The Houston Gamblers look to pull off yet another upset as they face the New Orleans Breakers in the final week of the USFL season.
Last week’s 17-15 win over Birmingham wasn’t perfect, but it was one of the most complete performances for the Houston Gamblers all season. Kenji Bahar was efficient in the passing game and protected the football while also doing everything he can in the running game. While the running backs combined for -7 yards, Bahar led the rushing attack with 36 yards converting some big plays on the ground.
Houston’s defense had yet another strong performance thanks to the performances of Donald Payne, Ahmad Gooden, and Micah Abernathy. The front seven had one of their best showings this season holding the Stallions’ top-notch running game to only 78 yards on the ground. Abernathy had the biggest play of the Gamblers’ season with his later interception of J’Mar Smith to seal the win.
The win ended Houston’s seven-game losing streak and is universally considered the biggest upset of the season due to the Stallions no longer being undefeated. It was the first time in two months that fans got to see the team step up in the fourth quarter and hold the lead. It wasn’t a perfect game, but they won the turnover battle and made the key plays needed to win. That’s what fans have been waiting for all season.
Now the team goes into week ten with nothing on the line, but has momentum on their side for the first time since week two. New Orleans goes into the game already clinching the playoffs and preparing for their playoff matchup with the Stallions. This game doesn’t change anything for them in their quest for the playoffs, but this could be the difference in how Houston looks forward to the 2023 season.
Three Keys for Houston to Win
Bahar Must Lead in Passing and Running
If Kenji Bahar was leading Houston all season, we might have seen one of the most exciting, elusive quarterbacks in the USFL. After starting just two games, fans have already noticed a difference in his performances as he continues to show improvement. Bahar knows when to use his feet and when to throw which is important in protecting the football from turnovers. His speed makes him a threat on all plays.
Bahar must continue that same performance and will have to do more. Houston’s running backs have been shut down for the last few weeks as Thompson has not been able to put up the same numbers he was at the beginning of the season. It comes down to Bahar to step up and produce on the ground.
Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin is going to be looking to see how Bahar performs in this game for the future of the franchise going into next season. Everyone sees the potential of Bahar and how he appears to have learned a lot from Lamar Jackson in his time with the Baltimore Ravens. He’s a playmaker and this is his chance to show it off against one of the best defenses in the league.
Get the Ball to Isaiah Zuber
Speaking of playmakers, Houston must do everything they can to get the ball in Isaiah Zuber’s hands as he has big-play potential. Zuber has been the top receiver on the team all season leading in all-purpose yards (749), receiving yards (324 yards), and receiving touchdowns (five). Whether it’s Clayton Thorson or Bahar, the quarterbacks will find Zuber in the passing game.
With the rushing attack struggling, the offense needs to find a way to get the ball in his hands on reverses and let him use his breakaway speed to make some plays. Even calling bubble screens will get him to use his quick feet to make defenders miss. Special teams are where big plays can come from him too as he has come close at times, but not been able to get in the end zone on his returns.
Defenses know by now that when the ball is in Zuber’s hands, he’ll make something out of it. Houston is getting limited on who offensively can make plays so it’s important to make sure they call plays for not only Bahar but get Bahar to throw it Zuber’s way.
Secondary Must Shutdown Number One Passing Attack
It’s been an up and down season for the secondary. Injuries have plagued them to have any consistency in their lineups. Jamar Summers has not been the shutdown corner spring football fans remember from his time in the XFL with the New York Guardians. Will Likely has been a nice surprise with his four interceptions and Micah Abernathy has been a great tackler at safety which has helped.
With Kyle Sloter and the number on the passing team on the other side, the secondary will have their toughest task of the season. This unit has to step up and be ready to be physical with New Orleans’ receivers especially if they have another jump ball matchup with Jonathan Adams. As Houston fans remember back in week four, Sloter threw for 414 yards and Adams caught the game-winner to knock off the Gamblers.
Likely and Summers have a major challenge trying to cover Johnnie Dixon and Adams so it’ll be on them to prevent another 400-yard game. Not to mention the safeties have to cover one of the top tight ends in the league Sal Cannella who can make big plays in the passing game. If the secondary can’t hold New Orleans under 100 yards passing in the fourth quarter, they may be in for yet another loss.