As the midway point of the USFL season approaches, the New Jersey Generals, by virtue of a three-game win streak, which saw them sweep through their Northern division rivals, are positioned to be one of the four USFL teams that make the playoffs in late June.
New Jersey Generals In Prime Position To Make The Playoffs
After four games, it may seem a bit premature to start projecting playoff teams. After all, there are still six weeks left in the USFL season. But the odds of making the playoffs favor New Jersey.
By virtue of their three head-to-head victories in the North. The Generals (3-1) have a two-game lead over the Stars (2-2). And a three-game lead over the Michigan Panthers (1-3). The winless Maulers 0-4 are reeling and are presently out of the mix.
With the top two teams in each division making the playoffs. It’s likely that 3-1, New Jersey will only need to split their remaining six games to earn a playoff berth. One could theorize that a 2-4 finish might sneak the Generals in at 5-5.
The kings in the North won’t presumably be crowned until the final three weeks of the regular season. From weeks eight to ten, divisional play for all four teams in the Northern Division will resume. The Generals have dates with the Maulers, Panthers, and Stars to end their regular season. With an undefeated division record, New Jersey might not need to run the table again in the North to claim a playoff spot or the division crown.
The New Jersey Generals Have Found Their Groove
One of the prevailing challenges with any new league is establishing an identity in the early stages. After four weeks, the 3-1 Generals have accomplished that goal.
New Jersey sports a unique three-pronged rushing attack with quarterback De’Andre Johnson and runners Trey Williams and Darius Victor. The Generals are averaging a healthy 178 yards per game on the ground.
Mike Riley’s unique and unconventional two-QB system is working. It might not be flashy, but Luis Perez and Johnson are coming off a game where they combined to complete over 83 percent of their passes for 200 yards. Both signal-callers have accepted their roles and played them very well.
Opposing teams like the Maulers, this past weekend, went all out to stop the run, and the Generals made them pay through the air. The success of the team’s rushing attack is making life and completions easier for New Jersey’s passers, as evidenced by Alonzo Moore’s 62-yard touchdown in Week 4, where an over-committed Pittsburgh defense, determined to shut down the run, left him wide open.
On the opposite side of the tracks, Chris Dishman’s Generals’ defense is ranked first in the USFL against the run, allowing only 67 yards per game on the ground. Thanks to standout play from linebackers Chris Orr and Week 4 defensive player of the week nominee D’Juan Hines. New Jersey’s top players on the back end of their defense, Dravon Askew-Henry and DeVante Bausby have stepped up in crucial situations late in games.
It may seem as old school as the original 1983 New Jersey Generals. But the classic formula and combination of running the ball and stopping the run have been the reason Mike Riley’s team sits atop the North. But New Jersey will be challenged these next three weeks by what appears to be a stronger division of teams in the South.
Generals Make Change At Kicker
One of the most significant weak points for New Jersey this season has been their kicking game. Nick Rose has struggled mightily, converting only three of ten field goals. Coach Mike Riley, who has a history with Rose, has finally decided to make the change.
The Generals have signed placekicker Austin Jones. Before transferring to Alabama, the former Temple specialist kicked for the Owls from 2014 to 2017. Jones converted 74% of his field goals before tearing his ACL as a junior and got replaced as a senior. He then transferred to Alabama after graduating early. He began 2018 as the Crimson Tide’s kicker but struggled and got replaced two games into the season.
Jones kicked in the Spring League last year for the Jousters, and he’s had NFL tryouts with the Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts.
Looking Ahead To The New Orleans Breakers
The 3-1 New Jersey Generals will be back playing at Protective Stadium this Saturday afternoon against the 3-1 New Orleans Breakers. Both teams sport only one loss, courtesy of the USFL’s only home and undefeated team, the 4-0 Birmingham Stallions.
New Orleans presents a different challenge than the teams New Jersey has faced for most of their early season. With the exception of the Stars, who lost league standout quarterback Bryan Scott during their loss to New Jersey.
The Breakers have an elite passing attack that will challenge the Generals’ defense like no other USFL team has to this point.
League-leading passer Kyle Sloter (1,054) is coming off a 397-yard passing day against the Houston Gamblers. A game where he threw a game-winning 29-yard touchdown pass to receiver Jonathan Adams. Sloter has battled through injuries and some adversity (three interceptions last week) to emerge as a leading candidate for league MVP.
Breakers Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone’s offense leads the league in yards per game (383.8). New Orleans’s versatile passing attack has three pass catchers in the top four in receiving yards. TE Sal Cannella (215), WR Jonathan Adams (213), and WR Johnnie Dixon (208).
However, it’s not only the passing game that is making waves for the Breakers. RB Jordan Ellis leads the USFL in rushing yardage with 347 yards in four games.
Oddsmakers currently have New Orleans as 3.5-point favorites over New Jersey. Larry Fedora’s Breakers were a preseason favorite by some to win the USFL championship. And although, it hasn’t always been pretty for them. Thus far, New Orleans looks like a legit contender at this point.
On the other hand, the New Jersey Generals, despite their early-season success, have their fair share of doubters because of the level of competition they have faced. Two offensively challenged teams in Michigan and Pittsburgh. And a Philadelphia team who lost their star quarterback in the middle of their game with the Generals. This Saturday’s game serves as a barometer for how good New Jersey really is.
The Generals may have quickly marched through the North. But they will need to bring their best against the South. Starting with a team in New Orleans that they could be facing again in July to become USFL champions.