Reviewing USFL Week Two: What We Learned

Reviewing USFL Week Two: What We Learned

With two weeks of USFL football under our belts, trends are starting to be set for all eight teams. It was another entertaining week of action, albeit a couple of lop-sided games that showed us who certain groups really were.

Let’s take a look at what we learned from this weekend, and what teams have to improve upon moving forward.

New Orleans: Making Waves Early

Just like last season, the New Orleans Breakers are off to an excellent start in the USFL. John DeFilippo has done a solid job so far, developing a team that features plenty of talent across the board.

McLeod Bethel-Thompson is looking like the quarterback we all expected him to be. He’s controlled both games quite well, leading game-winning drives in back-to-back weeks. His consistency is something that the Breakers will continue to rely upon. TE Sage Surratt is also someone to keep an eye on, as he’s been spectacular through two weeks.

At the same time, the team finally found a replacement for Jordan Ellis. Ellis was the league’s leading rusher last season, but decided to step away from football. Thankfully, Wes Hills stepped up to the challenge, putting on a show in his USFL debut.

As this offense continues to gel, expect the chemistry to only get better from here on out. This team is full of winners, and New Orleans looks primed to make a Championship run if all continues to go well.

Houston: Self-Inflicted Wounds

The Houston Gamblers looked much better this weekend than they did the prior. This offense posted 31 points, despite missing Mark Thompson and Isaiah Zuber. Kenji Bahar is taking strides forward as the signal caller, as the pieces are beginning to come together for Curtis Johnson.

However, this unit has shot themselves in the foot two weeks in a row. Bahar must find a way to clean up the turnovers. In two straight games, he’s turned the ball over on three different occasions in the second half.

Houston’s offense does boast some serious talent. T.J. Pledger is proving to be an important piece of the puzzle early. Justin Hall and Anthony Ratliff-Williams have been fantastic so far. If this team can limit the rookie mistakes, they put themselves in a much better position.

Defensively, this looks like a team that’s missing their three All-USFL playmakers from a season ago. They’ve struggled to put much of anything together, with New Orleans dominating the entire game. This is an area that needs improvement moving forward.

Birmingham Stallions: Dynasty?

The Birmingham Stallions just posted the most dominant win in the history of the modern USFL, despite missing multiple starters across the board. Alex McGough is that guy – throwing for 334 yards and four touchdowns in one of the most lop-sided matchups of the year.

Next man up mentality is what keeps this unit together. Skip Holtz has done such an excellent job building a culture in Birmingham where the team sticks with each other for all 60 minutes, no matter who is on the field.

TE Jace Sternberger is proving to be a problem. He was remarkable once again on Saturday night, posting big numbers in the first half as the Stallions continued to pour it on.

On the other hand, this defensive unit is extremely scary. They’ve held opponents to just 12 points through two weeks of action. The front seven, in particular, has imposed their will from the get go in back-to-back games.

If Birmingham continues to play at this level, there’s not many – if any – organizations in the USFL that will be capable of slowing them down.

Memphis: New Name, Same Problems

It hasn’t been a pretty outing for the Memphis Showboats this season. Despite the name change, this team has made many of the same mistakes they made one year prior, with Todd Haley at the helm.

Brady White simply has not provided much stability for this team. He hasn’t been the USFL’s worst quarterback, but finding a rhythm has been near impossible for him so far. This isn’t entirely on him – as the Showboats coaching staff has made some questionable decisions.

It’s interesting to note that Memphis’ GM cut a good handful of valuable pieces from 2022. Safety Anthony Cioffi, one of their leading tacklers, is no longer with the team. Right about now, they could use him in the secondary. Also, kicker Ty Rausa was released, and their new addition is currently 1/3 on the season.

Another fun fact: Todd Haley was not happy about Skip Holtz “running up the score” towards the end of the game. He clearly didn’t appreciate the sentiment. But, at this point in time, Haley simply needs to be focused on figuring out how to run a competent ball club.

New Jersey: Finding A Rhythm?

It’s been a tough go for Mike Riley’s Generals to open up the year. However, in the final minutes, they found their groove. They looked like the mighty New Jersey Generals that we saw last season.

Defensively, this team stepped up – partially due to returning stars. Paris Ford was back in the lineup, which was a welcomed sight for Generals fans across the board. He made an impact, alongside Chris Orr who led the team in tackles.

If this offense can figure things out, New Jersey puts themselves in a position to be very successful. Darius Victor was back to OPOY form, putting the nails in the coffin with his fourth quarter performance. Meanwhile, Cam Echols-Luper is proving to be a very valuable piece. His growth in Riley’s system will be vital to New Jersey’s progress moving forward.

The two-QB system needs to go. Both DeAndre Johnson and Dakota Prukop are capable of running this offense. The constant switching between signal callers prevents New Jersey from reaching their full potential.

Mauler Misery

Across two weeks of action, Pittsburgh has only posted six total points of offense. Something has to change with this organization.

Their defense is top notch, having shut down the Generals and Breakers for the most part through two weeks – but, there’s only so much their defense can do.

James Morgan and Troy Williams have been very underwhelming through two weeks. That being said, Williams does seem to have a bit more upside considering he’s more mobile. If this is something Ray Horton can develop, Pittsburgh will put themselves in a better position moving forward.

The Mike Nolan Effect

How about those Michigan Panthers? After such a tumultuous 2022 tenure, this team has turned it around entirely. A lot of credit has to be given to Mike Nolan, who has done an excellent job coaching this team so far.

While Josh Love struggled in the cold weather, Reggie Corbin stepped up – and had an MVP-caliber night with 131 yards and two scores on just 11 carries. If Corbin can continue to produce like he did this week, Michigan is a legitimate title contender.

Defensively, the Panthers might just be the best in the league. Corrion Ballard, Breeland Speaks, Frank Ginda, and plenty of others have stepped up week in and week out. Speaks, in particular, has had game-winning plays with the turnovers he’s created in the fourth quarters in both weeks.

Nolan wisely attacked Philadelphia’s weakened offensive line, and it worked. The Stars are, obviously, one of the USFL’s most talented teams. But, Nolan’s defensive adjustments helped carry Michigan past their North division rivals, as the front seven absolutely dominated.

Stars: Not Shining

Bart Andrus has to go back to the drawing board. Philadelphia suffered a tough loss at the hands of the Panthers. Now, there is a reasonable excuse on the table: the offensive line.

The Stars were missing two of their starters, which isn’t ideal. However, the line play has been atrocious through two weeks, with Cookus getting sacked nine times in just two games. Case has been running for his life, which has led to him making some uncharacteristic mistakes.

Philadelphia has to figure out a way to jumpstart these protection issues. Matt Colburn is so talented, but can’t seem to find his footing due to the inconsistent play. The Stars are about as stacked as anyone on offense – but, if they don’t have time to develop their plays, they aren’t going anywhere.

USFL Power Rankings

#1: Birmingham Stallions – Clearly playing at the highest level in the USFL, consistent on both sides of the football.

#2: Michigan Panthers – Exceeding expectations; taking down Philadelphia and Houston in dominant fashion.

#3: New Orleans Breakers – Two excellent wins, but they were against Pittsburgh and Houston. Big test this weekend against the Stallions.

#4: Philadelphia Stars – First time we’ve seen Case Cookus look out of sync. Still confident that this team will rebound under Bart Andrus’ leadership

#5: New Jersey Generals – Took seven quarters of play, but this team finally found their identity once again. If the pieces come together, they will be scary.

#6: Houston Gamblers – Very talented team, just continue to shoot themselves in the foot. Cut out the mental mistakes and they can compete with anyone.

#7: Pittsburgh Maulers – Seems like another excellent defensive season is going to waste. Ray Horton has to figure out how to score points as an offense.

#8: Memphis Showboats – Couldn’t have been a worse start to the year for Memphis. This team needs help, and they need it fast.

Final Thoughts

Overall, it was a fun week of USFL football. It’s been encouraging to see the quality of play – especially from certain organizations – getting better and better.

This can be attributed to the league making it to their second season. Even the teams that are losing have shown some growth compared to season one. Expect it to continue to improve as we move through the year.

Which USFL teams impressed you from week two? Do you have any early predictions for the playoffs? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!