The Michigan Panthers begin the second half of their season with the worst possible opponent imaginable. The Panthers take on the league best the Birmingham Stallions who sport an undefeated record of 5-0 led by a dynamic offense and a quick talented defensive front seven.
The Panthers offense up until week 5 was completely run heavy and dependent on Reggie Corbin, Cameron Scarlett, and Stevie Scott to get any sort of production. The Panthers go into week 6 fresh of Shea Patterson first 300-yard game of his professional career. Patterson, whose been electric while throwing on the run, faces a major test in an attempt to save the Panthers season and even his professional career. The Panthers passing attack has steadily improved with the addition of TE Ryan O’Malley (whose inactive for week 6) and the emergence of WR LaMichael Pettway. The Panthers need to continue to make strides in the passing game in an attempt to keep pace with JMar Smith and the Birmingham Stallions Offense.
The Panthers defense goes up against JMar Smith and CJ Marable two Stallions who have made a name for themselves in the USFL. Smith burst on to the scene with his week 1 come from behind win against the Generals and did a repeat performance against the Stars last week. CJ Marable also had his coming out performance in week 5 winning USFL Offensive player of the week. The Panthers will need to make Smith and company uncomfortable and that starts with their front seven. Jaquan Bailey has been a surprising asset in a pass rush however, Michigan has only gotten 4 sacks in five games. Smith, who despite playing in parts of four games ranks 3rd in passing yards and touchdowns and will definitely be key focal point for a Panthers secondary who has played exceptionally well.
The Panthers special teams has vastly improved. Cole Murphy so far is perfect on his attempted kicks and allows the Panthers to be rewarded for drives that during the Michael Carrizoza era they were missing out on points. The Panthers also have signed a punter Kyle Kramer, who now allows Murphy to focus solely on kicking allowing the Panthers to have an extremely improved special teams unit.
The Stallions run through their quarterback and leader JMar Smith. The team of Skip Holtz and Smith which goes back to their college days has taken the USFL by storm and put Smith as a potential front runner for the USFL MVP. The Stallions potent offense is also anchored by Victor Bolden an NFL vet who not only is 4th in the league in receiving but also has amassed 832 all-purpose yards and looks like to be the Deebo Samuel of the USFL. The Stallions also have a dynamic three prong rushing attack that is led by CJ Marable but also supplemented by Bo Scarbrough and J’Mar Smith. The Stallions strong and balanced offense may be overbearing for a Panthers Defense that is rank 2nd in the league.
This defensive unit is one of the most fun to watch in the USFL. Led by Scooby “Shark-Dog” Wright and Demarquis Gates the Stallions Linebacking corps could be the best in the league. The Stallions, defensive mentality of bend but don’t break has seemed to be the formula that has led to the success of this team. Because of the dynamic play of the offense, opponents of the Stallions have had to revert to the air and which has allowed the Stallions defense to feast and the unit now leads the USFL in sacks with 14. Though not anything extremely gaudy this defense compliments the offense extremely well, and is a big part the Stallions are 5-0.
The biggest surprise of this unit is kicker Brandon Aubrey. Aubrey a former MLS first round draft pick has broken into the scene of professional football, and currently is second in points. Before week 5 he was perfect on kicks and has seemed to form a solid unit with Punter NFL vet Colby Wadman. In the return game Victor Bolden Jr. has established himself as the premier return man of the USFL and is a possibility to break the game open at any time.
While I do think the Panthers Offense will be able to provide some excitement, I think it may be too little too late. I think the Panthers Defense will not be able to contain Smith, Bolden, and Marable and therefore I see a lot of catching up to do by the Panthers Offense. Overall, the Panthers I think drop this one losing 35-24 and fall 1-5, while the 6-0 Stallions continue to dominate the USFL.