able to get past the Bliss is a footnote that has haunted an otherwise fantastic season by this young and explosive squad. Once again, Dakota Hughes led the league with 17 touchdowns and 585 yards passing, while showing the perfect form of a quarterback that could possibly become the LFL’s next top quarterback. She has the prototypical look when throwing that every team wants from its quarterback and she’s a certified playmaker, when given enough time to operate comfortably.
Hughes’ favorite target, Lauran Ziegler, has clearly established herself as a deep-threat wide receiver that can stretch the field quickly and does so with the polish of a seasoned veteran. Her raw speed and skill has caused headaches for defensive coordinators all season long, and that should continue heading into the playoffs as the Atlanta Steam appear to be peaking at just the right time. Ziegler’s presence on the field and in the locker room has ignited a spark of confidence that has had a ripple effect throughout the entire organization.
For the Atlanta Steam, this is about passing the torch. Chicago has been considered the LFL’s most-successful franchise of late, and the Steam now want to sit atop the hill. These two teams know each other well and, more importantly, they don’t like each other. They’ve played competitively against Chicago in the past, but now the Atlanta Steam will have to play flawlessly if they hope to become the East’s new shot caller.
KEY FOR ATLANTA
First and foremost, Atlanta’s defense will have to stop the run. Chicago has coasted behind the strong rushing attack of ChrisDell “Ferrari” Harris all season and Atlanta can expect that to continue. They’ll need to get to their assignments quickly and swarm tackle Harris if there’s any chance of stopping Chicago on the ground. Heather Furr is efficient, but she’s yet to prove herself by throwing deep in order to win ballgames. Nas Johnson, Jessie Locklear and Jayne Caldwell will be given the task of running against a brutal Chicago defensive front. They’ll need to run the ball well and establish enough of a ground game to allow Dakota Hughes time to find her receiving weapons deep. Forcing Chicago to respect their running game should buy Hughes a little extra time in the pocket. Turning the ball over would decimate Atlanta’s chances of winning, so protecting the football is an absolute must in this matchup.
Everything about the Chicago Bliss demands respect. In a league that’s quickly becoming known for its hard-hitting, the Bliss lay claim to the best defense in the LFL. The tandem of Yashi Rice and Chantell Taylor delivers a defensive line that is unmatched in the LFL, while Furr, Alberts, Kim Perez and Dominique Collins comprise a secondary that could possibly be the league’s most elite.
Anyone who’s watched the Bliss this season understands that their entire offensive playbook runs through the enigmatic running game of Chrisdell “Ferrari” Harris. She’s ferocious with the football and while teams game-plan for her, they can rarely slow down the Ferrari, who averages 6.6 yards per carry and has accounted for 7 of Chicago’s touchdowns this season. Her strong runs open defenses up for quarterback Heather Furr, allowing her to scorch opposing defenses with a high-efficiency short passing attack.
Up to this point in the season, Furr hasn’t been faced with a situation where throwing down-field is a must in order to win. Atlanta knows the Chicago system very well, too, and they’ll try to force Heather Furr to throw deep. She’s the highest-rated passer of 2015 and doesn’t seem to make bad throws or decisions with the football, helping her avoid turnovers. While she’s shown flashes of greatness against the Omaha Heart, going deep against the LFL’s worst team in 2015 isn’t a true benchmark. Furr’s lack of touch when throwing the ball down-field has led to criticism from several people within league circles. Heather Furr will need to prove herself by opening up Chicago’s passing attack against an Atlanta Steam defensive squad that is much better than Omaha’s and wants nothing more than to expose Furr’s lack of arm-strength on national television.
KEY FOR CHICAGO
Chicago plays to the strength of their running game and they’ll need to get Chrisdell “Ferrari” Harris going early. Understanding that the Atlanta Steam know the Bliss’ offense, Chicago’s Heather Furr will need to open things up a bit more and get her receivers involved. Chicago’s defense needs to play their punishing style while not allowing big plays, which means knowing where Atlanta’s Ziegler is on the field at all times. They’ll also need to get into the pocket and put pressure on Dakota Hughes, which could ultimately lead to mistakes on the young gunslinger’s part.
– Text by John M. Davis, originally posted on LFL360.com
Don't miss these two collide on Legends Football League Saturday, August 29, at 9/8c, only on Fuse.
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