Week 4 of the Alliance of American Football (AAF) season kicks off on Saturday afternoon with a cross-conference matchup between the San Diego Fleet and the Memphis Express. The Fleet (2-1) are tied with the Arizona Hotshots atop the Western Conference after winning back-to-back games, while the Express (0-3) are still looking for their first victory.
Both teams have already made changes at quarterback, feature the top two leading rushers in the league, and the two head coaches are very familiar with one another. Can San Diego maintain its winning streak or will Memphis finally get that first W?
San Diego at Memphis
Kickoff: Saturday, March 2 at 4 p.m. ET
Where: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium (Memphis, Tenn.)
Broadcast Outlet: B/R Live
Three Things to Watch
1. Fresh faces at quarterback
Within the last couple of weeks both teams have made changes at quarterback. After Mike Bercovici struggled in Week 1, San Diego Fleet head coach Mike Martz turned to Philip Nelson. Since putting the former Minnesota signal-caller under center the Fleet have two in a row, outscoring the opposition 55-23 in the process. Nelson's numbers don't jump off of the page (55 percent completion rate, 403 yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs) but he's been able to find a way to help the Fleet win. He has been sacked six times, which will be a concern against a Memphis defense that has recorded five sacks in three games.
The Express also made a change under center in the second half of last week's loss to Orlando following Christian Hackenberg's struggles. After barely completing half of his passes (52 percent) with three interceptions and no touchdowns, head coach Mike Singletary benched Hackenberg in place of Zach Mettenberger. In two quarters, Mettenberger threw for 120 yards and two touchdowns as the Memphis outscored the Apollos 17-12 in the second half. Now the question will be how Mettenberger fares in his start against a San Diego defense that has given up plenty of yards (523) through the air but also has recorded five interceptions through the first three games.
2. The running backs could steal the show
As both teams have dealt with quarterback issues, at least they know they can rely on the running game if they need to. In San Diego's Ja'Quan Gardner and Memphis' Zac Stacy this game features the top two rushers in the AAF thus far. Though three games, the two have combined for 469 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Gardner is averaging a robust eight yards per carry while Stacy is second in the league in carries with 45. Unless one of the quarterbacks finds his rhythm both figure to be the focal point for their respective team's offensive game plan, and likewise attract plenty of attention from the defense. Along those lines, pay particular attention to Gardner as the Express are last in the AAF in rushing defense (159 ypg) in the early going.
3. The head coaches are no strangers to one another
Memphis' Mike Singletary and San Diego's Mike Martz know each other quite well. They shared an NFL sideline back in 2008 with the San Francisco 49ers. Singletary began the year as the assistant head coach but was eventually promoted to interim head coach following the firing of Mike Nolan. During that difficult season Martz was the 49ers' offensive coordinator. It’s safe to say that both men know one another’s coaching styles, and Saturday's game could turn into a chess match.
Both teams will continue to show improvement this weekend. On offense, the running backs will likely dominate the proceedings but it will be interesting to see these two defenses fare. In the end, San Diego appears to have more firepower and the matchup of the AAF's top rushing offense against the worst rushing defense works heavily in their favor. Memphis, however, will put up a fight at home and keep this game close.
Prediction: Fleet 24, Express 20
— 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)