A battle of playoff contenders will kick things off for the USFL on Saturday as the New Orleans Breakers and New Jersey Generals (will meet in a game that could be a preview of things to come. Both teams enter Week 5 with a 3-1 record, positioning them for a potential postseason berth.
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Last Sunday, New Orleans rallied from a 10-3 halftime deficit to rally and defeat Houston 23-16 to keep pace with undefeated Birmingham in the South Division. Kyle Sloter completed 27-of-43 passes for 414 yards and a touchdown, although he did toss three interceptions. Jordan Ellis added 104 rushing yards and a score on 19 carries as the Breakers piled up 523 yards. The defense took care of its business, holding the Gamblers to 155 yards on 46 plays (3.4 yards per play).
Meanwhile, New Jersey picked up its third straight win with a 21-13 victory over a feisty Pittsburgh team that was hoping to earn its first victory. Luis Perez and De'Andre Johnson combined to complete 20-of-24 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown with no picks. The Maulers finished with 256 yards but the Generals held them out of the end zone in the second half. The win kept New Jersey in first place in the North Division, a game up on Philadelphia.
New Orleans (3-1) at New Jersey (3-1)
Kickoff: Saturday, May 14 at 3 p.m. ET
Where: Protective Stadium (Birmingham, Ala.)
Spread: Breakers -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Looking for a fast Break(ers) on offense
Getting off to a quick start would help New Orleans' offense as it looks to avoid playing from behind this week. Sloter has shown he's capable of airing it out, as he leads the USFL in passing yards by a wide margin. His 1,071 yards 400-plus more than No. 2 on the leaderboard, Tampa Bay's Jordan Ta'amu (627). Sloter is completing 61 percent of his attempts, another reason for his success through the air.
Not surprisingly, Sal Canella leads the league with 215 receiving yards, while Jonathan Adams and Johnnie Dixon have been productive targets for Sloter as well. Jordan Ellis has done his part too, leading the league in both rushing yards (347) and attempts (83) as moving the ball hasn't been a problem for the Breakers. They are No. 1 in total offense (383.8 ypg) and second in scoring (23.3 ppg). That just makes it more puzzling that they had to come from behind to defeat Houston last week. A fast start and an early touchdown would erase those memories and put New Jersey's defense on its heels.
Attacking the Generals through the air may also be the way to go since they have been the best in stopping the run, giving up just 67 rushing yards per game thus far.
2. Generals' two-quarterback system
Head coach Mike Riley has been content to play both of his quarterbacks regularly and to this point, one can't argue with the results. Luis Perez and De'Andre Johnson will look to continue their productive partnership on Saturday against one of the league's stingier defenses. Thus far, Perez has been the more successful thrower while Johnson has been a dangerous runner. Combined they have completed 69 percent of their attempts with three touchdowns and one interception for an average of 180 yards per game, which places New Jersey third in the league.
Johnson also is the league's fourth-leading rusher with 230 yards, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. As a team, the Generals are second in rushing offense at nearly 180 yards per game and will need to continue to maintain this success on the ground to help keep a ferocious New Orleans pass rush at bay. Running backs Darius Victor and Trey Williams are right behind Johnson on the league rushing leaderboard, giving Riley multiple options to choose from as he looks for holes in the Breakers' defensive front.
3. New Orleans' D is always in a rush
Getting after the quarterback has not been a problem for the Breakers. They are tied for the league lead in sacks with 11. Davin Bellamy is responsible for 4.5 of those, placing him second overall. The challenge this week is that New Jersey uses two quarterbacks with contrasting styles of play. Perez is more of a pocket passer while Johnson is a dangerous dual-threat. New Orleans will want to get Perez on the run and off of his spot, but keep Johnson hemmed in and not let him escape the pocket. The Breakers must stick to their assignments depending on which quarterback is on the field, and take advantage of any opportunity to get either on the ground, but especially Johnson. Red zone defense is another area to watch as New Orleans has surrendered the fewest points (14.5 per game) thus far.
Expect a back-and-forth affair as both teams can go north of 21 points on offense. Turnovers are going to be key, which is interesting since New Orleans and New Jersey are on opposite ends of the spectrum in that department. The Breakers lead the league with eight giveaways (including 5 INTs by Sloter) while the Generals are tied for the fewest with three. However, the two teams have the same turnover margin entering Week 5, both a minus-two.
In the end, running the football and playing keep-away will be the difference, and those are two areas in which New Jersey appears to have the edge. The Generals grind out a hard-fought victory to improve to 4-1.
Prediction: Generals 22, Breakers 21
– Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Contributor Network.