While the Houston Gamblers’ offensive improved from last week, the team was not able to catch up to the New Orleans Breakers as they lost 38-31.
Houston’s offense showed good progress as they had 355 total yards of offense in the game. Running back T.J. Pledger had a breakout game rushing for 94 yards and one touchdown averaging 5.2 yards per carry. The combination of receivers Justin Hall and Anthony Ratliff-Williams was great as they combined for 12 catches, 205 yards, and three touchdowns. Quarterback Kenji Bahar improved with 266 yards passing and three touchdowns. What hurt the team was three interceptions from Bahar that ultimately cost the team the game.
The defense on the other hand played as they did in week one. Their first-half performance was great, holding New Orleans to ten points and slowing down the pass offense of the Breakers. Unfortunately for Houston, the second half was once again flat allowing 28 points and blowing another lead in the second half. It should be noted that the offense didn’t do much to help the Gamblers’ defense but allowing 38 points is not great either.
Special teams deserve some love as well thanks to one of Houston’s top weapons on the team earning USFL Special Teams Player of the Week. Ratliff-Williams earned the honors after four returns for 136 yards for an average of 34 yards per return. His longest return was a 47-yard return as he helped the team have an average starting position of the 45-yard line.
The Gamblers drop their record to 0-2 on the season with now the team playing catch up for the rest of the ten-game season. While the game didn’t go Houston’s way, there are good signs that the team can only improve from here and pull off some wins.
Key Observations from Houston-New Orleans Game
T.J. Pledger Rising Star?
Mark Thompson has been inactive for the last two games for Houston, but the Gamblers might have something to do with T.J. Pledger. After running for nearly 100 yards on Saturday, Pledger is proving himself as a lead back who can make some plays. His running is so smooth as he attacks the holes so well. His vision has helped him get the yards he needs.
Thompson’s situation is interesting now as it appears that this might be Pledger’s job to lose when many thought Thompson was going to be the guy. It could end up being both guys share the carries and the team leans on both to be the power back and speed back. Their situation will only get better once Thompson is finally available to play next week.
Kenji Bahar Showed Improvement Despite Turnovers
It was refreshing and encouraging for Houston Gamblers’ fans to see Bahar perform better at quarterback than maybe he has even had in his young USFL career. The first three quarters were Bahar showing off his pass accuracy and making smart decisions outside of one turnover. He was able to make good connections with Hall and Ratliff-Williams as they made big plays for him all game.
The concern with Bahar is how he handled himself in the fourth quarter, missing throws and having two interceptions in the biggest moment. This comes with the growth of a young quarterback, but if Houston strives to win this season, he needs to be the guy who steps up in the most important moments. It was disappointing to see how the game ended, especially with how well he played through three quarters.
It’s only going to get better for Bahar though as Pledger looks like a lead back in the running attack and their receiving core is stacked with the addition of Isaiah Zuber as well as Hall and Ratliff-Williams helping the passing game. Their offensive line will only get better as well as they have the experience and continuity to work well together. Week one was worrisome, but Saturday’s performance should ease fans’ minds about how he plays moving forward.
Defense Still Struggling, Offense Support System
Nothing seemed to get better for the defense despite the nice start to the game holding New Orleans to ten points in the first half. Same issues as last week with missed tackles missed assignments, and not being able to stop the run. Wes Hills gashed them for 110 yards and three touchdowns in the game. There was no answer for receiver Sage Surratt who had 121 receiving yards and a touchdown.
The only thing holding this team back from their full potential is their defense and the lack of experience there. It’s not that they are not talented as there are good players like Manny Bunch and Khalan Tolson who have shown good stuff so far. Fans have to hope things get better, but the defense hasn’t shown great progress like the offense has. It may come down to the offense putting up high-point numbers to pull off some wins.