After suffering their first loss of the season, the Houston Gamblers look to get back over .500 against the Tampa Bay Bandits.
Week two’s loss to the Birmingham Stallions was a mixed bag of big plays on both sides of the ball and major mistakes that cost them the game. The offense was able to get a couple of nice 20-plus yard touchdown passes from Clayton Thorson but threw three interceptions that sunk the Gamblers. Mark Thompson had another strong performance to become the league’s leading rusher, but the offense had to turn to the pass after falling behind in the game.
Will Likely has become a ball hawk for the secondary taking back a pick-six for the defense, but corners Ryan White and Jamar Summers got burned on big pass plays in the second half. The defense did a great job for the second straight game of not allowing the opposing offense to score a touchdown, but the Stallions allowed three straight touchdown drives to start the second half. Not to mention the defense allowed 391 total yards of offense as the Stallions were able to run for 169 yards and win the time of possession by nearly ten minutes.
This is a critical week three matchup for Houston as they need to get back to winning with the south division looking as strong as it has looked this season. With the shorter ten-game season, every game is important to win especially with how good the New Orleans Breakers and the Birmingham Stallions have looked. Tampa Bay is no easy task either despite their blowout loss to the Breakers last week. They have weapons to stretch the field easily.
Jordan Ta’amu Must Be Contained
The expectations were high for Jordan Ta’amu before the season started due to his past success in the XFL for the St. Louis BattleHawks. That has not happened quite yet with throwing three interceptions to one touchdown and completing under 60% of his passes. Tampa Bay’s offense has not been able to click well in the first two weeks of the season just scoring 20 points in the season.
One of the bright spots has been when Ta’amu uses his legs to make plays. He has faced a lot of pressure and has taken advantage of his legs to get out of the pocket to throw. When Ta’amu takes off to run, he has ran for 52 yards on five carries. There’s no doubt about the big-play potential for Ta’amu and how he can take over a game if he needs to, but it just hasn’t shown yet.
Defensive players like Donald Payne, Reggie Northrup, Ahmad Gooden, and Chris Odom must be on their A-game and make sure to not only get pressure on him early and often but keep him in the pocket. Despite only four sacks in two games, the Gamblers have some of the best tacklers in the USFL who will not miss many tackles often. Houston’s front seven will be up for the task to harass Ta’amu all night and force their running game to beat them.
One Receiver Must Step Up
In week one, fans saw JoJo Ward as the go-to receiver for Thorson. Last week, it was Isaiah Zuber who became the top receiver with Ward being out with an injury. So far, there hasn’t been a consistent top receiver that has been the number one guy for Thorson to throw the football to.
Anthony Ratliff-Williams has shown some flashes of stepping up, especially last week making some solid catches. Tyler Simmons played his first game of the season last week and was able to bring in a 44-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to keep the Gamblers in the game. Some guys have two or three catches, but nobody has been able to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
Zuber has the speed and the hands to be the top guy and might be poised to be the guy for Thorson. It’s unknown if Ward will be brought back to the active roster yet, but should he return, he’s another receiver that can fit that role. Part of the inconsistent play has been on the quarterback position not being where it needs to be, but this could be the week where it all comes together.
Less Pass, More Run
It’s very clear that Mark Thompson is the top running back in the league and he is well-deserving of that title. Every time he touches the ball, he is able to gain some kind of positive yards. Not only gain yards but make a big play to help open up the offense and give the passing game the options it needs. There should be no reason that his workload decreases as he needs the ball often.
Clayton Thorson has some shining moments where he is able to make some spectacular plays with his deep ball accuracy and improvisation using his legs. There are moments though where he can be way off the mark with his passes that result in turnovers. He’s got to be able to protect the football better and develop some chemistry with his receivers.
If Houston wants to win against Tampa Bay, Thompson has to be the main attraction and carry them to a win. It can be done on the ground or through the air. Head coach Kevin Sumlin has to involve him and Dalyn Dawkins in the offense more. With Bahar not looking good to be able to play with the hand injury, Thorson has to be ready to play the full game and not do anything to hurt the offense.