3 takeaways from Express’ loss in AAF debut
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The defense was on board. The offense? Not so much. The debut of the Memphis Express on Sunday at Legion Field was a mixed bag of exemplary defensive work and misfires galore on offense. It was that lack of any semblance of firepower in the passing game that cost coach Mike Singletary’s squad most in its 26-0 loss to the Birmingham Iron.
Here are the top takeaways from the first game for both Alliance of American Football teams.
Let’s start with the good
The defensive line was the best position group on the field, despite the limitations in place for AAF defenses.
Birmingham running back Trent Richardson, the third overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft, the highest drafted player in the AAF this season, was a non-factor throughout much of the game thanks to the collective efforts of the Express front four.
Memphis sacked Birmingham quarterback Luis Perez twice in the first three quarters (Anthony Johnson with the first, Jamichael Winston Sr. and Julius Warmsley on the second) and held the Iron to just 33 rushing yards on 16 attempts. Richardson had 18 yards on 11 rushes through three quarters.
The former Cleveland Brown and Indi-
anapolis Colt came up with a pair of short touchdown runs in the fourth quarter and accumulated some garbagetime stats to help salvage his day.
The linebacking corps and secondary also had their moments, highlighted by a pair of thirdquarter fumbles.
Demarquis Gates, a former Ole Miss linebacker, forced both of them.
The first was recovered by former Memphis standout Jonathan Cook, the second by EX-MTSU star Jeremy Cutrer.
All was not lost on offense for the Express. Former St. Louis Rams and New York Jets running back Zac Stacy from Vanderbilt put up 58 yards on 12 carries.
And now the bad
Quarterback Christian Hackenberg was just that, for the most part.
Headed into the fourth quarter, the former second-round pick of the Jets was 7-of-18 for 54 yards and an interception.
Save for a couple of drops, the rest of the incompletions were on Hackenberg.
The 23-year-old second-round choice of the Express in the inaugural QB draft also was sacked twice, flagged for intentional grounding late in the third quarter and eventually pulled.
Brandon Silvers, who was named the backup Friday, finished the game and threw an interception on his second pass, while former Tennessee Titans quarterback Zach Mettenberger dressed out but was inactive.
The defense wasn’t immune to mistakes. Memphis gave up a 39yard pass play to Quentin Patton – replays appeared to indicate an incompletion, but it was upheld by replay official Mark Butterworth – before being flagged for unnecessary roughness two plays before Richardson’s short touchdown run.
That was far from the only flag thrown against the Express.
All told, Memphis was whistled 11 times for 97 yards and had at least one penalty on offense, defense and special teams.
One of the biggest questions about the AAF’S inaugural season was whether it would be enough of a draw to fill stadiums.
The early returns appear to be largely positive.
The Orlando Apollos’ home game against the Atlanta Legends on Saturday drew more than 20,000, while the San Antonio Commanders’ home game versus the San Diego Fleet drew north of 27,000.
The announced attendance for Sunday’s Express-iron game was 17,039.
Those who gathered at Legion Field on an overcast, chilly Birmingham afternoon made their presence known, creating a nice environment.
Express lineman Anthony Johnson celebrates his sack of Iron quarterback Luis Perez on Sunday. JOE RONDONE/THE COMMERCIAL APPEAL