The Philadelphia Stars collect their second victory on the season, however the offense didn’t score a touchdown on the day, instead relying on Luis Aguilar’s 8 field goals on the day, a USFL record. That’s right the Stars scored 24 points, and every single point came from the kicking game. A kicking game that had looked rough early on.
This week’s player of the game for the Stars has to be Luis Aguilar. The former Northern Arizona Lumberjack just kept chopping the kicks right down the middle all game long. After beginning this season 1-3 on field goals and 4 of 5 on extra points, Aguilar hasn’t missed a kick since. An astounding 11 for 11 on field goals, and 2 for 2 on extra points. Not only was Aguilar 8 of 8 on field goals accounting for every point the Stars scored but the marathon man also punted 3 times for an average of 40 yards. He also kicked off 9 times in this game. That’s an amazing 20 kicks in a single game. Give that man his flowers, never has a kicker been more valuable than this game.
The Stars defense forced not one, not two, but three Darius Victor fumbles on the day. Victor touched the ball 14 times, fumbling three times or an average of once ever 5 touches. A defensive unit that didn’t record a single sack yet again, managed to make big plays by taking the ball away with 3 fumbles recovered, and a Mazzi Wilkins interception. These 4 turnovers were the difference in the game leading directly to 9 of the 24 points the Stars scored. In fact the short field given to the Stars offense on four occasions might have been the only reason we see the Stars come out of this game with a win.
In an attempt to capitalize on those turnovers the Stars scored on 3 of 4 drives created by turnovers. The offense however produced just 52 yards on these four drives, on 24 plays. An average of 2.1 yards per play ran. This can not continue if the Stars want to continue winning. Luis Aguilar might be the best kicker in the USFL, but that doesn’t mean you can expect him to go 8 for 8 every week and be the sole point production for your team.
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
Case Cookus continued to do exactly what we have come to expect from Cookus. He protected the ball, and continued his efficient completion rate of over 60%. He also added 4 key carries for 21 yards. This amounted to 1/3 of the Stars rushing production on the day. Another product of the disastrous play by this offensive line, even with former 3rd Round Pick for the Patriots Antonio Garcia inserted at left tackle. Even with the changes up front the Stars allowed 4 sacks. Ironically this has kept their average for the season at just over 4 sacks per game, with a total of 23 through 4 weeks.
Luis Aguilar has been money in the bank since week three and his streak of success has peaked in scoring 24 points on the day and single handedly carrying his team to victory with 20 kicks on the day. Not often can you describe a kicker as an Ironman, but the description seems apt here. Aguilar has rebounded nicely after a tough start to the season.
The Kick off coverage unit has improved, allowing just 23 yards per return on 9 kickoffs. While I would like to see this average drop even more, I’ll take the improvement where and when I can. All around special teams has stepped up. Credit to Coach Martin Bayless who has his unit playing near its peak right now.
The pass rush failed to get home for the third game this season. In three out of five games this defense has not logged a sack. Week 1, Week 2, and now Week 5. With the additions of Darius Hodge, Ali Fayad, and Carson Taylor I wasn’t expecting the pass rush to be an issue yet here we are having produced just 6 sacks through 5 games.
I have mentioned using some 3-4 fronts to aid the run defense, but this could also help produce more pressure. Rushing five but being able to disguise two rushers and not just one should make a significant difference. I still think our defensive roster is built to run multiple fronts whether by design or coincidence. Guys like Adam Rodriguez, Carson Taylor, and Ali Fayad all look right at home playing linebacker.
Yet again the defense proved susceptible to the quarterback run game. This week the Generals decided to split time between DeAndre Johnson, and Kyle Lauletta. Johnson attempted 12 passes, and ran 7 times. On those 7 carries he had 62 yards and 1 touchdown. Lauletta added 1 carry for 1 yard and 1 touchdown as well.
Last week it was Terry Wilson running 9 times for 49 yards. In week three it was Troy Williams, with 7 carries for 65 yards. The first two weeks of the season we faced less mobile quarterbacks in Brady White with Memphis, and the dynamic duo of Josh Love and Carson Strong in week 2.
Even facing players not regarded as run first, ask questions later type quarterbacks, we saw how vulnerable we are to quarterbacks running the ball. In week 1 Brady White managed 4 carries for 29 yards, over 7 yards per carry. The Stars have allowed an average of 6.4 yards per carry to quarterbacks.
Lack of a Run Game
Through five weeks, the Stars rank as the worst rushing offense in the league. They’re the only team that hasn’t run the ball over 100 times. They average the least rushing attempts per game, and it’s a large gap between them and the league leaders in rushing attempts. The Stars average 18.2 attempts per game, Houston leads the league with 29 attempts per game.
The Stars have collected just 262 rushing yards in five games. They are a full 47 yards away from 7th place, which the Generals producing nearly four times as many rushing yards at 841. Not only do the Stars average less attempts, and less yards each game, but they also have the worst per carry average in the league at 2.9 yards per carry.
The issue here isn’t talent, as both Matt Colburn, and Dexter Williams were picked up by NFL teams this offseason. Colburn with the Jaguars, and Williams with the Packers. However with the state of our offensive line, neither player has had any running room. Last season the Stars had one of the better offenses in the league. This season we are lucky just to weather our way through games without giving up 5 sacks, and averaging just 1 yard per carry. This is by far the worst regression of any team when compared with the 2022 season. The Stars are less than one year removed from a 3 point loss in the Championship game, and at times have looked like the worst team in the league.
The Stars came into this game struggling to stop the run. They came out of this game having allowed the league leading rushing team to top 800 yards in just week 5. The Stars allowed 164 yards and 2 touchdowns on 29 carries for the Generals. Ranked as the top rushing offense in the league they actually fell about 5 yards short of their per game average.
Through five games the Stars have allowed 759 yards rushing, or an average of 151.8 yards per game. They have also allowed 9 rushing touchdowns. While the quarterback run has produced by far the most yards per carry, the run defense in general needs to improve drastically if this winning is to continue for the Stars. We can not allow an average of 150+ yards per game and expect to win games, especially in the playoffs. To put that into perspective only the Generals have averaged more rushing yards on offense than the Stars allow on average. So if you’re in a weekly re-draft fantasy league, take whichever starting back faces the Stars.
In back-to-back weeks the Stars have lost prominent offensive contributors. Last week it was Chris Rowland, this week it’s Jordan Suell. After the injury to Suell in week 5 we saw more of Diondre Overton and Samuel Akem, which I expect to continue. Regardless the injuries are piling up for the Stars and things could get worse before they get better. As evidence of this:
I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of Terry Wright involved on offense as well. He is your best bet for replacing the role Chris Rowland held so far this season. As much as I want to see Coleman involved in the run game, using Wright in this manner makes a bit more sense at this point due to the injuries out wide. With Darnell Holland still not ready to return, the Stars are gambling that their depth can get them through the next few games without losing anyone else. Any more injuries at running back or wide receiver and the Stars will have to bring someone in. Perhaps Charles Headen a WR/KR from the Frisco Fighters of the Indoor Football League makes sense.
Headen has 22 kick returns for 468 yards and 2 touchdowns on the year, 2 carries for 10 yards, and 3 receptions for 31 yards. He played his college ball at Shippensburg and Southern Methodist University. At the XFL showcases last season he ran a 4.42 40 yard dash, displaying his open field speed. Not only does he handle return duties, but the former high school sprinter, and defensive back is also a special teams ace on coverage units, maximizing his value as a depth piece at this level. The 5’10 190 pound wideout also happens to be a Philadelphia native, which would make for a good story and help to build a fan base in their host city.
The Stars also brought in Lirim Hajrulluha to be prepared for fatigue from last week’s game and potentially lessen his load.
Some quick take-aways from the depth chart
I am surprised to see them throw Keith into the line-up immediately even as a depth piece. He will be active this week and is our sole back-up on the right side of the line with Jacob Burton starting at right tackle, and Airon Servais at right guard. It’s possible one of these guys is Keith’s back-up next week as he slides in as the starter at right guard.
As expected with Suell going down we see Overton penciled in as a starter, with Keric Wheatfall, and Samuel Akem as depth pieces this week.
The choices at linebacker are interesting. Bj Bello is currently your back-up at inside linebacker, and outside linebacker behind Joey Alfieri, and Joel Dublanko respectively. Then you have Gabriel Sewell Jr. as your other outside linebacker, and Joel Dublanko penciled in as your back-up.
At defensive line we are also looking somewhat thin with Keyshon Camp as the back-up at both end positions with Carson Taylor and Adam Rodriguez as the starters. LaBryan Ray gets the start at defensive tackle just 3 months removed from being on the roster of the Patriots. Jordan Scott is your other starter, with Chris Nelson, and Tyler Clark the back-ups. This might be the most encouraged I have been in a while about our interior line.
It appears that Lirim Hajrullahu will now handle punting duties going forward. These depth charts don’t list kick-off specialist, but I believe he will handle kick-offs as well. Hajrullahu has 651 career punts with the CFL. This is a very smart move. If the Stars are going to get back on track, playing the field position game is very important. Luis Aguilar is an AMAZING kicker, but he has never been a great punter, he has 42 punts for 1,606 yards, and a 38.2 yard average. In college he punted just 20 times, and averaged 35.2 yards per punt. Hajrullahu has a career average of 44.1 yards per punt. That extra 6 yards of field position could make for a big difference for this defense over the course of a game. With the Stars averaging 4 punts per game, we are talking about another 24 yards per game.
Week Six Preview
Heading into week six the Stars are coming off of a victory that really didn’t settle any stomachs sick from watching Case Cookus sacked 19 times heading into this game, or from a run game struggling to move the ball. Scoring 24 points was a step in the right direction, the fact that it took eight field goals, and four turnovers to get there isn’t promising. What’s more concerning is you’re about to face the top passing offense in the league, coming off your third game without a sack. This must change if the Stars want to bring home the win in this game.
The Breakers have averaged over 245 passing yards AND 108 rushing yards per game this season. Meanwhile the Stars are 5th in passing offense per game with 184 yards per game, but last in rush offense with only 52 yards per game. This could prove to be the toughest test so far this season for this defense. I don’t care what league you play in, averaging over 350 yards of offense per game is impressive, but to also have the best kick return average in the league with just over 28 yards per return, it paints the picture of a team firing on all cylinders.
On defense the Breakers are 5th in points allowed with 20.6 per game while the Stars are ranked 7th allowing 24.4 points per game. The Breakers also have produced twice as many sacks than the Stars on the year with 12, while also ranking third in turnovers forced. The Breakers defense is also ranked 3rd in stopping the run although I would venture a guess game flow plays a part in this with New Orleans often in the lead. Regardless I don’t believe this will be the week we see Matt Colburn return to his 2022 form.
On paper, this should be a blow out victory for the Breakers. To be fair, this is exactly how I viewed the Generals game. The league’s best rush offense versus the league’s worst rush defense…yet the Stars kicked their way to victory via four turnovers. If the defense can again force multiple turnovers maybe the Stars have a better chance in this game than most believe. Also one little talked about fact is that the Breakers have allowed 10 sacks so far this season, and at times their tackles have looked like revolving doors. While I don’t see our run game getting back on track I do look for our pass rush to rebound and put up at least two sacks. If the Stars can keep pressure on McLeod Bethel-Thompson and force an errant pass or two it could turn the tide in this one quickly.
My prediction: Stars 21-Breakers 27
I had voiced my concerns about the spread for this last game saying I was surprised it sat at only 5 points. In my opinion it should have been higher, and my opinion was reflected by the bettors who ran the spread to 7 points by game day. The Stars not only covered but they also helped hit the over.
At the time of writing this the spread per Draftkings.com site at +6 for Philadelphia. This is spot on in my opinion. While I think the game could get out of hand if the Stars struggle to produce pressure on MBT, I expect them to be within one score of victory by the end of the game. The over/under for the game is currently 44 points. If I was a betting man, I’m taking Philadelphia to cover, and the over. Best of luck this week to all you gamblers out there. All tips accepted ;-).
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