What to expect in Pittsburgh Maulers vs. Philadelphia Stars

By Michael Cohen
FOX Sports Writer

DETROIT — The Pittsburgh Maulers are seeking their first victory over the season while the Philadelphia Stars are trying to recover from a difficult loss as the teams meet up this weekend in Week 3 USFL action at Detroit's Ford Field.

Here’s a breakdown of Sunday’s matchup (12 p.m. ET on NBC).

Pittsburgh overview: A difficult introductory season in 2022 saw the Maulers finish 1-9 overall with five consecutive losses to end the year, after which head coach Kirby Wilson was replaced by Ray Horton, a longtime NFL assistant whose résumé includes defensive coordinator stints for the Arizona Cardinals (2011-12), Cleveland Browns (2013, 2016) and Tennessee Titans (2014-15). Horton last worked as the defensive backs coach for the Washington Redskins in 2019.

Thus far, Horton has struggled to turn the tide in Pittsburgh. The Maulers dropped their first two games of the 2023 campaign by 24 combined points and have yet to reach the end zone on offense. Their touchdowns this season have come on defense and special teams.

Philadelphia overview: Head coach Bart Andrus returns for a second season after guiding the Stars to a second-place finish in the North Division and a trip to the USFL championship game against the Birmingham Stallions. Andrus, who also served as the team’s general manager in 2022, is no stranger to alternative football leagues. The 65-year-old has coached in the World League of American Football, the Canadian Football League, the United Football League and The Spring League, among others.

The Stars opened the season with an impressive 27-23 win over the Memphis Showboats before falling to the Michigan Panthers last week. They enter the weekend third in the North division behind the Panthers and the New Jersey Generals.

Maulers player to watch: Inside linebacker Reuben Foster leads the Maulers with 12 solo tackles and ranks second on the team with 16 total tackles. Foster’s name may sound familiar to NFL fans who remember him as a first-round pick by the San Francisco 49ers in 2017. He was the No. 31 overall selection whose two-year run in San Francisco was derailed by off-field issues that led to his eventual release. A serious knee injury in 2019 compromised Foster’s subsequent stint with Washington and prevented him from ever taking the field.

Stars player to watch: Cornerback Amani Dennis leads the USFL with two interceptions through the first two games of the season. His path toward prominence in Philadelphia has been rather circuitous, beginning with a collegiate career at Division III Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He left Carthage with 100 career tackles and 11 interceptions while playing nickel back for three seasons from 2016-18. An invite to minicamp with the Cleveland Browns never produced a contract, and Dennis spent two years in The Spring League before joining the Stars in 2022.

Stats to know: There is a significant discrepancy between the aerial prowess of each team ahead of Sunday’s game.  

The Maulers rank last in the USFL in passing offense at 82.5 yards per game. Starting quarterback James Morgan from Florida International and backup Troy Williams from Utah have combined to complete just 29 of 57 passes (50.1%) with zero touchdowns and one interception. No other team in the league averages fewer than 150 passing yards per game.  

The Stars land at the other end of the spectrum due in large part to steady quarterback play from 27-year-old Case Cookus, a former cult favorite during his brief run with the Minnesota Vikings in 2021. Cookus has additional NFL experience with the New York Giants, Denver Broncos, Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Rams, though he’s never appeared in a regular season game. This season, Cookus ranks second in the USFL in passing with 495 yards and three touchdowns in his first two games.

Michael Cohen covers college football and basketball for FOX Sports with an emphasis on the Big Ten. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Cohen13.