The Philadelphia Stars looked to be the dominant team fans expected them to be after they made some big moves this offseason to round out a roster that already took them to within 4 points of a Championship Victory in 2022. Adding Corey Coleman, and bolstering their defensive line, while also adding depth at tight end a position they carried just two players at last season.
In week one Case Cookus did an amazing job of taking what the defense gave him and showed he can be an NFL quarterback making all the throws. Chris Rowland demonstrated why he will be one of the first players to be signed by an NFL squad before the 2023 season lining up at running back, wide receiver, and kick returner. He even logged a tackle.
The defense looked fierce and was in the face of the quarterback often, leading to an early interception by 2022 interception leader Channing Stribling. They also displayed that they will give up yards at times as well, including blown coverage by Stribling that allowed a touchdown. The important fact to take away for the defense? They stepped up when it mattered the most, and even nearly stopped three straight plays from the 2 yard line or closer. If not for a penalty, which the Stars need to work on cleaning up, this stops a touchdown and keeps them up by 7 and not 4. One more concern coming out of week one was the lack of protection for Cookus at times. This offensive line struggled to keep defenders from their own backfield. This Showboats defense is extremely talented, and well coached, but to say this is the best unit this line will face all year might be a bit of a reach. This is a problem that could prevent this team from reaching the heights most fans expect from them in 2023.
Players of the Week for the Stars:
On offense you have to pick quarterback Case Cookus who displayed poise, and a superior command of this offense. In our recent interview with Cookus, he spoke about his experience jumping around in the NFL and how it’s helped him learn to adapt to new offenses quick, now we see the product of allowing him to build on his knowledge year over year. Give Cookus a chance to do this at the NFL level, and he could surprise some people as to how far he could climb on a depth chart. His performance has him clearly the favorite for MVP after week one. His stat line:
20 of 29 for 212 yards, 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, led team in rushing for 7 carries for 31 yards, while being sacked 5 times.
Defensive Player of the Week:
On defense there was no other choice than, Amani Dennis. Dennis flew around on defense, and racked up countless tackles. He would collect the team high in tackles, and disrupt a pass as well.
7 tackles, (5 solo) 1 pass deflection
Special Teams Player of the Week:
Chris Rowland could have easily been listed as the offensive and special teams player of the week after his performance as the de facto third running back, one of the go to targets at wide receiver, and the primary option in the kick return game, he collected over 100 yards in the kick return game on 3 attempts before by the third quarter. He also managed to touch the ball early and often on offense as well. He looked like he could be the game breaker in this offense, but also split time with Coleman in the kick return game looked good as well. This Special teams unit is well coached, and most anyone they choose to go back there will likely find success, but the combination of Coleman and Rowland at the position will ensure great starting field position all season long, while giving them both the best chance to get back to the NFL where they belong. Chris Rowland’s stat line:
3 carries for 22 yards, 3 receptions for 31 yards, 1 touchdown, and 3 kick returns for 99 yards. 153 total yards on the day.
Corey Coleman added 2 returns for 54 yards.
When asked about the struggles in protection that led to five sacks by the Memphis Showboats, Coach Andrus mentioned this is week one, and stuck to the adage that this team would continue to get better as the season goes on. He also mentioned that Case Cookus needs to work on getting rid of the ball quicker to help his offensive line. All of which were very true statements, Coach Andrus wasn’t looking to sugar coat their mistakes just because they got the win.
We would also discuss the crucial mental mistakes near the goal line, that led to a touchdown for Alex Collins despite what amounted to three stops within the two yard line. Coach mentioned preaching preventing unforced mistakes, and he was not happy with the amount of penalties that could have been avoided. I look for an emphasis on discipline heading into next season. These mental mistakes will cost the team long-term if they continue. As a defense, they need to play with more discipline, wrap up instead of going for the big hit, and avoid penalties that extend drives.
Things to Like
The Stars came away with a 27-23 victory, with room for improvement on both sides of the ball, but there were obvious things to like about their performance as well.
Case Cookus protected the ball well. Throwing just 9 incompletions on the day with no turnovers as a team on the day. This was one of the many things the Stars were very good about last season which led to their league leading turnover ratio of +8 in 2022. We can expect more of the same if we continue to see Cookus play at this level.
Success within the red-zone is a hallmark of any championship level team, and the Stars had success on both sides of the ball within the red-zone. The Stars converted on all four of their red-zone attempts leading to 27 points on the day due to a missed extra point. Meanwhile they held the Showboats to just 1 of 2 touchdowns on red-zone attempts, and nearly prevented that touchdown as mentioned above.
Creativity with Chris Rowland: I spoke about it last week, Chris Rowland is in line for more touches this season. With Darnell Holland being placed on the injured reserve list, and no word on how much time he will miss, the Stars have not signed another back. I had speculated that Rowland would be their 3rd back when called upon based on what he did during his college career, and sure enough Rowland lined up as a running back several times, coming away with 3 carries for 22 yards on the day. He showed no fear, and a willingness to run up the middle, great vision, and incredible burst out of the backfield on his way to a team leading 7.3 yards per carry. He would also collect 3 receptions for 31 yards and 1 touchdown on 4 targets. Adding 99 yards on 3 kick returns. He would total 152 yards and 1 touchdown on just 9 touches on the day. He looked like a man amongst boys.
Week 2 Preview
Heading back to Canton, Ohio, where the Stars played two games last season, they will in fact have played more games in Canton than any other team after week two. Given that this is their “home” game versus the Michigan Panthers they will need to play on whatever rapport they have built in Canton last season. The Panthers went into week 1 with Josh Love as the QB1, but we ended up also seeing Carson Strong play.
I assume the defense will be preparing for both quarterbacks, working in the Stars advantage is they have an extra day of preparation for the game having played on Saturday, with their week 2 game on Sunday. Michigan played as the away team in the opener versus Houston in Memphis, on Sunday but it was the early game for what it’s worth.
In week one the odds were in the Stars favor, -2.5 points to be exact. They covered the spread, but won by just 4 points. Due to this, and the performance by the Panthers the odds lie at _____ for week 2.
Per Fox Sports the Stars are favored to win by 3 points. The total over/under for the game is 42.5 points, safe to say picking the over in this game might be the best bet.
With Chris Rowland banged up this week after a huge week 1 performance I look for two players to be the direct beneficiaries. Corey Coleman, Coleman was already going to be a huge factor in this offense in 2023, but he and Chris Rowland do a lot of the same things very well. One thing that was never utilized for Coleman in the NFL is his running ability. A former high school running back, Coleman had 33 carries for 164 yards and 1 touchdown in his final two seasons of college. He managed to average 5 yards per carry, while still aiding the offense. Giving him a few carries when needed to add the speed element into the run game might be necessary with Rowland out.
Terry Wright stands 5’10, 177 pounds, he ran a 4.33 40 yard dash in 2019 at his Purdue pro-day, and during college he was known for his abilities as a reurn man, and runner. During college he had 22 carries for 183 yards, and 2 touchdowns. Averaging over 8 yards per carry in the process. On kick returns he had 36 attempts for 1,021 yards and 1 touchdown, adding 3 punt returns for 27 yards. He is electric with the ball in his hands, and the more ways you can get him in open field, the more damage he can do. I expect to see him take over the majority of the return duties, freeing Coleman up to take on more offensive touches, with Wright mixed in as a runner/receiver as well.
If Rowland’s absence becomes an extended one, we could see the Stars bring back Paul Terry, or Jordan Scarlett to help add depth to the backfield, although Terry might be the better fit given his positional versatility to play wideout or running back.
The Tight end position has been an interesting rotation of players so far, and it remains to be seen if this continues or this was due to Izzo’s injury status last week. This week it is Pro Wells and Ryan Izzo taking the reps, with Larry Dalla-Betta getting moved to the inactive list.
Last week it was Vad Lee, this week it is Kevin Thomson, I am very curious to see if this rotation continues or if the Stars are trying to figure out who the better option for the long term role is. Personally I believe it ends up being Thomson with Vad Lee as the QB3. It’s clear they are concerned about depth in the event of injury with 3 experienced quarterbacks on the roster in 2023.
This game could turn into a shoot out fast, if the Panthers can slow down the Stars pass rush, it could turn into a long day for the defense. This secondary thrives off of the help it gets from the pass rush, and it will be needed against a quarterback room that was near perfect in week one. Not all of that success can be attributed to the Gamblers, and their poor performance, although they did immediately make moves in the secondary following this game.