AFI Game of the Week – Brazil: João Pessoa Espectros v. América Bulls Potiguares

João Pessoa Espectros (3-1) (João Pessoa, Paraiba)

v.

America Bulls Potiguares (2-1) (Natal, Rio Grande do Norte)

Sunday, September 11
2:00 PM
Vila Olímpica – João Pessoa, Paraíba

The Stakes

  • The 3-1 Espectros can be first team to reach four victories in Conferencia Nordeste. There is still a lot of jockeying for position at the top of the conference, but a win this weekend is huge for a playoff bid and potentially home field advantage. A loss isn’t the end of the world for the Espectros, but it makes the post season a more difficult goal to realize.
  • With a victory, the Bulls would move into a group of three teams (the other two being the Recife Mariners and Ceara Caçadores) with 3-1 records at the top of Conferencia Nordeste. A loss puts them at 2-2 and in a tie for the (current) last playoff spot with the Recife Pirates, who they play in their regular season finale on October 8.

The Players

Bulls:

  • If the Espectros want to move the football, they will need to account for Bulls linebacker, Joe Small.‘’We have to have a hat on him every time. He is a game changer and the play-maker of that defense. He has good tackling skills and can hit. He always cleans up any mess,’’ said Espectros Head Coach, Kevin Veloso,Small, usually lines up as an inside backer in the Bulls 3-4 front, but goes sideline to sideline to make plays, and has the speed to carry inside receivers deep when necessary.‘’We have to be very focused on how they use him (Small) on offense, too,’’ said hard-hitting João Pessoa safety, Edvaldo ‘’Pezão’’ Rosas.
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    The elusive Brian Gessel has tormented defenses all season long by keeping plays alive. Photo credit: Gustavo Magalhães

  • Dual threat quarterback Brian Gessel is the straw that stirs the drink that is the Bulls offense. Gessell throws a nice deep ball, and is not scared to put his head down and take on a defender. Gessell is at his most dangerous when chaos ensues and he has a chance to extend a broken play with his legs and arm.‘’We have to contain him and be faithful to our coverage until the play is over,’’ said Veloso.
  • Lanky safety, Joao Pires, can be found, before the snap, roaming the middle of the field for the Bulls, or even rolled up on an inside receiver, but at the end of the play, he is almost always found near the football.

Espectros:

  • The big boys up front in Joao Pessoa include the massive Lenin Albuquerque Caldeira (6’7, 341 pounds) and import Adolphus Barnes will open up lines and create a passing pocket for whoever is taking snaps in Coach Kevin Veloso’s offense, that has become just as adept at running the ball as passing it this season.
  • Everton ‘’Pingo’’ Antero is a bruising back who runs low to the ground and prefers to run over and through defenders than go around them. Unlike many power runners, though, Antero has elite athleticism, soft hands out of the backfield, and break-away speed. Antero has found the end zone five times this season.
  • WR and return specialist, Heron Azevedo is one of the most decorated players in the history of Brazilian American football. Azevedo’s speed allows him to stretch the field vertically, while his route-running ability and toughness also allow him to line up on the inside of a formation, or take a handoff in jet sweep action. Azevedo has scored three touchdowns on the season.
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Veteran Espectros WR/KR, Heron Azevedo, is one of the top game-breakers in the country. Photo credit: Stephan Eilert photography

  • The Espectros defense starts up front with Marcos Hercules, a nasty, 6’3, 255 pound (191cm; 115 KG) lineman who has the size, speed and strength to line up anywhere from end to a zero-technique. Hercules is effective on every down, with fast and violent feet and hands that allow him to pass rush, and the pad level and discipline that allow him to play as a ‘’covered up’’ lineman and eat or split double teams against the run. Hercules has forced 3 fumbles this season.
  • The heart and soul of the Espectros is with veteran inside linebacker, Igor Nery. Nery is natural leader, key communicator on defense and has played in as many big games as anyone in Conferencia Nordeste. Nery has one interception this season. His partner in the linebacking corps is Jesus ‘’The Lamb of God’’ Emanuel, a rangy, athletic linebacker who is always around the football. Emanuel has been fantastic in coverage this season (one interception), when he isn’t bringing pressure from all over the Espectros 3-4 look and forcing fumbles. In addition to his interception on the season, Jesus resurrected a fumble and took it to the endzone for a TD. The Espectros also boast one of the hardest hitting, most explosive linebackers in the country, Pablo Magalhaes.
  • Roving Edvaldo ‘’Pezao’’ Rosas (two interceptions) and cornerback Flavio Gouveia (one interception) might be listed as defensive backs, but they hit like linebackers. Throw in import, Carlos Cox, who had two interceptions in his first game in Joao Pessoa, and the Espectros DBs make can make any passing attempt a daunting one.‘’They are going to have to throw the ball to beat us, and I believe that can create opportunities for our DBs,’’ said Rosas.

The Game and the Storylines

  • Can the Espectros protect the edge? The Bulls 3-4 scheme, anchored with Small in the middle, seemingly always has outside linebackers screaming off the edge and creating a messs for opposing offenses. Can the Espectros O-line pick them up in pass protection and kick them out in the run game? The outside pressure game from the Bulls could make or break their chances in this contest.
  • Bulls defensive captain, Hudson Pereira is missing this game with an arm injury. The defense will need to rally in his absence.
  • How many snaps will each Espectros quarterback get? Rodrigo Dantas, who led João Pessoa to the 2015 national championship, despite accounting for five touchdowns on the season, has battled injuries this year. This has led to the emergence of utility-athlete and receiver, Vitor Ramalho, as a do-it-all fill in for Dantas. The short, speedy and shifty Ramalho has contributed six touchdowns this season, and as pass happy as the João Pessoa offense is in the capable hands of Dantas, it is just as run-centric on the shoulders of Ramalho – both approaches producing devastating results for opposing defenses. This versatily and adaptability is a tribute to the young, first year Head Coach, Veloso.
  • If Brian Gessel has time to run around behind the line of scrimmage, he hurts defenses. Teams have been able to pressure Gessel this season, but he has made the ones who haven’t finished the job pay dearly. For João Pessoa who has not surrendered an offensive touchdown in its last three games, simple pressure won’t be enough, they will need to force Gessel to make bad decisions or get him on the ground.‘’Over the last couple of seasons, we have gained some experience against mobile QBs. We are going to try to get him (Gessel) out of his comfort zone, but within our responsibilities,’’ said Hercules.
  • Playoff positioning – Regardless of the outcome of this game, there is more to be written in the Conferencia Nordeste playoff story this season. The Ceara Caçadores, Recife Mariners and Recife Pirates will all be watching the score of this game intently.
  • Looking ahead? The Espectros have a potentially huge game coming up against the rival Recife Mariners, after this scrum with the Bulls. Can they keep their focus?’We play one game at a time. Step-by-step,’’ said Nery.
Linebacker, Joe Small (#6) and safety, João Pires (#38) will have to lead the Bulls defense without the help of injured captain, Hudson Pereira (#53). Photo credit: Lyla Della Torre

Linebacker, Joe Small (#6) and safety, João Pires (#38) will have to lead the Bulls defense without the help of injured captain, Hudson Pereira (#53). Photo credit: Lyla Della Torre

The Quotes

Bulls LB Joe Small:

‘’I just think we have to play a complete game and win all 3 phrases of the game to beat the champions of Brazil . We have been working hard and hopefully it all works out on Sunday. We aren’t doing anything fancy or different the last 3 weeks of preparation for the bulls. The receivers and myself are developing more chemistry with our quarterbacks, and the OL are learning a lot from our new acquisition, Adolphus Barnes, and also developing their chemistry as an unit.

Espectros WR, Heron Azevedo:

Our team philosophy is to take one day at a time, a practice at a time, one game at a time. We are only worried about the Bulls right now. Defensively the Bulls have a very aggressive front seven let by their import Joe Small. We aren’t trying to stop anything they do but we are definitely going to explore some tendencies we see on film. We are looking forward to our second home game in the season and to show our fans how much we have improved since our last one.’’-

Espectros head coach Kevin Veloso:

‘’We know that Sunday is going to be tough, and we have been in tough games before. We believe that we are 0-0 every week. We know that we don’t need to be the best team ever, we just know we need to be the best team on Sunday.’’

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Espectros safety, Edvaldo Rosas and cornerback, Flavio Gouveia, hope to add to their interception count on Sunday against the Bulls. Photo credit: Edvaldo Rosas

Clayton Lovett
Clayton Lovett has served football in Brasil in a variety of roles, including as the member of the coaching staff of two CBFA national champions (Cuiaba Arsenal 2010, 2012). Football is his hobby. Professionally, he is the founder of CS Educacional, which provides educational and competitive opportunities abroad for student-athletes.
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