At 3-3, the Philadelphia Stars are tops in the USFL North division with four games left. However, the rest of the division remains in striking distance at 2-4, including the team the Stars face Saturday (9 p.m. ET on FS1 and the FOX Sports app) at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, the Pittsburgh Maulers.
Maulers head coach Ray Horton already surpassed his team’s win total from last season and is now working to do something Pittsburgh did not accomplish in 2022 — make the playoffs.
Pittsburgh defeated the Stars 21-13 in Week 3, Pittsburgh’s first win of the season. Here’s one thing to watch for from each team in the rematch.
Stars: Can the Philadelphia offense score TDs in the red zone?
The Stars have won two in a row but have not scored an offensive touchdown over the last two games.
Philadelphia is 0-for-7 in the red zone over that time frame. While kicker Luis Aguilar has been impressive, making 11 of 12 field goals over the last two games, the Stars can’t keep relying on the kicker to finish drives.
Philadelphia needs to figure out how to consistently put the ball in the painted area for touchdowns.
"It comes down to mental mistakes, and it includes myself," Philadelphia quarterback Case Cookus said after Sunday's win over New Orleans. "I can’t make mistakes or turn the ball over like a couple times we did today. But I think it comes down to the little things. We have a lot of returning guys, and sometimes you have to remind them, ‘Hey, if you have a hitch, just run a hitch.’ Don’t worry about the other stuff."
The Stars lead the league with 45 accepted penalties for 367 yards. Philadelphia is also tied for second in the USFL with 10 giveaways and had three touchdowns called back because of penalties last week.
So, curbing self-inflicted mistakes will be key for the Stars against Pittsburgh.
Maulers: Can Maulers create consistency on offense with run game?
Horton would like Pittsburgh’s offense to be dynamic and explosive, running up the scoreboard. But with the way the Maulers are playing on defense, Pittsburgh could benefit from a run-based, ball-control offense that plays keep away from the opposing team.
With that in mind, the Maulers need to find a runner that can keep the chains moving. Through six games, Pittsburgh’s leading rusher has been quarterback Troy Williams with 214 rushing yards. But someone from a stable of running backs that includes Madre London, Duane Gary and Garrett Groshek must take on an expanded role in the offense.
In Pittsburgh’s wins this season, the Maulers averaged 128.5 rushing yards. Even though he was pulled in favor of James Morgan last week to try to generate a spark on offense, Williams remains the team’s starting quarterback, Horton said.
"We have to be a team," Horton said. "Are we the most dominant team in the league? No. Defensively, do I think we are? I do. But you have to have the special teams and the offense come along for the ride with you.
"So, I’m very encouraged about the team we are building."
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.