The red-hot 4-3 Memphis Showboats head to Canton to face off against the reeling 2-5 New Jersey Generals on Sunday afternoon. Both teams are on four game streaks of the opposite variety. The Showboats have won four straight after starting the season 0-3 while the Generals have lost four straight after starting the USFL season 2-1.
The New Jersey Generals playoff hopes are dwindling, while the Memphis Showboats playoff hopes have been resurrected in the last month. This should be an entertaining and exciting matchup that adds to these massive playoff implications.
Generals Offense vs. Showboats Defense
The Generals offense has been lackluster when it comes to scoring points despite still being the top-rated rushing team in the league. They’re the second-worst passing team in the league and in the bottom half of scoring in the USFL. To put it in perspective, they have a point differential of ZERO despite having the number one scoring defense in the league. They have been hurt severely by penalties and turnovers. They’re tied for the most penalties (48) in the USFL and have the worst turnover differential in the league at -4. All of this amounts to being a below average offense despite being top-three in yardage.
It won’t help that they’ll be without quarterback De’Andre Johnson after he sustained a scary injury last week where he was carted off. It was great to hear that he’ll be ok, but it’s not clear when he will return to the lineup. We are going to see Kyle Lauletta and Dakota Prukop at quarterback for New Jersey. They have to try and get Darius Victor more involved if they want to have greater success. He has only gotten more than 10 carries once on their four-game losing streak despite averaging six yards per carry this season.
The Memphis Showboats defense led by defensive coordinator Carnell Lake has done a complete 180 since they began their win streak. They gave up 33 points per game during their 0-3 start and have given up just 10 points per game during their four-game win streak, including a shutout of the Maulers. They have forced 12 turnovers during their win streak as well after having – just one – in the first three weeks of the season.
Carnell Lake has not gotten enough recognition for the job he's done as the Defensive Coordinator in Memphis. The @USFLShowboats defense has arguably been the best in the #USFL since week four.
They lead the USFL in sacks by a solid margin with 20 on the year led by linebacker Greg Reaves. But they will be without stud safety Kyree Woods on Sunday as he’s in concussion protocol. He was Pro Football Focus’ top-graded player in the league through six weeks (92.3) and the Boats leader in interceptions. However, they’ll still be looking to get after the quarterback and force a couple of bad decisions by whoever is in the game.
This matchup should play right into the hands of the Memphis Showboats defense. The New Jersey Generals have fumbled the ball more than any other team (8) and the only quarterback on their roster to throw an interception is Kyle Lauletta, who is the likely starter on Sunday. The Showboats have the best turnover differential in the league and as mentioned earlier, the Generals are dead last. Carnell Lake’s squad has started a trend during the last month, and it appears likely that will continue.
An area that can benefit the Generals is their ability to protect the quarterback. Despite the Showboats leading the league in sacks as a defense, the Generals have surrendered the least sacks in the USFL with just 10 allowed. The Showboats are also giving up 99 yards per game on the ground this season, so they can be run on a bit. The Generals will have to try and surpass their 138.6 yards per game rushing and lean on Darius Victor and Trey Williams. More importantly, they have to hold onto the football.
Showboats Offense vs. Generals Defense
Since the Showboats decided to move on from Brady White at quarterback and shift over to Cole Kelley, the Showboat offense has been very efficient. They haven’t lit the world on fire by any means, but they’re getting it done. They’ve turned it over less than any other team aside from Birmingham and despite being second worst in yards per game, they’re averaging 22.8 points per game on their win streak and have outscored their opponents by 51 points since week four.
Their offense and defense play complimentary football. Kelley is only averaging 163 yards passing per game, but he has added some value with his legs and has taken care of the ball with just four turnovers. Wide receiver Derrick Dillion continues to make big plays in the passing game or on special teams and it appears they’ve found their ground game with running backs Kerrith Whyte and the return of Juwan Washington. Add wide out Vinny Papale to the mix and as long as Kelley and his guys don’t make the big mistake, they should be able to continue their efficient ways.
The clear strength of the New Jersey Generals is their defense. Despite all of New Jersey’s struggles, the defense has given up less points than any other team in the USFL (18.3). They’re second in sacks behind Memphis with 17 of their own. They’re top-three in every major statistical category for defense besides the one big one. Takeaways. They’ve turned the offense over just six times in seven games which is not ideal. They also might be without star linebacker Chris Orr and stud safety Shalom Luani. They’re attempting to work back into the lineup after missing last week with injuries but it’s still unknown whether they’ll play or not. Their presence was missed last week, and it was clear. They shouldn’t have a major issue trying to contain the Memphis Showboats, but if they can’t make the big impact play, it may be death by a thousand cuts.
Defense prevents more points from going on the board to end the first half 😤
I expect to see a strong performance by the Generals defense against the Showboats offense but what is going to play a large part in the outcome is the situations they’re put in. If the Showboats defense can get takeaways and give their offense short fields, New Jersey may wind up giving up more points than the yardage totals would dictate. As has been the story a lot this year, the Generals defense has not been supported by the offense and after bending for a majority of the game, they finally break in the second half. As defenses get tired, we usually see this, even the best defenses. They’ll likely hold Memphis to at or below their season average on points so a big factor will be how well they’re supported by the other side of the ball.
It feels like a given at this point in the year, the Generals are at a disadvantage on special teams in basically every game they play. Kicker Nick Sciba and punter Brock Miller have been incredible this year. But their coverage and return units in both kickoff and punt have been subpar and at some points, a hinderance. They’re going against Memphis who lead the league in kick return average at 28.6 per return. The Showboats are also fourth in punt return yards, so they’ll have a clear advantage. The Generals are bottom-two in both kickoff and punt return average and are one of the worst coverage teams in the USFL by average yards against.
It does feel like this is a matchup that heavily favors the Memphis Showboats and puts the New Jersey Generals in a very difficult spot on Sunday. This is a game that the Generals desperately need to keep their playoff hopes alive, but it appears that this is not the same dominant team we watched last season. The Showboats are right in the thick of the playoff race and can make some serious noise by continuing their win streak. I do believe the Boats pull this one out and effectively end the Generals season.
Barring a sudden change in both teams tendencies, it looks clear on paper. But, it should be a thoroughly entertaining game and we should all be looking forward to tuning into FOX at 1 PM Eastern Time on Sunday.
What are your thoughts on this upcoming USFL game between the New Jersey Generals and Memphis Showboats? Which USFL players do you expect to shine? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!