The New Orleans Breakers look to take their top-ranked passing offense against the Houston Gamblers in a South Division battle.
This is a tale of two different seasons in how they have turned out so far. The biggest thing the two teams have in common is they are both coming off losses which means someone has to win this game.
New Orleans suffered their first loss of the season to the undefeated Birmingham Stallions 22-13. Missed kicks by Austin MacGinnis and an uneven performance by banged-up quarterback Kyle Sloter doomed the Breakers to go to 2-1 on the season. The Breakers have some catching up to do to compete with the Birmingham Stallions for the top spot of the South Division.
Houston suffered their second straight loss of the season after blowing a nine-point fourth quarter lead to the Tampa Bay Bandits to lose on a late field goal 27-26. While quarterback Clayton Thorson had his best game of the season, he still struggled in the second half to do much of anything. The Gamblers’ secondary had their fill of injuries and it showed up allowing big plays in the passing game.
New Orleans and Houston will meet up Sunday at 3:00 pm EST on NBC at Protective Stadium.
Top New Orleans Pregame Storylines
TJ Logan Released
New Orleans was looking at TJ Logan to be their featured back in the backfield at the beginning of the season. Logan had some familiarity with head coach Larry Fedora’s offense from their time with North Carolina in college. It seemed all things were looking good for Logan but did not play last week due to a foot injury. Well, it appears that the injury has resulted in him being released from the roster.
Not only was Logan a key piece to the running game for the Breakers, but he played a significant role in the passing game. He recorded 99 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns as well as eight catches for 67 yards. The loss of Logan means that fans may not see New Orleans use their running backs as much in the passing game as they have seen this season, but they are in good hands.
Jordan Ellis has emerged as one of the top running backs in the league stepping into the lineup for Logan. Ellis has recorded 243 yards and one touchdown as he will be the starter for the time being. Larry Rose should see more touches as he backs up Ellis.
Kyle Sloter Health Concerns
Despite the fact that Kyle Sloter has been the leading passer in the USFL, it has become apparent that he is not 100% healthy. Sloter was reported to have a hand and shoulder injury on the injury report prior to last week’s loss to Birmingham. Those injuries showed that he was not able to use his mobility at all and was stuck in the pocket. That affected his passes and when pressure was applied, he couldn’t do much of anything and took some hits.
It’s important that the offensive line protects Sloter after allowing four sacks on the quarterback. Any more hits he takes and the team could be looking at another quarterback to run the offense. New Orleans could utilize their tight ends more often to add more protection to the offensive line.
The good news is that Sloter has so many different weapons he can throw it to that will make an impact on the offense. Receivers like reigning offensive player of the week Johnnie Dixon, Jonathan Adams, and tight end Sal Cannella should make his life easier. If his receivers can’t help out right off the bat, there will be concerns about Sloter’s health and if it is worth it to keep him on the field.
Top Houston Pregame Storylines
In Mark We Trust
What needs to be said about the USFL’s leading rusher? Mark Thompson has been a force holding the football out of the backfield since week one. Thompson broke loose with the best performance by a running back all season rushing for 147 yards and becoming the first player this season to run for over 100 yards in a game.
Thompson and Dalyn Dawkins each made their first catches of the season as the team looks to include the running backs in the passing game more often. That appears to be the plan going forward as both backs have big-play potential, but it’s on head coach Kevin Sumlin to get them more involved.
Each week fans see Thompson getting more and more carries as the offensive evolves around the running game in the first three quarters. He is currently averaging just under 18 carries per game and honestly, more carries are needed it. Thompson has already proved that he can handle the load. Houston needs to accept that they are a running team and let Thompson lead the offense with more than at least 25 touches a game to help the Gamblers win.
Banged-Up Houston Secondary Versus New Orleans Receivers
A lot has been made about Houston’s secondary this season. They have been prone to allowing the big pass plays in multiple games by allowing more than one 30+ yard catches in games leading to scores. Fans have seen it enough especially in the last two weeks whether it was Jamar Summers or Ryan White who were starters.
Recent weeks have seen the secondary now dealing with multiple injuries and roster transactions with the defensive backs. Summers has been out with an injury. White was just cut from the team this week after getting injured in last week’s loss to Tampa Bay. All these injuries have resulted in Houston bringing in Jeremiah Johnson and Brandon Williams to help out.
The good news is this defense leads the league in turnovers with seven on the season. It’s been the secondary who has played the biggest part in that.
The bad news is they have to take on the number one passing game in the USFL which doesn’t bold well for Houston. It’s unknown whether Summers will be back or out again, but White had been a starter so now the Gamblers need somebody to help step up to make some plays. Look for Will Likely and Micah Abernathy to be the guys to continue to create turnovers and shut down receivers on their routes.