What to Watch in The Archers vs Waterdogs Battle For First Place
The Archers’ league-leading 32-second offense will square off against the Waterdogs’ first-place 32-second defense in a nationally televised battle for first place on Sunday. The matchup will feature two heavyweight defenses, creative coaching on both sides, and major playoff implications. To the winner goes control of their own destiny for the no. 1 seed in the playoffs and the crucial quarterfinal bye.
Here are the storylines to watch for both teams, in every facet of this game, starting on Sunday at 3:00pm EST, on ABC and ESPN+.
Offense: A mixed bag
Archers: The second half of the season projects to represent a change in offensive personality for the Archers. After struggling to convert in transition through the first five weeks on the highest volume in the league, the club is hoping to limit bad decisions in transition and prioritize their settled offense, which is the second most efficient in the league.
Assuming Matt Moore and Grant Ament — who were both listed as questionable with left hamstring strains but included in the 19-man roster — are both active on Sunday, which plays attack will largely contribute to the style of the Archers offense. Moore has thrived in early offense and brings a more aggressive, physical dodging presence next to Ament’s strengths as a quarterback. Each will no doubt play plenty, but where that is will determine what the Archers offense looks like in the high number of 32-second possessions they’ll have.
Waterdogs: The Waterdogs must commit to not setting for shots, even with a short clock. It doesn’t need to be a doorstep dunk, but this Archers defense is too good to be relying on contested shots. They rank top-three in scores against average and unassisted shooting percentage. Last time the Waterdogs got caught settling on offense, it cost them a six-goal lead.
The ‘Dogs should be spreading the love in their first week with this midfield unit. Jack Hannah, Thomas McConvey, Ryan Conrad, Zach Currier and Jake Carraway are hard to rival in terms of offensive firepower. Expect some extra passes in this game, especially if the unit starts to gel early on. The ‘Dogs have the third-best assisted rate in the league (53.5%), but that should raise even higher after this matchup.
Faceoff: Top 32-second units clash
Archers: Mike Sisselberger (70% on draws) has dominated in the first five games of his professional career and the Archers have taken full advantage. The offense leads the league in 32-second efficiency, and the rookie out of Lehigh has been nearly flawless after faceoff wins with only four turnovers on his 84 wins.
Sunday will be the biggest test for his ability after the draw yet. The Waterdogs’ 13.5% defensive efficiency on 32-second possessions has been a major driving factor for their 4-1 start. The Archers’ decision to only dress one long-stick midfielder this weekend with Jared Conners on the reserve roster and typical backup Jon Robbins on the 19-man is a curious one. But it could point to the team expecting to use more short sticks on the wings to give Sisselberger help after the initial win.
Waterdogs: Eli Gobrecht will start at the stripe again this week, said Waterdogs Head Coach Andy Copelan, but the Archers are “a whole different animal.” With Sisselberger at faceoff and weapons all around him, the Archers’ speed and execution with the short clock poses a problem, even for the league leader in 32-second defensive efficiency.
“Between Moore and Schreiber and Fields, they have guys that can get shots off with the short clock,” Copelan said. “So, I’m not in love with inviting those guys to play more offense, but I think it’s a strategy that, at this point, we have to commit to for at least one additional week.”
The Waterdogs players to watch will be on the wings. Without Ryland Rees this week, Zach Currier and Chris Sabia will have an even bigger role against Sisselberger and company, whose 72 clamps rank second in the league and bode poorly for this strategy. Sisselberger is also smart with the ball in his stick and comfortable going to the cage given the chance. If the rookie can figure out how to go forward with the clamp, the ‘Dogs will be in trouble. But Copelan said he has a few different plans in place to make sure that doesn’t happen consistently.
Defense: A heavyweight matchup
Archers: How the Archers defense decides to try to contain Michael Sowers will be critical in their quest to limit the Waterdogs offense. All-World defender Graeme Hossack projects to be the most likely candidate to take on the matchup, but Warren Jeffrey did just dominate against the prototypical X-attackman, Rob Pannell, the last time out. Sowers’ foot speed is more threatening than Pannell’s, so Hossack should have the best shot at staying with the third year attackman, particularly if he takes a similar approach to Garrett Epple earlier this season.
Matt McMahon seems destined to guard Ethan Walker so he can maintain his presence as the voice of the defense, and Jeffrey matches up decently well with Kieran McArdle. The defensive midfield is where things get interesting. 2022 Brodie Merrill Long Stick Midfielder of the Year finalist Jared Conners is one of the Archers two reserve players for this weekend with close defender Cam Wyers taking his spot. Jon Robbins will obviously be taking the first LSM runs, but how the Archers plan to defend the Waterdogs’ top midfielders when he isn’t on the field is a question mark.
Waterdogs: The Waterdogs defense should focus on limiting the two-man game. The Archers have more two-man initiations than any other team in the league (65), and have a higher conversion rate on those plays than on dodges. Plus, the Waterdogs are third in the league in defensive dodge percentage (22.3%), four points better than their two-man rate. The ‘Dogs should be forcing the Archers into solo dodges on favorable matchups to tip the scales, which means being draped on Mac O’Keefe.
Whoever lines up on O’Keefe will be taking on the most important matchup. Grant Ament, Tom Schreiber and Matt Moore are all questionable, which puts even more onus on locking up O’Keefe. Liam Byrnes has guarded both on and off-ball attackers, so I’d expect Copelan to consider sticking him on O’Keefe given the matchup. With Gobrecht at the stripe, it’s really down to Byrnes, Ben Randall and the short sticks to contain him. The four-man short stick unit has been hugely successful down the stretch this season, and will play a significant role against a versatile offense.