Reviewing USFL Week Four: Major Takeaways From Each Matchup

Reviewing USFL Week Four: Major Takeaways From Each Matchup

Week four in the USFL has come and gone, bringing fans plenty of entertainment throughout its entirety. Every game was decided by only one score, which has become the trend in this new league.

Let’s take a look at some of the key takeaways from each matchup, and what they mean for the eight teams moving forward.

Michigan vs. Philadelphia | Stars 26, Panthers 25

Philadelphia showed just how resilient they are this week. Despite losing Bryan Scott for the foreseeable future, the team came together around Case Cookus, who exceeded expectations. Cookus was solid in his first start, and if he continues to play like this, the Stars will be in excellent shape.

It wasn’t a perfect day for Philadelphia, by any means. Right now, the team has a lot of work to do on the defensive end. Michigan got whatever they wanted on the ground, and pushed the ball down the field easily on their final drive.

Luckily, a missed chip shot handed the Stars a win – but that won’t be the case every week. Philadelphia’s defense has to be more consistent in the future. That being said, with ballhawks like Channing Stribling on a tear, and smash-mouth defenders such as Josh Banderas, expect this squad to improve in week five.

Jeff Fisher’s Major Error

As for Michigan, it’s hard to not blame Jeff Fisher for this loss. Yes, Shea Patterson was a hot mess for most of the night. Despite that, the team had a chance to win – and Fisher blew it. The coach put the game in the hands of his inconsistent punter-turned-kicker, and it didn’t end well.

It’s a shame, because Michigan has so much talent, outside of competent coaching and quarterback play. Patterson, as mentioned, was terrible through the air, but showed what he can do with his legs. Fisher should start playing into that, using Patterson similar to how New Jersey uses DeAndre Johnson.

With how solid the Panthers’ running game has been behind Reggie Corbin (152yds on Friday night), it would make sense. Michigan can run through almost any defense they want, so it’s confusing as to why Fisher never runs any play action schemes for Patterson to work with. If they want to start winning before it’s too late, Fisher has to implement better game plans for his inconsistent QB.

New Jersey vs. Pittsburgh | Generals 21, Maulers 13

New Jersey is shaping up to be one of the most explosive offenses in the league. While Mike Riley’s two quarterback system is a bit questionable at times, it’s working quite well – because of one simple adjustment.

DeAndre Johnson has become the starter, which allows the Generals to find a rhythm early on the ground. We know how powerful their run game can be, and Johnson elevates it. Not only that, but Johnson has improved as a passer over the course of the last few weeks.

However, using Luis Perez as a pure passer during key moments of the game has worked to perfection, and it did against Pittsburgh. Since Pittsburgh was keying in on the run, this freed up Perez to dice up the Maulers secondary. As the season continues, expect both quarterbacks to continue to be used, all depending on what Riley’s scheme requires.

While Pittsburgh does not boast a great offense, New Jersey successfully shut down the Maulers throughout the game. What the Generals seriously need is a kicker. Nick Rose is only shooting at around 30% on the year…which is not a good sign.

As for the Maulers, it’s getting more and more difficult to write about them each week. Why? Because they make the same mistakes. As coach Kirby Wilson reiterated on Saturday, the team shoots themselves in the foot over and over again.

Untimely penalties, inconsistent quarterback play, and lack of team chemistry continues to haunt Pittsburgh week in and week out. Wilson is certainly to blame, as he has failed to build a winning formula. Switching between Kyle Lauletta and Josh Love hasn’t helped, as neither QB has found a rhythm.

At this point, Pittsburgh just has to find a way to score. Madre London has proven himself to be an excellent back, but the Maulers still haven’t found that go-to guy. With only six games left, Pittsburgh needs a miracle if they want to be competitive in their division at all.

Birmingham vs. Tampa Bay | Stallions 16, Bandits 10

Birmingham’s offense was not as dynamic as it usually is, but the Stallions found a way to win anyway. To give them the benefit of the doubt, multiple players were out almost all week due to an illness, and weren’t able to practice. Because of this, Alex McGough started over J’Mar Smith.

When you can’t practice, it’s hard to feel comfortable on the field. This was the case for the Stallions, who struggled to score all night long. Thankfully, the team has a reliable kicker in Brandon Aubrey, who came up clutch for the team down the stretch.

Now, the Stallions defense is a different story. They completely shut down Tampa Bay in the second half, making Todd Haley’s group look foolish. Scooby Wright III is special, and is the heartbeat of Birmingham’s electrifying defense. As long as the offense can get back into a rhythm with J’Mar next week, they are going to be hard to beat.

Tampa Bay has a lot to figure out. The team is the epitome of inconsistency. Weeks one and three were spectacular, while weeks two and four have been quite underwhelming. Jordan Ta’amu has not fully found his stride, and really struggled against an elite Birmingham defense on Saturday night.

Meanwhile, the Bandits have been unable to consistently run the football, which makes Ta’amus life more difficult. Todd Haley needs to get his squad on the right track immediately, especially considering how competitive the South Division currently is.

Defensively, though, the team showed major improvements. They only allowed 16 points to a high scoring Birmingham offense, and gave their own team a chance to win on multiple occasions. If they continue to play at a high level, Tampa Bay can beat anybody. It all comes down to their offense.

Houston vs. New Orleans | Breakers 23, Gamblers 16

New Orleans found a way to win on Sunday, even though it wasn’t always pretty. Kyle Sloter has been one of the league’s most consistent quarterbacks, being the first to reach the 1,000 yards mark on the season. Sure, he turned the ball over four times against Houston – but what makes a quarterback great is their response to adversity.

Sloter continued to fight through it all, eventually throwing the game winning touchdown to Jonathan Adams, putting the game away. New Orleans has one of the best wide receiver cores in the league, and they put on another show this weekend. Adams, Dixon, Taylor, Cannella, and Poindexter have been fabulous, being reliable targets for Sloter to throw to.

Taylor Bertolet is a rock star – as the kicker signed this week banged through multiple crucial kicks for his squad. With Bertolet on the team, New Orleans now boasts a complete offense.

Defensively, the Breakers continue to be elite, giving Houston hell all afternoon long. They shut down Mark Thompson (the USFL’s best RB) to only 10 yards, which made things easy for their secondary. Look out, Larry Fedora’s group is absolutely headed for the Championship if they clean up the turnovers.

Houston: No Offensive Closers

Houston has got to be frustrated. Every week, they’ve been in a position to win. But, in their last three games, the Gamblers have failed to come away victorious. Kevin Sumlin has not found a closer offensively, which is evident every time Houston plays.

Clayton Thorson wasn’t terrible on Sunday, but could not step up to the plate when Houston had opportunities to put the game away. On a day where Houston needed him to be spectacular, Thorson only threw for 127 yards, completing barely 50% of his passes.

Nick Vogel has arguably been the best kicker in the league, putting the team in front by a field goal with only a few minutes left. Unfortunately, that was their final lead, as Houston fell to pieces on the final possessions.

Defensively, we see the same story. Guys like Will Likely, Donald Payne, and Reggie Northrup ball out every week – but it’s never enough. Houston let New Orleans march right down the field on the final drive, unable to keep Sloter out of the end zone. Houston desperately needs to win, and it starts with Sumlin finding a consistent playmaker on the offensive end.

Final Thoughts

Once again, the USFL treated us to plenty of exciting football this weekend. Birmingham continues to reign as the league’s best team, while teams such as New Jersey and New Orleans are knocking on that door.

As we turn our attention to week five, keep an eye on Michigan and Tampa Bay, who are both trying to stay afloat in their respective divisions at the third seed. With only six games left, each team will be fighting for their lives as the season hits its halfway point.

What did you think of week four in the USFL? Which teams do you think will make the playoffs in June? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!