The Houston Gamblers look to break their three-game losing streak Sunday against the Pittsburgh Maulers in a critical week five game.
Last week’s 23-16 loss against the New Orleans Breakers showed what happened when Houston is not able to run the football effectively with Mark Thompson which is a whole lot of nothing. In a game that should have been Clayton Thorson’s time to shine and take over the game did not come to fruition. The offense was never able to do anything as the front seven of New Orleans held Houston’s rushing attack to 28 totals yards.
On the flip side, the defense was able to create four turnovers including some impactful plays from Will Likely who has emerged as the team’s top secondary player. Chris Odom continued his streak of sacks as he became the sack leader in the league with 5.5 sacks on the season.
The downside to the defense: they allowed 523 yards of offense, 23 points, lost the time of possession, and blew yet another fourth quarter lead. Kyle Sloter became the first quarterback this season to throw for over 400 yards and while he threw three interceptions, he had his way against a very banged-up Houston secondary.
Houston heads into week five against Pittsburgh at 1-3 after spending the last three weeks blowing fourth quarter leads and losing them all. While there is no doubt that there are multiple players who are talented, the team as a whole has not been able to put it all together. The defense has allowed too many big plays in the secondary while the offense just can’t get the passing game going.
The good news for Houston is that they are taking on a Pittsburgh Maulers team that has not produced a victory this season and seems to not have any identity to them. If there is any week to bounce back and gain some momentum for the back half of the season, this is the game that is going to be it for Houston.
Clayton Thorson Must Come Up Big
So many could make the argument that despite throwing for 127 yards last week, Clayton Thorson actually had one of his better games of the season. The number one thing Thorson was able to do that he has struggled with in previous weeks was protecting the football. Zero turnovers for the quarterback so he never put his defense in a bad spot. He was more accurate with the football and had one of his highest QBR ratings in a game this season with 80.1. Another positive: he now leads the USFL in touchdown passes with six.
Now for the bad: he threw for 127 yards which have become a consistent thing for Thorson. The reason the passing game never developed was New Orleans’ defense was able to hold Thompson in check which in turn meant that it was all put on Thorson to take over the game. The truth in the matter is Thorson has proven that he is a great leader, but not the type of quarterback to put it all on his back and lead the team to a win.
Thorson is going up against a Maulers defense that isn’t considered to be bad but has allowed three straight games of 21 points or more. Pittsburgh has no momentum heading into the game and their season is spiraling out of control which bolds well for Thorson and company. Houston got a major boost with JoJo Ward returning to the lineup and made an immediate impact with a nice touchdown catch against the Breakers.
The bottom line is Thorson may not get many more passes for his performances on the field as while it looks grim, Houston has an outsider’s shot of making a run for the playoffs. It’s time for him to help the running game and the defense out by putting up the kind of performances football fans were accustomed to seeing at Northwestern.
Turnovers Don’t Always Mean Wins
A lot should be said about this defensive unit for Houston as they lead the league in turnovers with 11 (six interceptions and five fumbles). Not to mention the fact that they have ten forced fumbles and nine sacks through four games. Fans have seen individuals on the defense step up like USFL sack leader Chris Odom, USFL interception leader Will Likely, and USFL tackle leader Donald Payne. So many defenders on this team are number one players at their position. So what’s the problem?
It mainly comes from a secondary that has allowed more big plays than any defensive unit in the league. It doesn’t help that Houston loses time of possession in every game so the defense is worn down by the fourth quarter. Key injuries to players like Jamar Summers have seen multiple different players in the secondary fill in.
It could be seen as the offense must do a better job in keeping themselves on the field to ensure that the defense gets some rest. On the other side, the Gamblers’ defense has to come up big in the fourth quarter and not bend every single time. There are not many clutch moments for this unit in the fourth quarter where they need to come up big. Gamblers’ fans will be holding their breath in the fourth quarter Sunday and if it is another one-possession game, disaster could be lurking should they not make a play.
If it Ain’t Broke, Kick It
In a league where the biggest conversation has been surrounding the performances of the kickers, something needs to be said about the performance of Houston kicker Nick Vogel. This season, Vogel has been one of the most consistent kickers in the USFL and is more known for being reliable from 50 yards or more with his kicks. Vogel leads the league in field goal mades with nine and has only missed one field goal through four games.
It’s safe to say without his ability to create three extra points each time, Houston might be winless on the season. Most of the one possessions for Houston could have been worse if it wasn’t for Vogel coming up big with long field goals. He strikes the ball better than any kicker in the league and seems to be always hitting the middle of the two pipes with every kick.
Special teams have become the most important part of the USFL game and Houston is lucky to have Vogel kicking it. The offense has not been able to get in the end zone often, but they can always rely on Vogel to step in and make sure the possession doesn’t end empty-handed. Fans should fully expect a few field goals coming from him on Sunday.