The undefeated Portuscale Dragons (11-0) and the Porto Mutts (9-2) square off in the Portuguese championship game, Portugal Bowl at Torres Vedras, Sport Clube União Torreense stadium, Saturday, April 28.
This will be no ordinary championship game. In fact, if ever there were a grudge match in Portugal, this would be it.
The crosstwon rivals played each other twice in the regular season with the Dragons winning both contests, 12-7 and 28-8.
To reach the final, the Mutts upset the defending and back-to-back Portuguese champions, the Lisboa Devils 23-20 in the semifinals while Portuscale defeated the Braga Warriors 35-7.
The Dragons enter the game with the second best offense in the league and the number one defense. Meanwhile, Porto boasts the second best defense in the country.
Porto finished second in the Portuguese North division, behind the Dragons and had to play a wild card game against the number three team in the South, the Cacais Crusaders who they beat 16-7.
The Dragons are led on offense by MVP candidate, quarterback #9 Awal Umaru. He is a huge dual threat relying both on his arm and legs. His ability to get open is partly due to the threat of running back #30 Carlos Matos. The Dragons offensive line maybe the best in the country and has allowed barely one sack a game.
Umaru’s receiving corps has weapons, including big #13 Miguel Vasconcelos and speedsters #11 Bruno Pintão, and #84 Diogo Helena along with the versatile slot #32 Vasco Pinheiro.
The Dragons defense has its biggest strength in a dominating defensive line. This group is a perfect balance of power and quickness, sack leader #16 Tiago Fontão helped by #37 Ricardo Quaresma and big men like #56 Pedro Soares and #76 Fabio Duarte are the players to watch. The Dragons linebacking group is led by #17 Nuno Silva and has two tackling machines in #1 Hugo Lopes (9 year veteran) and #49 Bruno Pinheiro. The Dragons secondary has three ball-hawks, #2 Arthur Brandalise, #20 Pedro Ferraz, and #40 Sandro Lopes. Honorable mention to the Dragons special teams were #42 Paul Ferician has been the man in charge of kicking the ball and adding points in the score board as well.
The Mutts offense has its focal point in the quarterback #18 Brian Lopes. He can throw the ball as deep as he wishes, which means the defense has always to account the receiving corps of #88 Saulo Diniz , #13 Fabio Silva, #84 Christopher Miranda and the TE #96 Gonçalo Van Zeller. The Mutts have been efficient in their running game, making use of their big linemen, and splitting carries all year with all running backs #30 Miguel Melo (injury
unconfirmed), #21 Guilherme Ramos and #33 Nelson Fernandes, and fullbacks #45 Edson Silva and #98 João Vitor.
The Mutts defense has also their strength on the defensive line. #99 Nuno Simões and #96 Gonçalo Van Zeller will need to have some double teams to keep pressure on Umaru. #38 João Mota (injury unconfirmed) is the middle linebacker of a group of interchangeable linebackers, all of them they can cover receivers as well as they plug holes. The defensive backs to watch out are #6 Ricardo Cunha, #47 Paulo Vasconcelos , #33 Nelson Fernandes and #1 João Marques . #83 Hélio Reis is the man in charge of kicking the ball for the Mutts.
By the numbers
On paper, Portuscale are the favorites.The Dragons, in six games considered, semi-final and regular season, against playoff teams, on the defensive side of ball averages 8 points allowed. On offense averages 34+ points scored. The average of points scored against the Mutts defense is only 20. This translates that the Mutts defense is the only one this season that was able to slow down the Dragons high scoring offense.
The Mutts, in a similar scenario (8 games, 2 playoffs and 6 games in the regular season against playoff bound teams) average less than 15 points allowed and average 18+ points scored. This reflects a very solid and well-rounded team who have won the big games by 3 points or less, which was the case in both wild-card and semi-final rounds. Head to head with the Dragons the Mutts scored seven and eight points in each of their games.
The overall Dragons game plan will be to use their best assets in every chance they get. Offensively means a very good mix of deep and short throws and a continuous confidence in their running game no matter the down and distance. This will make the ball to be on Dragons playmakers hands, which will have the Mutts defense running around the whole field. Defensively they need to give the ball back to their offense as quickly as possible. Their way to achieve it is through turnovers and getting as many three and outs as possible. It will definitely help keeping the running game of Mutts to a minimum of plays and yards.
The overall game plan for the Mutts has be to keep the game with a maximum of a one touchdown difference. This way they will be able to chew most of the clock using their prolific running game, tiring the Dragons defense and most important, keeping the Dragons offense of the field. If they do not achieve that, they will have to rely on their empty and spread formations to throw the ball, which gives the advantage to the Dragons secondary.
The Porto Mutts defensive game plan philosophy should be as easy as this: “STOP AWAL”. Easier said than done. To achieve this they will rely on the defense they used on the first head-to-head. They will back up most of the linebackers and defensive backs and rush the minimum necessary. On one hand, doing this will reduce the chances of Umaru scrambling and getting his speed in space. On the other hand, they will give time in the pocket for Umaru to choose the best target available. To handle that, the Mutts will have to use a mix of zone and man coverages with #6 Ricardo Cunha man up on Pintão and #1 João Marques always on the Vasconcelos side.
A side note to both special teams that have been productive all season. Every change of possession will be a chance of a big play both ways.