Week 4 of the USFL season features a matchup between the New Jersey Generals and Pittsburgh Maulers, two teams heading in completely different directions. The surging Generals (2-1) took over first place in the North Division following last week's 24-16 win over Philadelphia, while the Maulers (0-3) took a major step back in a 24-0 whitewashing courtesy of Michigan. As a result, they are now the league's only winless team. On Saturday afternoon, New Jersey can stretch its lead in the division while Pittsburgh is in desperation mode.
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New Jersey (2-1) at Pittsburgh (0-3)
Kickoff: Saturday, May 7 at 2:30 p.m. ET
Where: Protective Stadium (Birmingham, Ala.)
Spread: Generals -9.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Generals' two-quarterback system is working
Luis Perez (pocket passer) and De'Andre Johnson (dangerous running threat) have found a way to make their different skill sets work for the benefit of New Jersey's offense. They've combined to complete 48 passes for 552 yards, with Perez throwing for two touchdowns. Johnson is the USFL's third-leading rusher (216 yards), leads the league in passer rating (154.1), he's tied for second in rushing touchdowns (2), second in yards per rushing attempt (6.5), and leads the league yards per pass attempt (10.8).
As for Perez, he's second in the league in completion percentage (65.4), sixth in yards per attempt (6.1), and fourth in passer rating (125.1). Making it easier for these two signal-callers is the fact that the Generals are the USFL's top rushing offense (200.0 ypg), with running backs Trey Williams (198), and Darius Victor (156) ranking fourth, and sixth, respectively in rushing yards. They overwhelmed Philadelphia's defense by moving the ball at will last week and will look to do the same against a struggling Pittsburgh team.
New Jersey also is No. 2 in total defense (239.7 ypg) and owns the top-ranked run defense (59.0 ypg), so look for the Generals to try and give the Maulers fits on both sides of the ball.
2. Maulers' struggles continue
After putting up 23 points against Philadelphia two weeks ago, Pittsburgh was held scoreless against Michigan. The Maulers also allowed the Panthers to gash them for 245 yards on the ground while averaging nearly six yards (5.8) per carry. With Pittsburgh's offense stuck in neutral, the defense couldn't stop the run, didn't force any turnovers and only managed two sacks. And when the Maulers had the ball, they gained just four yards per rushing attempt carry and quarterbacks Josh Love and Kyle Lauletta combined to complete just 19-of-31 pass attempts for 124 yards.
After looking like they figured things out against the Stars, last week Pittsburgh looked more like the team that was thoroughly dominated by Tampa Bay in the opener. The Maulers need to seriously clean things up on both sides of the ball if they want to turn this thing around.
3. Some positives for Pittsburgh
Not all things are bad for the team that identifies with the Steel City. Running back Garrett Groshek is fifth in rushing yards (160), wide receiver Bailey Gaither is the league's second-leading receiver (159), linebacker Kyahva Tezino is the USFL's fourth-leading tackler (24), and defensive end Carlo Kemp is tied for second in sacks (2.5). Those are some solid building blocks to work with, but the bottom line is that the Maulers need to put it all together, and drastically improve their performance on both sides of the ball.
New Jersey's recipe for success is simple: hammer away at a worn-down Pittsburgh defense while being the latest team to keep the Maulers from moving the ball. Pittsburgh not only needs to find the end zone, but also find a way to slow down the Generals' offense and limit the damage done on the scoreboard. But unless Kirby Wilson and company can take a significant step forward, the Generals will pick up their third straight win while the Maulers drop to 0-4.
Prediction: Generals 21, Maulers 13
— Written by Gabe Salgado, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.