Reviewing The Pittsburgh Maulers 2022 Season: Problems Upon Problems

Well, where do we even start? Out of all eight teams in the USFL this season, the Pittsburgh Maulers were clearly the worst. They finished with a 1-9 record, and looked like a dumpster fire more often than not.

It’s a shame, honestly. Pittsburgh did possess some impressive talent this season, both offensively and defensively. They were also in a position to win plenty of games in 2022, but could not get the job done effectively.

Let’s take a look back on Pittsburgh’s season, and break down what their future looks like, based on the current situation.

Quarterback Debacle

One of the glaring issues the Maulers faced was their lack of stability at quarterback. Now, this isn’t entirely the athlete’s fault…but we’ll get to that part later. Across the board, it was a mess from the get go, as Pittsburgh ran through QB’s almost as fast as they piled up losses.

Kyle Lauletta, the first round draft pick, hardly even saw the football field at all. Interestingly enough, it was Josh Love who got the early start for a few weeks. Love played pretty well, but struggled to find a rhythm with an incomplete offense.

Halfway through the season, head coach Kirby Wilson made some changes. Love was cut, and Vad Lee was signed – taking the starting position. Eventually, Lauletta was let go as well, and Roland Rivers was brought in to backup Lee.

To be honest, Lee, Rivers, and Love all showed potential during the course of the season. Rivers, in particular, had a solid outing against New Jersey in week eight, when he got to settle into a starting role.

However, it still doesn’t make perfect sense as to why Wilson moved on from Love. He was putting up decent numbers. Not to mention, Kirby ran the ball more than anyone, making it difficult on his quarterbacks to stay consistent.

Vad Lee Heroics

That being said, Vad Lee was clearly Pittsburgh’s best quarterback in 2022. Sure, he had some ugly moments. But, he put the team on his back multiple times throughout the season. For example, in week five, Lee led the Maulers to their only win of the season. He had only been a part of the team for a few days, but still found a way to get the job done under less than ideal circumstances.

While the Maulers did not win anymore games, Lee did keep them somewhat close every week. Lee is someone that the team could build around moving forward, due to his raw talent and scrappy playmaking abilities. With the right personnel around him, Lee’s ceiling is higher than most people give him credit for.

Backfield Struggles

Something that hurt the Maulers was their inability to consistently run the football. This turned out to be quite the problem, considering how Wilson refused to adjust his game plan – which was running the football, with no end in sight.

Both Garrett Groshek and Madre London took the majority of the carries for Pittsburgh’s offense. London was pretty impressive, all things considered, posting 415 yards on 4.3YPC. Groshek, on the other hand, averaged 3.0YPC with 329 yards on the year.

With that information in mind, it’s important to remember the context: Kirby Wilson’s game plan. It’s difficult to average large amounts of yards per game, when almost every play is designed the same: up the middle.

Kirby Wilson: Head Coach Material?

This leads us to a controversial subject: Kirby Wilson. Wilson has been a coach in the NFL for decades, but took the leap to head coach for Pittsburgh. His first season as a head coach was, well, something else.

No Chicken Salad

To start with, we had the whole “chicken salad” saga with De’Veon Smith. It wasn’t exactly the ideal press for Kirby, or the USFL, to kick their inaugural season off with. Whether you supported Wilson’s decision or not, there’s no denying that the situation was quite messy.

Then, during the season, we saw Kirby have fall outs with multiple players. Vad Lee, for example, was benched during a crucial fourth quarter moment – simply because he told Kirby that he wasn’t confident in the play call. That entire sequence was a head scratcher.

Inadequate Play Calling

Not to mention – Wilson’s game plan was unique, but not in a good way. His style of coaching seemed to be straight out of the 1970’s, where running the ball is the religion. Oftentimes, his quarterbacks were stuck in long third down scenarios. It’s hard to get into a rhythm when you’re constantly put in those positions, and it certainly was frustrating for each QB to be held to Kirby’s extreme standards under those circumstances.

Speaking of which, Wilson had some strange strategies. He would swap his quarterbacks in and out randomly, when it made little sense. In week ten, for example, he had Roland Rivers play the second and third quarters, while Vad Lee played the first and fourth. Considering the game had meaning (first round draft pick on the line), going with that approach was a bit odd.

In week seven, during a must win game against Birmingham, more weird decisions were made. Before the end of the first half, the team had the football, in a position to potentially score. Instead of running a two minute offense, Wilson decided to run out the clock, leaving points off the board. There are no excuses for this type of behavior, especially under those conditions.

Accountability

Whenever something went wrong, Wilson would always put the blame on the players, and not himself. Of course, a lot went south for Pittsburgh this year – and not all of it was Kirby’s fault. However, accountability is an important virtue that all coaches shouldn’t ignore. Wilson very rarely, if ever, took responsibility.

If things don’t change for Wilson soon, it’s hard to see him in his current position much longer. His scheme clearly doesn’t work, and his attitude towards his players was questionable at times. In 2023, this has to improve, otherwise the Maulers will continue to be at the bottom of the barrel in the USFL.

Plenty Of Talent

Now, let’s look at some positives. First and foremost, Pittsburgh did boast a solid defense. Led by Boogie Roberts and Jeremiah Pharms, their line was stronger than the average group. Pharms, in fact, was signed by the New England Patriots in the offseason, after posting 31 tackles and two sacks in 2022.

Jaylon McClain-Sapp turned heads with his incredible interception in week two, and was a solid DB for the Maulers during the season. Meanwhile, Bryce Torneden earned a spot on the All-USFL defensive team, racking up 41 tackles and an interception as a starting safety.

Offensively, Pittsburgh had extremely gifted wide receivers. Tre Walker, Bailey Gaither, Isiah Hennie, and Delvon Hardaway all put up fantastic numbers throughout the year. Walker did lead the USFL in receiving yards for a few weeks, while Gaither’s week five antics are the reason for their one victory.

Generally speaking, Pittsburgh doesn’t necessarily lack talent. They simply lacked execution, which was a pattern set from the get go.

Holes To Fill

A piece that is very much needed, would be a secondary running back. Groshek and London are talented, but feature similar characteristics. New Jersey’s two running back system worked to perfection, because Trey Williams and Darius Victor provided the team with different playmaking abilities. While Mikey Daniels also saw some playing time for Pittsburgh, he filled a similar role, not bringing anything new to the table.

It will be interesting to see how the Maulers approach the QB situation. Vad Lee is more than capable, in the right system. However, if Kirby does not want to change his fundamental style, it could make sense to sign a more traditional QB.

Ramiz Ahmed was a fantastic kicker this season, knocking through a USFL record 61 yard field goal. If he’s available in 2023, he can give Pittsburgh a solid advantage in the special teams unit.

The major things that need to change, would be coaching. Clearly, whatever the plan was in 2022 didn’t work. By adding a couple more playmakers (RB specifically), and adjusting the game plan for 2023, the Maulers could be much more competitive than their record reflects.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, it was a rough outing for Pittsburgh in 2022. Missed opportunities, infighting, and questionable decision making cost the Maulers a successful season. However, the team needs to put this all behind – and set their sights on improving come 2023.

Did you enjoy watching the Pittsburgh Maulers in 2022? What do you think needs to change heading towards 2023? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!