Week seven starts a four-game home stretch for the 2-4 New Jersey Generals in Canton when they host the 2-4 Michigan Panthers. In a matchup of two struggling teams, this game can determine a lot for the North Division playoff picture. The Generals have dropped three straight and the Panthers have lost their last four games. The last time these two teams met in Detroit, it was New Jersey that emerged victorious by a score of 28-13. That was the last game the Generals won and the beginning of a downward spiral for the Panthers. This is very close to a must-win for both of these clubs as they look to get back on track and nudge their way into the North playoffs.
Generals Offense vs. Panthers Defense
The Generals offense has been less than stellar, averaging 16 points per game during their three-game losing streak. They still lead the league in rushing with 151.7 yards per game behind the likes of running backs Darius Victor and Trey Williams, but turnovers and penalties continue to plague this team. Just two weeks ago, Victor lost three fumbles and hurt the Generals severely in their loss to the Philadelphia Stars. They’ve turned it over six times total during their three-game skid and are hoping to protect the ball and score more points in week seven. The Panthers are giving up 26.3 points per game since the last time these teams met, so something has to give. Either New Jersey will get back on track or the Michigan defense will tighten up and produce like they did during the first two weeks of the season. The Panthers are giving up 124.5 yards per game on the ground this year, so expect the Generals to try and go back to their ground-and-pound style of offense.
We still don’t know who we will see at quarterback as Mike Riley’s QB carousel is back up and running. The QB position has been boom or bust for New Jersey, with most of the production resulting from big plays. After De’Andre Johnson went down with an injury in week five against the Philadelphia Stars, quarterback Kyle Lauletta has been running the offense for a game and a half. He’s the third quarterback to play this year for the Generals, and he too has been up and down. He’s thrown two interceptions and is completing 64% of his passes since they’ve turned to him. I personally believe head coach Mike Riley should go back to DJ at quarterback and lean into the run game, which is what they do best. If they can do that and also stop fumbling the ball, they have a very good chance of starting their home stretch off with a W.
Still, this defense may be struggling, but they aren’t slouches by any means. Stud linebacker Frank Ginda and Defensive Player of the Year candidate Breeland Speaks lead the troops and have been fantastic all season. The Panthers thrived off turnovers early this year, and they’ll be looking to get back to that this week without a doubt. They’ve forced 12 turnovers this season, and although the numbers are trending down, this may be the matchup they need to get back to their successful ways. They’ve been very productive rushing the passer, with 15 sacks on the year. They need to get back to this winning formula of pressure and takeaways.
The @USFLGenerals are dominating the Panthers in the first half. Darius Victor with a fourth down touchdown run from 35 yards out to extend the lead. It’s his second touchdown of the day. 21-3 at the start of the second quarter. #USFLpic.twitter.com/EEjyo1eJdl
Since an explosive start to the year, the Panthers offense has failed to surpass 13 points during their losing streak. Quarterback Josh Love has struggled, and with backup Carson Strong out, they’ve yet to turn to promising youngster Eric Barriere. His legs could add a dangerous weapon to go along with his arm, but head coach Mike Nolan has stated he likes having a game manager at quarterback in Love. Star running back Reggie Corbin isn’t making the same explosive plays he did earlier in the year and has been hampered by an injury for several weeks. While Stevie Scott has been productive, neither back has been up to their early-year standards. This probably won’t change against a very good run defense, so it will likely be up to Love to make it happen through the air. The problem is that he had multiple passes batted down in the last matchup between these two squads and was harassed the entire game, something New Jersey will look to duplicate.
Going against one of the top defenses in the league definitely isn’t going to help this offense. The Generals are right behind the Pittsburgh Maulers, giving up just 17.2 points per game, which is second-best in the league. They’re also second in yards allowed, right behind the Maulers again, with a stingy 245.7 yards per game. This defense may be hampered though since linebacker Chris Orr and safety Shalom Luani both went out last week with injuries. At this time, we don’t know if we will see either of them. Those would be massive losses for this defense, playing without their leading tackler and All-USFL defensive back. But the Generals defense has clearly been their strongpoint through six weeks, ranking in the top three in virtually every major statistic outside of takeaways. With the way their offense is struggling, much like the Panthers, they’ll need to force a few turnovers to give their offense a short field and more opportunities for points.
The @USFLGenerals pass rush is the most improved aspect of their team this year. After only 10 sacks last year, they’ve already surpassed that through 4 weeks. Tyshun Render, Hercules Mata'afa, & co. have been great getting the QB. First in sacks (12) & scoring (15.8 PPG). #USFLpic.twitter.com/8e7WQRtfsO
Generals punter Brock Miller is still one of the best in the league with the second-best percentage of punts inside the 20 (54.5%) and total punt yardage. New Jersey Kicker Nick Sciba has been perfect this season on field goals and extra points. The problem for New Jersey is their kick coverage and kick returns. Last season Cam Echols-Luper and KaVontae Turpin consistently gave their offense excellent field position to start drives. Now that kickoffs have been pushed back, one would expect similar or better results. That has not been the case. They’re second worst in average kickoff yardage given up and rank at the bottom of kickoff return average. A facet of the game that was a strength is now a weakness and a big reason why they lost to the Stars in the closing seconds of week five.
The Panthers have one of the best kickers in the league in Cole Murphy and despite some slight struggles this year, he is certainly a strength for their team. Punter Kyle Kramer has had a solid year as well and is a tier slightly below Miller. But Michigan has Reggie Corbin returning kicks and this is an area I see the Panthers having an advantage. He averaged 28.5 yards per return the last time these teams met and is always a threat for the homerun. With the Panthers offense being so anemic, a big return or two could sway this game to the away team and play a huge factor which is always a possibility for Reggie, especially versus this coverage unit.
This is a game both squads need to find a way to win, but I do believe New Jersey comes out on top. The way Michigan has continued to trend down is alarming, and against a stout defense, I don’t see that changing. By no means do I expect a blowout or even a decisive win by the Generals. This will be a grind-it-out game that will likely come down to discipline and taking care of the football. My guess is that whoever wins the turnover battle wins the game, and I see that being Mike Riley’s group this time around. Fans of running the ball and defense should be glued to their televisions for this one, and we should have a great nightcap to week seven of the 2023 USFL season.