How Archers can get over the hump versus Chaos

By Zach Carey | Jun 14, 2024

The Utah Archers are 3-7 all-time versus the Carolina Chaos. The Chaos were the only team the Archers did not beat last season. Carolina also knocked Utah out of the playoffs in 2020, 2021 and 2022. 

Historically, Saturday night’s matchup between the Archers and the Chaos is one that Utah has struggled with. Particularly on the offensive side of the ball: The Archers have averaged just 10.8 points per game against the Chaos. 

Much of that has been a result of Carolina’s defensive scheming. Utah’s offense thrives off initiating up top. That’s the benefit of having Tom Schreiber and other north-south threats like Tre Leclaire, Ryan Ambler, Matt Moore (when he plays up top) and even Ryan Aughavin

The Chaos typically respond by double-poling the midfield and leaving a short stick on the least threatening attackman. Notably, they shorted Marcus Holman and Will Manny when both were with the Archers in the past. In the clubs’ lone matchup last season, Carolina shorted Mac O’Keefe and held the Archers to 10 points – their lowest total of the 2023 season. 

A huge component of Utah’s issues in that matchup was Grant Ament’s absence. Just six minutes into the game, Ament limped to the sideline with a tweaked hamstring and didn’t return. That took away one of the offense’s primary dodging threats and made it easier for Carolina to disrupt any offensive rhythm.

Fundamentally, if the Chaos can take away the Archers’ big-little game up top and limit the offense they create from the midfield, they’re happy to allow Utah to isolate a non-dodging attackman against a short stick.

On Saturday night, Carolina will likely take one of three approaches for matching up with Utah’s matchup-dominant offense. For each strategy, the Archers should have sufficient schematic and individual answers. 

Play straight up

The least likely option is Carolina leaving its three elite close defenders (Jarrod Neumann, Jack Rowlett and Will Bowen) on Utah’s three starting attackmen. That means the Chaos would put their long-stick midfielder on Schreiber and would leave Ament with a short-stick matchup.

With how Ament has played out of the box this season, that’d likely be an unwise decision for Carolina.

With seven points through two games, Ament has abused short-stick matchups. He’s shooting 50% on unassisted shots and already has more goals (five) in 2024 than he did in the 2023 regular season (four). All five of his goals were unassisted, and four came against shorties.

Carolina leaving its three poles down low would also mean Leclaire would consistently match up with a shorty. Particularly after his five-goal outing last Friday night, he’ll pose a threat to any short-stick matchup. 

Double-pole the midfield and short O’Keefe like in 2023

Assuming Carolina wants to limit Ament, going back to what worked in 2023 is the logical first answer. O’Keefe is an elite shooter and off-ball threat. But he’s not the initiator that Schreiber, Ament, Moore and Connor Fields are. For that reason, he’s less of a matchup nightmare against a short stick. 

But it’s what O’Keefe can do off-ball that should allow the Archers to punish Carolina.

Two weeks ago, Philadelphia tried shorting O’Keefe after Ament notched two early goals against a short stick. Utah immediately fed Fields on the lefty wing and let the two lefties go to work in space. Fields scored off a two-man game with O’Keefe on the first possession that the Penn State product got the shorty. 

O’Keefe proceeded to score a pair of goals in the second quarter. One came when he dodged off a poor closeout in transition – a benefit of the attention he draws as a shooter – and the other came off a pick and slip with Ambler.

O’Keefe plays with such nuance off-ball that he can create offense without the ball in his stick. He only needs a sliver of space to unleash his howitzer of a shot, and that’s only compounded with feeders like Schreiber and Ament around him. Pair that with Fields and the lefty wing two-man game that they’ve perfected over the last year, and Utah should have a much more viable answer to Carolina shorting O’Keefe than they did last season. 

Double-pole the midfield and short Moore

If O’Keefe’s off-ball presence against a short stick is too much, Carolina could leave a pole on O’Keefe and bump the shorty over to Moore. While Moore is more of a dodger than O’Keefe, the Chaos might want to challenge him to beat them after his slow start to 2024. 

Moore has just one assist while shooting 0-for-8 through two games this season. He’s had tough matchups – JT Giles-Harris, Chris Sabia and Liam Byrnes – and hasn’t produced to his typical standard. 

But against a short stick, Moore can feast. His physical brand of dodging and ability to shoot through contract should allow the Archers to attack that matchup, as well.

The key in this scenario is for Moore to not let the ball die in his stick. There are times when he can get stuck re-dodging too much when it’d be better for the offense for him to swing the ball and keep the defense moving. Against a short stick, he’d be more likely to draw a quick slide and be able to force the defense to rotate. 

That’s a larger theme for the Archers’ offense, as well. Although they’re averaging the second-most points in the league, the lengthy scoreless stretches they’ve had have been a result of getting too locked in on individual matchups and not spreading the wealth enough. 

Against Carolina’s vaunted close defense, attacking the short sticks will be important. But so will keeping the ball spinning and forcing what may be the best close defense in the league to be uncomfortable off-ball. 

Picking the matchups the Archers know they can win, targeting those and then using the advantages created there to jump-start the rest of the offense should be a productive approach. The Archers have a stacked offense with plenty of elite talent that has a diversity of strengths. Saturday’s matchup will require them to be decisive in determining where and how they can win given how the Chaos defense plays them. 

Utah’s young defense could be in for a tough one against the speed and skill of the new-look Carolina offense. That’s why it’ll be critical for the Archers’ offense to score consistently against Blaze Riorden and the Chaos’ rock-solid defense. If they can’t, and the combination of Carolina’s elite defensive personnel and personnel-dependent scheming locks them down, it could be a long night for Utah.