Tuomas Heikkinen, Game of the Week 8: Roosters @ Crocodiles


What is at stake?

When the Roosters and the Crocodiles face off on Saturday, the Maple League season in Finland comes to a checkpoint, who will be still undefeated when the game is over? What will the outcome of this game predict for the playoffs or the Maple League final?

’Strive for five’. The Roosters already have a streak of 4 Championships that can at times be a burden.  After four consecutive championships it is very hard to keep hungry for every single game. The Roosters have not been playing at full speed with full preparation since the season opener against the Trojans. The veteran players and the coaching staff know that at the end of the day it is all about being the best team in the country come the playoffs. This is not to say the Roosters don’t care about the outcome of this weekend’s game, but to say that they know what is at stake at this point and what is not.

For the Crocodiles the situation is very different, their only Maple League title is 15 years old now, and the pressure of having lost half a dozen Maple Bowls during the dry season is very much lurking in the back of Srinäjoki’s veteran football people’s minds. A win here against Roosters that do play at full steam and with their full roster would be a confidence builder. The Crocodiles are still very far from entering the playoffs as unbeaten #1, but it is a possibility that they might. Whether that would be good or bad for championships hopes can be discussed then.

Teams in comparison

Statistically combined, these two teams very much dominate the League. The Crocodiles’ numbers are especially impressive, the Roosters have had an interesting period for the last month, just taking care of business while resting their banged key players as much as possible.

Defensively, the Crocodiles have only allowed 7,4 points per game. If they hit that mark on Saturday they will win the game. On the other hand, a dominating defense can get very irritated and fall of track if they start getting beat right from the start of a game, the expectations can get the better of them. Especially now that the Vaasa Royals kept Micah Brown and Company at 14 points on Monday, the Crocodiles defense must feel that they have to prove as solid as the other Pohjanmaa team. Anyway, the Crocodiles defense sits at #1 in the statistics, and have been especially effective in numbing the opponent’s passing game and stopping the 3rd down plays.

The Roosters are very solid defensively, too. In fact it has been due to their high overall quality of defensive play that they have been able to play their national quarterbacks and other substitute players early in the season without losing games as a result. The disciplined team defense quality shows especially in the red zone defense numbers, the Roosters have only allowed 33,3 % scoring for opponents inside the striking distance. It is actually remarkable that only once in three possessions in the Red Zone the opponent has been able to come up with points.

Offensively the Crocodles have been better than ever before this year. Justin Sottilare’s offense still lives on the pass, but has proven capable of running the ball, too with RB Kevin Marshall who has 59 carries for 368 yards, 6,2 average and 2 TDs. They’ve played the whole season with the same players at key positions, and have exceptional rhythm and fluency. They have also found ways during the games to expose weaknesses in the opponents defense and to adjust accordingly. Overall, the Crocodiles offense has been the best one on the Maple League fields so far this year. WR Timothy Thomas is having an MVP year so far with a 162,4 yard production per game.

The Roosters offense has one feature that sets them apart from others, their offensive line. Led by veteran LT Iiro Luoto, the OL has been able to carry the Roosters through games where they’ve given valuable reps to their second string players. The OL is lifted here to suggest that it could be the deciding factore between the Roosters and the rest this year come the playoffs. QB Brown’s numbers fot this year can be overlooked as he hasn’t played much yet. He’s only thrown 44 footballs for 297 yards as opposed to Sottilare’s 169 passes for 1321. But where Sottilare has negative rushing numbers (-59) , resulting from sacks, Brown has almost 50% of his total offense numbers from running with the ball, 20 runs for 256 yards, a 12,8 average and 4 TDs.. WR Bernard Luster has had a quiet year so far in his standard, but will eventually rise into his star role at both WR and KR. WR Kimi Linnainmaa leads the national group of Roosters offensive players with 19 catches, 321 yards and 3 TD s so far.

Again, just like on the previous years, Jaycen Taylor is becoming the man for the Roosters, he’s been part-time too (61 attempts) but leads the league in rushing with 115 yards per game and a scary 9,4 yd average.

Maple Bowl revisited

Normally it would not be of much use to compare the teams based on their previous year’s meeting, but one way to try and predict or foresee this game could be to memorize last year’s Maple Bowl game between the two. Both teams have kept the same key players, and the changes that have been made can be seen, too.

In last year’s final two things stood out. First, the Crocodiles were not able to run the ball at all. The Roosters d-line dominated the game, and while it doesn’t necessarily ruin the quick paced passing game of the Crocodiles, it gives the defense a huge advantage when they can focus on stopping the pass only, in bothg the numbers and the playcalling. Secondly, even if the Crocodiles defense was solid last year in general, they had no answers to the Roosters LB-level challenge. The game was played in front of the Crocodiles safeties for the whole 48 minutes, and the Roosters smartly made use of the mismatch between their imports and the LB-section of the Crocodiles in both rushing and passing. The Crocodiles hung on to the game with streak passes, 1-1s that they every now and then won, but once they lost the advantage of a 14 point break resulting from their pick 6 TD they really had no chance to win the Championship.

So what is different this year? First, the Crocodiles are better balanced, they proved against the Trojans that they can run against a decent defense, make use of weak spots in the defensive structure, and Kevin Marshall looks to be finding his optimal way to run in the Maple League, too. The offensive line is getting better, and the Crocodiles offense in general takes much of the burden away from the OL. Also, the Roosters front seven is solid but last year they had an All Europe level MLB with Dustin Illetschko, not saying that the current MLB Sebastian Karbin is not a good player but anyway. Also, the Roosters have lost Victor Sarvi from their DL, and they do not have an interior DL player like him now.

The big change can be seen with the Crocodiles defensive front seven. With the addition of the new French LB Matthieu Fayard and some defensive linemen the Crocodiles have something they haven’t had in years. Quality and depth. If Fayard proves to be a playmaker the Crocodiles now have several players in their defensive front that can beat the man in front of them and get to the ball often enough to make life miserable for the opponent. Robinson, Raatikainen, Zacok to name a few.

What really made the difference last year in the Final was the late addition of Stephen Peyton by the Roosters. At times they had Brown, Taylor, Bernard Luster and Peyton on the field at the same time. 4 quality Americans. This was almost unfair to witness.


This is the game that the Crocodiles should win, juts like with the Trojans a couple of weeks back. The Roosters have had a short week of preparation following their Monday game, their key players have had very few reps lately, and the Crocodiles are rested, prepared and now also enforced. Or to put it another way, the Roosters will be a lot stronger come playoffs than they are right now, if you can’t beat them now how will you do that then?

On the other hand, the Crocodiles have beat the Roosters several times in the regular season on their home field. This game and the second meeting between the two serve more than anything as measure points and ’gathering data’, if they should meet the third time this year in the Maple Bowl.

So where are these two teams right now and where are they headed? No-one could have touched the Roosters in April, no-one has been able to beat them late August or early September in the last 4 years. The Crocodiles are facing the challenge of the contender, you have to be sharp every week and build to peak when it matters. The Roosters must only avoid a too big a midseason slump as they know exactly how to crank itu p when it matters.

One thing is for sure, only one team will be unbeaten after Saturday, for all it matters.

The Film Clips:

This time the film clips focus on just a couple of features on both teams’ play. We take a look at the counter play run by both teams and a highlight from Crocodiles MLB/DE Robinson.

On the Counter:

The ’Good Old Counter’ has been run for decades, originally as a counter movement play packaged with offtackle solation plays. In the old version the FB and the HB would both step one way and the HB would then follow the pulling Guard and Tackle the other way. In the modern era the same play has recently reappeared, now sugared with some Run Pass Option.

The Roosters and the Crocodiles both run their HB Counter from a trips formation. The trips formation often does a few things to a regular defense, first it more often than not states the strength to the 3 Wr side and moves the Strong side LB clearly out of the box. Secondly, many defenses roll into a single high coverage against the trips which can expose the single side to reduced run support numbers.

Both Crocodiles and Roosters soften the run support by giving a screen-type look with their 3 WRs, slowing down the strong side LB, and could use the option of quickly dumping the ball to #3 if the defense showed signs of blitzing from the 3 WR side.

In the film examples the Roosters run their counter vs a 34 front with an OLB rush, which creates a bit of a bind to the pulling linemen and maybe causes RB to stumble on the bit hesitating pulls. The Crocodiles first run their counter against a 43 weakside blitz which actually helps the play get through. In the second example the Trojans attempt to exchange lanes between the DE and the OLB but miss the play and the Crocodiles get a huge run. Notice the free safety’s movement towards the middle off the snap on both examples.





The Roosters compliment their HB Counter with a QB counter, again confusing the defense’s reads. This play suits the Roosters QB Brown’s athleticism well. Again there is a possible outlet on the right in case the defense overloads the QB run and gives a possibility for a quick screen to WR #1.


Finally, a matchup to watch in the game. Crocodiles MLB Greg Robinson has established himself at the middle right from the start of the season but now also proved to be a force to be reckoned with at DE against the Trojans. If he lines up at DE vs the Roosters he will go against one of the best Finnish linemen ever. Roosters left tackle Iiro Luoto is still as good as they ever come.



Sami Ranta