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USFL: Houston Gamblers Midseason Review

After starting the season 1-4, the Houston Gamblers find themselves in an uphill battle to make the playoffs in the second half of the season.

Houston Gamblers Results

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The season started so promisingly for the Gamblers as they got a big opening weekend win against the Michigan Panthers 17-12 to give them a 1-0 record to start the year. Houston’s defense looked tough and didn’t allow Michigan to do much of anything outside of two drives. Mark Thompson emerged as a star player on the offense and it was looking like Houston was going to be a good team. Then reality struck.

The last four games have proven that Houston can start fast and take an early lead, but can’t sustain the success needed to finish games strong. Three of their four losses this season had Houston leading heading into the fourth quarter and blowing a lead with the opposing team scoring with at least less than 20 seconds left in the game. The defense allowed big plays in the passing game while the offense was not able to consistently pass the ball.

2022 Houston Gamblers Storylines

Offensive Struggles Passing the Football

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Clayton Thorson has shown flashes of being able to make all the throws down the field. If fans take a look at Thorson’s touchdown passes, most of his scores have been put in a position where only the receiver can catch them. He has been able to use his legs to make passes on the run and get some extra yards on the ground.

Consistency has been his biggest struggle this season. Especially in the second half of games where he has a tendency of missing multiple throws badly or forcing into coverage that leads to turnovers. Thorson is second in the USFL in interceptions with six. Mistakes like that have been part of what has led to the four-game losing streak so far this season.

A quarterback change doesn’t seem likely at this point of the season so it has to come down to Thorson improving his game after they come out of the locker room for the third quarter. The turnovers have improved in the last few weeks, but more has to be done to turn this season around. Defenses are going to stack eight players in the box to stop Thompson. It’ll be on Thorson to pick his game up and help them score more points and keep their defense off the field.

Blown Fourth Quarter Leads

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It has been the biggest Achilles heel for this team is not being able to hold leads in the fourth quarter and losing. What happens is the offense takes their foot off the pedal in the second half and loses all the momentum they gained from the first half. Losing that momentum results in Thorson throwing passes too low or too high or forcing them into coverage where no one is open. Thompson can’t run the ball because the defense is prepared for the run.

This leads to the defense being out on the field longer than they need to. Houston’s defense is pretty solid in the first three quarters, but spend so much time on the field in the fourth quarter that they are tired and surrender points. Three games this season saw Houston lose in this fashion. It’s a trend that if it doesn’t get fixed, Houston will see itself outside the playoff picture.

The solution to this issue is to make sure Houston keeps throwing the football and get it to their playmakers like Isaiah Zuber, Jojo Ward, and Anthony Ratliff-Williams. They should never let up but make sure they provide lanes for Thompson to run through. Sumlin needs to get creative in the fourth quarter with trick plays, running back screens, and anything that will keep the defense on their toes. Should they open up the offense more in the fourth quarter, defenses will not be ready and find themselves on the other side of the win-loss column.

Houston’s Offensive MVP: Mark Thompson

With an offense that doesn’t have the passing game to back them up, Mark Thompson has quickly emerged as the top guy on offense. It took a couple of games, but Sumin seems to have realized the importance of having Thompson be the featured piece to the offense. He rarely gets tackled on first contact and when he gets into the open field, he can put on the jets.

Thompson leads the league in rushing yards with 400 on the ground and has only scored one touchdown. With this kind of production and the rate he is going, fans could see Thompson be potentially one of the few backs to run for over 1,000 yards on the season. His touches on offense have increased since week one so it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise if fans see that trend continue.

Outside of the New Orleans game, Thompson has proven himself to be the top back in the league and that doesn’t look like it’s going to change. Houston’s offensive strategy in the second half of the year has to evolve Thompson’s game and get the most touches running or catching the football. Not having Thompson thrive in the backfield will only result in more losses for Houston.

Houston’s Defensive MVP: Donald Payne

Reggie Northrup has been as vocal as any player in the USFL, but there isn’t a more important piece to the defense than Donald Payne. There isn’t a player that is more involved in every play than Payne. He leads the league in tackles with 45.5 on the season along with three pass deflections and one fumble recovery.

Payne is a player who won’t miss any tackles and once he wraps you up in his arms, he won’t let you go. The hard-hitting linebacker comes into every game prepared and ready to lead the defense. He has command of the defense and knows what needs to be done to get the job done. Even in passing situations, we have seen Payne do an exceptional job in coverage.

While the defense has had its ups and downs this season, one consistency has been the linebacking core of Payne and Northrup has never failed them and they will continue to dominate. Payne has been getting better and better every game. He has proven to be in the right spot at the right time every game and this could correlate to better success for the defense with five games remaining.

Houston’s Special Teams MVP: Nick Vogel

Never underestimate the power of the right-legged kicker Nick Vogel. With a season that has been filled with incredible misses by the kickers in the USFL, Vogel has been as consistent as any kicker in the league. He has converted 11 of 13 field goals with a long of 53 yards.

Too many of the games this season have come down to the wire, but the team has relied on Vogel to keep them in games. Houston has seen Vogel make multiple key kicks in the second half to either give them the lead or keep them in the contest. It’s safe to say without Vogel’s made kicks, Houston’s losses would look a lot worse than they were.

The question in the second half of the season is if Vogel can continue his success in field goals. He’s clearly shown his comfortability in Birmingham kicking field goals due to his past in college kicking for UAB. That is the key to making sure that heading towards the back end of the season, Vogel knows his environment and can make every kick. Every point matters for Houston.

Houston Gamblers’ Second Half Preview

The bad news for Houston is that they finish up the season playing four teams that have winning records on the season outside of the Philadelphia Stars. This doesn’t bold well for a team that has to go on a run and win pretty much the rest of their games in order to earn at least the second spot in the south for the playoffs.

Houston’s key on offense is to reduce the number of turnovers that falls squarely on the quarterback. The team must win the time of possession and give the defense enough rest to go in and win the game in the fourth quarter. Houston’s secondary must step up in coverage and make sure they don’t allow big plays that will cost them games.

Sumlin should be held accountable for making sure the team is properly coached in the second half of games. As much as players can make the plays on the field, it is the coaches’ job to make sure the players are in good positions when they are off the field. Sumlin’s coaching staff must step up and make sure they are ready for a massive push in the second half of the season with no losses on the board again.

Credentialed Reporter/Writer for XFL NewsHub, Writer for CFL NewsHub, Reporter/Writer for USFL NewsHub.

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