The 2022 USFL regular season has reached the midway point. Week Five starts a three-week stretch of non-divisional games as the South clashes with the North.
Two of the league’s better teams, the New Jersey Generals and New Orleans Breakers, will meet Saturday afternoon in a pairing of 3-1 teams. Both the Breakers’ and Generals’ lone defeats have come at the hands of the USFL’s lone unbeaten team, the 4-0 Birmingham Stallions.
USFL Week 5 Preview: New Jersey Generals (3-1) Vs. New Orleans Breakers (3-1)
Saturday, May 14th, 3 pm ET, FOX, Protective Stadium, Birmingham, Alabama
Point Spread: New Orleans -3 Over/Under: 36.5
Weather: Partly cloudy skies during the afternoon. A stray shower or thunderstorm is possible. High 84F. Winds S at 5 to 10 mph.
New Jersey Generals Injury Report/Roster Update
The Generals are relatively healthy coming into Saturday’s game. They are getting a boost in their secondary with the return of safeties Shalom Luani and Mike Bell Jr. OT Garret McGhin returns to the lineup. G Mike Brown, however, will be inactive due to a calf injury, and Calvin Ashley will continue to step up in his place.
New Orleans Breakers Injury Report/Roster Update
The big news for NOLA is the return of edge rusher Davin Bellamy, who is second in the USFL in sacks with 4.5. However, the team will be missing his pass-rushing running mate Shareef Miller.
Key players like WR Johnnie Dixon and CB Derrick Jones will both play despite nursing injuries during the week.
Numbers/Analytics you need to know: According to Ian Hartitz from Pro Football Focus. The New Orleans Breakers have created an explosive pass play on a league-best 18.1% of their dropbacks.
The Breakers’ offense, led by league-leading passer, Kyle Sloter, has several playmakers atop the leader board in receiving and rushing. NOLA has four of the top seven receiving leaders, TE Sal Canella and WRs Jonathan Adams, Johnnie Dixon, and Taywan Taylor. RB Jordan Ellis leads the league in rushing with 347 yards in four games.
The New Jersey Generals rank first in lowest drop rate (2.1%) while averaging the most yards after the catch per completion (7.5) and employing the highest play-action rate (32.2%). The Generals (23.5%) run screens on nearly a quarter of their dropbacks.
A significant reason for New Jersey’s high percentage of passing success is their rushing attack, which is averaging 178 yards per game. In Week 4, New Jersey’s passers, Luis Perez and De’Andre Johnson, completed 83 percent of their passes. The Generals have averaged a league-high 2.1 yards *before* contact per rush. When you have that type of success on the ground, it opens up accessible passing lanes. A week ago, WR Alonzo Moore was left wide open on a 62-yard touchdown off of a play fake.
The Generals have controlled the clock for nearly 36 minutes a game. They have kept opposing offenses off the field by continuously converting first downs and extending drives with their three-headed RPO-styled rushing attack. Opposing defenses have had to game plan for De’Andre Johnson and respect his 4.3 speed and open-field playmaking ability. It’s opened up rush lanes for players like RB Trey Williams. And Darius Victor has acted as the team’s closer in the red zone and late in games.
Keys to Saturday’s game: The New Jersey Generals haven’t faced an opponent like Larry Fedora’s Breakers this season. The closest comparison style-wise would be the pass-happy Philadelphia Stars, who lost league standout, Bryan Scott in mid-game when they faced NJ in week three.
Chris Dishman’s Generals defense will be tested vertically and horizontally by Noel Mazzone’s fast-paced offense, which threw for nearly 400 yards last week. The Breakers look to wear defenses out by speeding up the pace.
On the flip side, Mike Riley’s Generals will stick to their formula of attempting to shorten the game by executing a conservative, run-heavy approach. Sometimes the best defense against a good offense is making sure they don’t see the field.
Opposing teams know what the Generals want to do. And offensive coordinator Steve Smith has countered it nicely by designing easy completions off of play-action and roll-outs. The Generals will need to do that to slow down New Orleans’s formidable pass rush.
Both teams have made changes to their placekicking situation. In week four, Taylor Bertolet had a fine debut for the Breakers, connecting on five kicks and 3 of 4 on field goals with a long of 50 yards. The Generals have moved on from Nick Rose, who struggled missing seven of his ten field-goal tries, and former Alabama/Temple kicker Austin Jones was brought on board to replace him.
USFL Week 5: New Jersey Generals-New Orleans Breakers Prediction
The Generals have built themselves a bit of a cushion atop the Northern Division after sweeping through Michigan, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh in consecutive weeks. A win would help them get one step closer to ensuring a playoff berth.
The Breakers need this game more than New Jersey does. The South is far more competitive, and any slip-ups by New Orleans could open the door for the teams directly behind them in the standings.
Saturday’s game is the perfect clash of styles. Both teams have forged distinctive but separate identities. The Breakers play a wide-open and fast-paced style, while the Generals like to keep things simple and methodically wear teams down.
New Jersey has the formula to stifle and slow down the Breakers, but I think New Orleans has a bit more firepower and will edge the Generals out late.
Prediction: New Orleans Breakers 24 New Jersey Generals 20