The Stars are coming off back-to-back tough losses, giving up another 3 sacks on Case Cookus, and averaging just 1 yard per carry on 18 attempts in the run game. Falling to 1-2, the Stars are for all intents and purposes currently in fourth place in the North Division. With the 1-2 Maulers having just defeated the Stars, they hold the tie breaker as of now. That is the bad news.
The good news, is that the Stars aren’t standing pat entirely. In the past week Philadelphia has signed defensive lineman Keyshon Camp who spent time with theStallions last season, and former San Antonio Brahmas linebacker Joel Dublanko. Chris Rowland returned to the lineup, and Adam Rodriguez played like the future defensive player of the year.
Let’s Break Down the Bad
The Mauler’s front seven played like you would expect a Ray and Jarren Horton-coached team would play, and came downhill stuffing the run game of the Stars every time they attempted to run the ball. The offense has seemingly lacked some creativity and hasn’t caught defenses off guard often through three games.
Before this week our run game had been bad, but the Maulers took this to a new level. Eighteen carries for eighteen yards on the day. The Maulers managed 5 tackles for a loss, 3 sacks, and 1 forced fumble. Reuben Foster played like he belongs in the NFL, collecting 11 tackles, 2 for a loss, 1 interception, and 2 deflected passes. He and Kyahva Tezino have combined to form quite the devastating duo at linebackerr, but this might have been their best performance this season.
Our offensive play calling has seemingly grown stagnant and predictable times allowing defenses to read and react more quickly than any offense can handle talent-wise. Bart Andrus has years of experience calling plays, it’s time to dig into that playbook and really start attacking opposing teams. While they do take deep shots, from what I have seen, they should consider working in more double moves, and option routes for these savvy veteran receivers.
The way this team is built we have a solid mixture of players with top level speed, but also plenty of players that can be physically imposing as well. The reality is, this offense will never be successful no matter what plays are called if they can’t do a better job up front. Three weeks, averaging 2.8 yards per carry, with just over 50 yards per game. Maybe it’s time to take a page from Birmingham’s book.
Three weeks, and 12 sacks allowed. Even if half of that can be attributed to great coverage, and Cookus holding on to the ball the offensive line is still averaging 2 sacks allowed per game, and that’s being generous. I underestimated how big the losses of Gunnar Vogel, and Alex Akingbulu were to this team. Both of those men were trustworthy anchors who Andrus had specifically built his offensive line around.
Losing Blake Camper, and several others to injury has only further complicated things for the Stars. The talent is there but these players are either banged up, or some are playing out of position to fill a need. The Stars went very offensive line-heavy in the draft, and a few players haven’t been signed by the NFL yet, and one was selected by the CFL in their global draft. Perhaps it’s time the Stars bring in some of their rookies. With at least four available, including two defensive players, the Stars could bring in all four and potentially rebuild their depth, something they have lacked since week one.
Let’s Look at the Positive Points
Heading into last weekend’s game we got word that Chris Rowland would be returning to the lineup. It can not be overstated how important to this team that Rowland is at this point. Playing as the Stars RB3, as well as their WR3, and their primary kick returner, Rowland managed to light up the field against Memphis in week one before leaving the game early due to injury. Getting Rowland back, brought back some of the explosiveness they had been lacking in week two. His average for the day was nearly a full four yards over the average for the team.
Adam Rodriguez Played Like A Future DPOY
The pass rush for the Stars was phenomenal this weekend, and everyone got involved, with both Ali Fayad, and Carson Taylor adding to their sack totals. If there was one player that stood out in this game for the Stars, it has to be Adam Rodriguez. He would collect team highs on the day in tackles, (8), sacks (2), tackles for a loss (2), tied for lead in pass deflections (1), and managed the only forced fumble on the day. Unfortunately for Adam, a player on the opposite side of the field in this game would earn the defensive player of the week award. Reuben Foster played like a man possessed this weekend, and it’s impossible to argue he didn’t deserve the award, however I believe they should have named CO-defensive players of the week. To slight Rodriguez after his performance just seems wrong, Adam took over the game for Philly on defense.
So far through just three games Adam has: 14 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 tackles for a loss, 1 pass deflection, and 1 forced fumble. Week three was by far his best week statistically, but I expect more games like this, especially against the less talented offensive lines around the league. He is a premier pass rusher in this league, and it’s surprising in my opinion that it took until week three for him to log his first sack. However if last season was any indication, a slow start won’t prevent Adam from a strong finish.
We need another performance like this from the defensive line against Houston this weekend. Kenji Bahar is one of the most athletic quarterbacks in the league, and I have been impressed by his performance so far this season, if he can clean up some interceptions, he might be well on his way to being a top echelon spring football quarterback. Let’s hope the Stars defense makes sure he doesn’t cut down on his turnover rate until next week.
Kicking Game Quickly Gets Back on Track
I had spoken about it after week one, Luis Aguilar didn’t look like himself. His only field goal attempt was blocked by the Showboats, and he would go on to miss an extra point as well. Leaving four points off the board, and hanging three on it. Not the best performance from a man who has been nearly automatic since the Stars signed him to take over kicking duties. After his performance last season: 8 of 10 on field goal attempts, and 19 of 19 on extra points we had come to expect very few miscues from our kicking game last season.
So far this season Aguilar is sitting 3 of 5 on field goals, and 5 of 6 on extra points. After a tough performance in week one, he followed it up with another missed field goal in week two. Suddenly it was looking like our kicking game isn’t as clutch as we thought it might be in the 2023 season. However he immediately put those thoughts to sleep in week three. In week three, Aguilar was perfect on the day. Converting both his field goal attempts, and his only extra point attempt, Aguilar actually outscored the offense on the day, producing 7 points to the 6 produced on offense. Let’s hope he can continue to stack performances like this. The Stars are a much better team when Luis “Automatic” Aguilar is on his game, and currently he is a big portion of their scoring ability so the team needs him now more than ever before.
Corey Coleman Looking Like a Former NFL First Round Pick
Corey Coleman has played like the former NFL player he is. Currently he stands fourth in receiving yards for the USFL with 211 yards. He also leads the league in targets with 28 through three games, and at times Cookus has forced the ball into Corey Coleman. This has led to a 67.9% catch rate which unfortunately leaves a lot of the credit on the wideout. If only PFF.com would also provided us with advanced statistics on the USFL, because I am certain that percentage would jump up quite a bit if you removed the uncatchable passes, or off target throws.
Coleman has been the focal point of the offensive passing attack, a trend we all expect to continue. My concern with this, isn’t that the offense runs through him, but that it seems when he isn’t moving the ball we haven’t really targeted Jordan Suell like we did last season. There has to be an option next to Coleman that can command attention like Coleman does in order to free up the entire field. As talented as this offense is, even with the line holding it back from greatness, points shouldn’t be this hard to come by.
Point Spread and Betting Odds
This game will be played on FOX at 1:00 pm ET time. Per Foxsports.com our betting odds for this week’s Houston and Philadelphia game are:
Currently Vegas still believes that Philadelphia is the favorite to win the game. With Blake Camper returning to the line-up this weekend, the league has them rated as 2.5 point favorites against Houston. With the Stars -154 to win, and the Gamblers +120 to win. The over/under is 46.5 points on the game.
If you’re looking to make some money, the under might be the safe bet in this game. The Stars and Gamblers have not combined to score 46.5 points at any point this season so far, although Houston has scored over 30 points in back-to-back weeks, and managed to crush the over in both games. Best of luck this weekend.
Injury Report and Active List
Losing Cedrick Lattimore, Joshua Moon, and Jordan Genmark-Heath continues the constant rotation of new faces we have seen in the front seven for the Stars. It seems in no two weeks are we able to play all 7 starters at once. Now, we will not get that chance long term. Lattimore has been placed on the injured reserve list for the future. However the Stars will have at their disposal, DL Tyler Clark: Full Go (L Hand, L Quad), and DL Chris Nelson: Full Go (R Calf).
However it isn’t all bad news for the Stars, as Blake Camper returns from a concussion, and our other injured linemen appear to be full participants in practice with Cj Perez, Jacob Burton, and Tristen Taylor also on the injury report.
New Faces, Looking to Make an Immediate Impact
The Stars made a couple moves to strengthen their offensive, and defensive lines just three days before the game. They opted to release Leon Johnson, and replace Lattimore bringing in a player on both sides of the ball to add depth to their lines.
Tony Garcia OL, Troy University
Garcia is a former 3rd round NFL pick who struggled with a non-football illness as a rookie that resulted in a loss of 40 pounds, and ended his tenure in New England before it ever began. He jumped around the NFL, CFL, and XFL for the next five seasons. Garcia has spent time with the Patriots, Jets, Colts, Dolphins, Roughriders, Elks, Vipers, and Defenders. Now he joins the Stars to help add depth to this line but wasn’t immediately activated giving him time to learn the playbook.
LaBray Ray, DL, Alabama
Ray is yet another former Patriots player, but he played there in 2022. Ray spent the entire 2022 season with the Patriots, signed before training camp, he didn’t make the active roster out of camp. Instead he landed on the practice squad which allowed him to continue his development, and earn an opportunity to return the following season. He would sign a futures deal with New England after the season, but end up released in February. This is a solid addition of a young player who could be a big time performer in the long run for the Stars. He is active and available this weekend.
Right the Ship, or Sink to the Bottom
The Stars are looking like a team that is reeling, and struggling to find solutions. Until week three, the Stars had only brought in one player in an effort to fix some of these issues for their team. Now over the last week alone, we have seen three players added. With a linebacker, defensive lineman, and offensive lineman all added to help improve our run game and run defense. They say defense wins championships, but no defense can do so without the help of a solid run game so these moves go hand in hand. We will see if they pay dividend sooner rather than later.