Johnny Manziel could make his debut with the Express on Sunday night
The Memphis Express may have the worst record in the Alliance of American Football (AAF) but the team is still making headlines entering Sunday's game against the Birmingham Iron. Last weekend, Memphis (1-5) signed embattled quarterback Johnny Manziel. The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner and former Cleveland Browns signal-caller's history is well documented. But he was added to the mix in the wake of an ankle injury suffered by Zach Mettenberger in last week's loss to Salt Lake. So when the Express host the Iron (4-2) on Sunday night, their offense could look a little different.
And that may be a good thing, as the offense has been the biggest issue for Mike Singletary's team this season. Memphis has by far the AAF's worst offense, averaging just 239 yards per game or nearly 60 yards per game fewer than the next team (Birmingham, 296.5). Points have been hard to come by too. The Express are averaging just 15 per game (second to last) and were shut out by Birmingham in Week 1. While making the playoffs is a pipe dream at this point, Memphis is looking to end its first season on a positive note and evaluate the players on the roster. This week will be the start of that process.
The Iron, on the other hand, control their own destiny. They went to San Diego last week and walked out of SDCCU Stadium with a 32-29 point courtesy of a game-winning, 44-yard field goal by Nick Novak as time expired. With that victory coupled with Orlando's first loss of the season, the Iron now trail the Apollos by just one game in the Eastern Conference standings and they are two clear of third-place Atlanta. Both teams are headed in different directions but this should be an interesting game to watch.
Birmingham at Memphis
Kickoff: Sunday, March 24 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium (Memphis, Tenn.)
TV: NFL Network
Three Things to Watch
1. The Express quarterback situation
Head coach Mike Singletary stated that Brandon Silvers, who threw for 242 yards and a touchdown last week after replacing an injured Zach Mettenberger, will get the start on Sunday. But he also left open the possibility of Johnny Manziel getting reps. As Singletary stated during Manziel's introductory press conference earlier this week, "We'll see how Johnny progresses..." Getting into a game is the best way to get acclimated to a new team, and as both players present different skill sets, they'll pose different challenges to the Iron's defense. Birmingham has been the AAF's stingiest team thus far, giving up 15.5 points per game and has done a good job of limiting teams through the air (200 passing ypg, 7 INTs).
2. The Iron have their own quarterback situation to navigate
Keith Price received the start against San Diego last week after Luis Perez was benched during the previous game. But Price sustained an injury early against the Fleet and Perez was reinserted. Perhaps the time on the bench did Perez some good as he went on to throw for a season-best 359 yards and his first three touchdown passes of the season. It might not have hurt that he was playing in his hometown of San Diego.
Perez seems to have earned the starting job back but Price has been cleared to play so it's possible Birmingham head coach Tim Lewis will give each their chance to lead the offense on Sunday. One thing that could help is that Memphis' defense is giving up the most yards (355.5) and second-most points (22.5) per game.
3. Trent Richardson has been a factor in the backfield
While the former Alabama standout has yet to rush for 100 yards in a single game, he has been the focal point of the Birmingham offense and has had a knack for getting into the end zone. Richardson leads the league in carries (91) and he is the current runaway leader in rushing touchdowns with nine (next highest total is five). He's only averaging 2.5 yards per carry but his volume has him in the top 10 in total yards (227) as well. Richardson also leads the Iron with 26 receptions and has caught a TD pass. It hasn't always been pretty, but Richardson and Perez have by and large been a productive one-two punch for Birmingham all season and Memphis will once again be tasked with trying to slow down one or the other.
Despite having home-field advantage this time, and any potential spark that Johnny Manziel will give Memphis' offense, Birmingham is tied for the AAF's second-best record for a reason. The Iron can wear you down on offense and their defense makes plays at the right time. This meeting won't be a repeat of the 26-0 blowout in Week 1, but Birmingham will sweep the season series.
Prediction: Iron 20, Express 14
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Top photo courtesy of AAF.com)