Tuomas Heikkinen: The key points are turnovers and field position
Maajoukkuevalmentaja avaa yksityiskohtaisesti Roosters–Trojans -ottelun keskeiset seikat
The game between Helsinki Roosters and Turku Trojans on Sun 22nd May is without a question the highlight of the first week of Maple League Finland. The legacy of this matchup is unique in Europe, also. These two teams will face each other for the 55th time, with several bouts taking place in the Maple Bowl, the Finnish Championship game. Many expect this to be the scenario for this year, too. The game on Sunday is Act One of expected three.
Both teams have a bit of a head start for the game compared to the rest of the League kicking off the same weekend. The Roosters played a very good game against the Powerhouse Innsbruck Raiders in April, and the Trojans opened their season with a convincing win over Vantaa TAFT last weekend in an early scheduled League game.
The ain of this writing is to give the spectator some keys to follow in the game. The reason for giving them is that this game will be played at a high tactical level with both teams knowing each other well and also both being capable of developing a game plan to use their strengths against the assumed weaknesses of the opponent.
Comparing the offenses:
The Roosters have a huge advantage in sheer amount of repetitions entering this game. Their QB Micah Brown and the multiple MVP RB Jaycen Spears have spent the whole offseason in Finland. The #1 WR Bernard Luster has a very well established connection with Brown, also. Brown has called their offense ’a lot more flexible’ compared to what they presented in last year’s final, and that is saying a lot remembering how convincing the Roosters were towards the end of 2015. Brown is an on field general with accurate passing and quick feet. The offense is based on spread offense principles, numbers game deciding the run-pass, mostly short controlled passing game and reading the defenses presnap to check into what the defense appears to be giving you. There may be a bit of ’smashmouth spread’, running some traditionally Pro-personnel based plays out of spread motions and shifts to be expected this year as this is the trend in football. Spears is a multi-weapon, strong hard-to-bring-down runner and also very much a pass catching threat out of the backfield. WR Luster had a field day in Austria like he did in last year’s final, too. Shifty WR Kimi Linnainmaa will have his opportunities for big plays with the defense’s attention on the Americans. The Roosters have promising national players that should be able to back up the key Americans at the WR and RB positions when needed. The OL is in many ways the best unit in the League. They know their assignments and make few mistakes. Veteran Iiro Luoto is still rock solid at LT and young Jere Lahti has become one of the best guards in the League.
The Trojans have been rebuilt for this year at the offensive key positions. With QB Miro Kadmiry the Trojans are attempting what few have accomplished, to win it all with a national QB. Since 1990 only hall of famer Petrus Penkki has done that. Sebastian Berndtsson is taking snaps behind Kadmiry on a weekly basis in a competitive manner, which is also a rare feature in Finnish football. As a late change the Trojans brought in RB Chris Douglas instead of Joc Crawford. Based on his highlight film from Germany and the first outing against TAFT Douglas is a real threat to any defense in the League. The Trojans were expected to rely on the run more than the Roosters, and will field more 20 Personnel packages than them. However, the Trojans OL was handicapped last week against TAFT and it remains to be seen whether they have their OL complete for this one, either. Roman Runner has a multi role on the offense, creating difficult angles and hurried decisions for the defense through movement and shifting. Like the Roosters, the Trojans have national players that can step in for the A’s when needed and perform. At the WR position one of the national players should elevate into a leading role to complete the offensive dimensions. This could be expected from Aappo Saloranta, Tuomas Mankki, Simo Suurkuukka or Markus Häkli.
Overall the upper hand belongs, at least at this stage of the season, to the Roosters. Their offense is already running like a well oiled machine, and is at an exceptional level for a Finnish team starting the Maple League season.
Comparing the defenses:
The Roosters defense can be described with one word: Disciplined. I will get to the coaching staffs later, but there is a reason why the Roosters D is Maple League optimized, risk-calculated and almost mathematical. With a 43-approach spiced with 425 Under principles the Roosters can field well trained and repped players throughout the field. Like with most succesful teams, it all starts with the Roosters DL. Even with losing all star DT Victor Sarvi the Roosters have a DL that can cancel the offense of most opponents. Slightly surprisingly they have moved (or at least announced) their big boys Aitala and Nikku at DE, leaving the interior to the returning DT Eliasson and young Lindfors. With Lauri Vainio returning and some young prospects developing the Roosters DL is in a very good shape. The battle between the Roosters DL and the Trojans OL should be one of the better ones to see this year. If something is to be pointed out as a ’weakness’ it might be the lack of a pure speed pass rusher.
At the LB the Roosters are replacing last year’s superstar MLB Illetschko with Sebastian Karbin, the 2 time League Defensive MVP. On the outside Santtu Äyräväinen still often dominates the wide side of the field and Niko Kuikka is solid on the weak side. Converted safety Sampo Ranta brings good pass defense skills to the second level. The LB unit is fast and can play both run and pass well.
With CB Pekka Rantala and safety Tuukka Hämäläinen returning to the field, and Akseli Olin transferring from TAFT the Roosters now pack a very solid secondary boosted with Curtis Slater. The two Ville’s, Rontu and Roitto, are also in the lineup.
The Trojans also lost a starting DT with Rikhard Helenius’s knee injury. Their DL has potential to be very good at some point of the season, but was still a bit inconsistent in the first game vs. TAFT.
The LB section of the Trojans has had the same starters for years, Sami Toivonen, Ilja Redin and Ilkka Koiranen are a force to be reckoned with against the run, but may have problems with a quick passing offense such as the Roosters.
The Trojans secondary has talent through Ville Valtteri Suojanen and Cameron Gupton, not forgetting the veteran Seikko Vennelä.
Roman Runner’s role on defense remains to be seen. He is a two-way player and there would definitely be a need for his talent in stopping the Roosters.
Overall the upper hand, here also, goes to the Roosters. The Trojans can develop into a very good defense, but need repetition and are more vulnerable should there be any injuries to the starters.
On the kicking game: this is again a rare situation in Finnish football with both teams having specialists for kicking duties. Joni-Petteri Malka has a great leg for the Trojans, and Akseli Olin is the most overall skilled P/K in the country. Both teams have dangerous returners, too.
What is to be expected?
The Trojans HC/DC Mikko Virolainen is an aggressive play caller. Most likely the Trojans will refuse to be sitting ducks for the Roosters accurate numbers offense. Expect blitzes and heavy safety involvement in the low area game. At the backside of that, expect the Trojans also give big plays through blown coverages and stacked rush/pursuit lanes leading to cracks and seams for Spears to use. The keys would be to 1) limit the Roosters running game, make them one-dimensional 2) keep QB Brown guessing and make him guess wrong. This would mean pre-snap decoy movement with a plan. Like the first question with any pass is ’how do we protect it’, the first question for the Trojans should be ’how do we pressure it’. The Roosters do not protect their QB in many different ways, but they protect him well in the way they do. The Trojans can not sit back with their safeties and let the Roosters tear the LB level apart with their OLB nigtmare run/pass yo-yo. Like mentioned earlier, Roman Runner could be a big X-factor in this game.
Trojans OC Kim Wikström is a creative mind. The Roosters are the team to beat, and surely a lot of that creativism has been aimed at finding ways to collapse the Roosters’ disciplined defense’s structure. There are, like said, calculated risks involved in the way the Roosters play defense, and a lot of it has to do with the ’9 in the box’ safety involvement leading to challenging CB responsibilities. Expect the Trojans to move people around pre snap a lot and to attempt to establish the run threat to create 1-1 opportunities with good angles. Also, creative blocking angles and backfield flows are what the Trojans need for not to be eaten alive by the Roosters DL. A second effort from QB Kadmiry and his WRs will be needed, also.
The Roosters OC Jens Holmström has worked his way to a championship coordinator. He has, like said, a field general in QB Brown, and their offense has the built-in look for the best option readiness with fluent audibles. Expect Brown to look for Spears and Luster at most times, especially if the game stays tight until late. Also, expect Brown to escape the Trojans pass rush several times through the game.
The Roosters DC Kalle Karppinen has done a great job in molding and filtering a vast knowledge of the game into what works well in the Maple League. The pursuit angles, gap fits and read/reacts of the Roosters D are beyond all others in the League. However, they will be challenged by the Trojans, harder than usual, this year. If not in this first meeting, then surely in the second and the expected third one. Expect very little blitzing early in the game, but also hard pressures/pressure looks dissolving into coverage variations later.
Turnovers and field position will be huge in this game. Both teams have the firepower to capitalize on the ooponet’s mistakes. The Trojans need them more than the Roosters do.
Writer is the headcoach of Finland National american football team
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