Ray Bentley was like a student cramming for a bar exam, his nose deep in the Carolina Cobras' playbook. His job: Make sure the Cobras don't beat the Destroyers with the screen pass.
Bentley spent a significant amount of time reviewing in his mind that single play, one the Cobras will run over and over. If the Cobras get their bread-and-butter cranking, they can control the game, the clock and, most important, keep Buffalo's effective offense off the field. If the Destroyers shut the screen down, it could be bombs away for Buffalo and a high-scoring affair, something Carolina does not want. It should make for an entertaining game when Destroyers (6-3) face the Cobras (5-3) today (3, TNN, Radio 550) at HSBC Arena.
"In the last four games, they've run 57 variations of the screen pass so that's close to 15 screens a game," Bentley said. "They'll lull you to sleep, then they hit you with one of those things. We have protection against those things and we still want to maximize our pass rush and protect against those things. That's a difficult task."
Few teams in Arena football run the screen pass with the kind of precision and discipline the Cobras do. Most teams play the game North-South. Carolina plays the game East-West. With sturdy offensive linemen who can handle the most complicated blocking schemes and a power quarterback in the 6-foot-2, 240 pound Fred McNair, who has yet to throw an interception this year, it is no wonder that the screen pass is so formidable.
"They run screens to death," said wide receiver/linebacker Darrick Branch. "They want to get you off balance and do some things that aren't really associated with Arena football. It's usually a wide-open game and people throw the ball down the field."
McNair, older brother of Tennessee Titan QB Steve McNair, has gone eight games without throwing a pick. For the season, he's passed for 1,826 yards and 38 touchdowns and is the league's No. 4 rated passer (120.0). Last week, the Destroyers faced the league's top rated passer in New York's Aaron Garcia, who completed 22 of 35 passes for 330 yards and seven touchdowns in a losing effort. While Garcia is more noted for his touch, McNair possesses a combination of speed and strength.
"McNair is streaky," Bentley said. "He has that ability but (he's) not as consistent as Garcia. But McNair is much more physical than Garcia. McNair won't go down where Garcia will fall down pretty easily."
Yet as much as the screen pass worked against the Destroyers in their 59-57 loss to Carolina on May 4, it was a game Buffalo should have won. In kicker Nathan DeWolfe's first and last game as a Destroyer, he missed five of eight field goals and both PAT tries in the fourth period. The next week, Bentley held a kicking tryout and Brett Gorden, the team's fourth kicker of the season, emerged. The kicking game has improved greatly ever since.
"That thing slipped right through our hands," Bentley said. "We felt that we had played better than them, but we didn't win the game. That was one of the few times that that has happened to us. Usually when we lose, we stink it up pretty good."
The Destroyers bring a seven-game home win streak into today's game and have won four of their last five including their last two. A win would give the Destroyers a 1 1/2 -game lead over the second-place Cobras in the Eastern Division and the first three-game win streak in franchise history.
The Destroyers placed lineman David Caldwell (groin) on injured reserve this week and he's expected to miss two games. . . . Bentley said injured wide receiver/linebacker Kevin Mason (right foot) should return for the Destroyers' home game against Toronto on July 6. . . . Bentley had the team practice outside their facility in Amherst this week but when things heated up, the team went back inside.