The Houston Gamblers are a very talented squad, if you needed any evidence, look no further than the players that have received NFL interest. So far four players have signed NFL contracts after just one season with the Gamblers. Three on defense, and one on offense. The thing is, we can be nearly 100% certain that these four won’t be alone for long with Chris Odom receiving interest from 6 different NFL teams.
Front Seven Facing Attrition
The front seven for this Gamblers defense is suddenly facing tremendous attrition in a short amount of time. Chris Odom led the league in sacks with 12.5 in just 10 games, and was the most likely Gamblers player to receive interest. However, I’m not sure anyone thought he would be the third defensive lineman signed when the time came. After losing two defensive tackles, and a linebacker who were very key to their success on defense, the Gamblers defense looks to have been gutted fairly quickly.
Obviously on the surface, a 3-7 record, and finishing 6th in an 8 team league isn’t very impressive. The thing is when you start to peel back the layers on this onion you quickly begin to realize that Houston, had one of the most unusual runs of the USFL season in 2022. No other team led going into halftime as often as the Gamblers, yet it seemed on a weekly basis, when it came to the very last drive of the game it simply wouldn’t fall the Gamblers way.
In nine of ten games the Gamblers led at halftime, yet went on to lose 7 of 10 games. It wasn’t until the end of the year that the Gamblers really started to see luck fall their way. Finishing the season with wins against both teams bound for the playoffs in their division, the Gamblers defense stepped up big time. The defense allowed just 18 points combined to the Stallions and Breakers offense. Granted the Breakers turned to their back-ups to rest Kyle Sloter, (perhaps they saw the future), the Gamblers still shut them down.
Week Nine Undefeated Stallions
In week nine the 1-7 Gamblers were tasked with defeating the 8-0 Stallions. In speaking with Donald Payne Jr. he says the Gamblers weren’t scared, and didn’t feel like underdogs. In a week two loss the Gamblers fell by just 5 points despite allowing over 160 yards rushing on the day. The Stallions at that time hadn’t yet signed Bo Scarbrough, and as soon as they did their already dangerous rushing attack was taken to the next level.
Heading into this match up the Gamblers had to deal with not one, but two different running backs that had been able to produce 100 yard rushing games in the 2022 USFL Season. Those men were Cj Marable, the starter in their week 2 match up, and Bo Scarbrough. Las Vegas a city known for it’s gambling, ironically turned their backs on the team that carries their name sake and had the Stallions rated as the favorites by over a touchdown. However, Houston’s defense had another thought in mind.
Week two proved to be pivotal to both of these team’s seasons. It began a streak of seven games in a row for both teams. The Stallions went on a seven game run of 100+ yard rushing performances. Meanwhile the Gamblers went on a seven game losing streak that saw them fall by just one point three times, losing just twice by more than seven points. This led to a monster sized chip on the Gamblers shoulder.
The pair of tackles combined for 5 tackles. More importantly they did their part to keep linebackers freed up to do their damage as well. This led to a great team victory in which they narrowly edged out the Stallions.
Week Ten Playoff Bound Breakers
As mentioned before this game can be taken with a slight grain of salt due to Kyle Sloter being on the bench due to injury. However, I would like to provide some context, Sloter was NOT perfect this season by any stretch. At one point his team benched him for Zach Smith. The same quarterback expected to start in week ten. By the end of the game, Smith was benched for Shea Patterson as well. Both quarterbacks struggled to move the ball.
The Breakers had a very solid run game at times with two different backs performing quite well as the top back at times. This backfield had Anthony Jones, and Jordan Ellis who ended up leading the league in rushing yards. Yet against this defense, neither man could get going.
Combining for 18 carries the Breakers Dynamic Duo, looked more like a couple side kicks without their superheroes, when they finished the game producing just 57 rushing yards total. The Gamblers had been the talk of the league at one point due to “cigarette-gate” and how Reggie Northrup was trying to promote an attitude. Well essentially the Gamblers finally adopted that attitude.
The Gamblers basically walked in the stadium, punched the Breakers in the mouth, and never let up holding them to just three points as a team. Domenique Davis went off in this game racking up 5 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 tackle for a loss. Laulile added 2 tackles. This is a fitting mentality to carry for a defense that features former MMA fighter Reggie Northrup.
Will Linebackers Face Bigger Challenge in 2023?
Often times when talking about the center of an offensive or defensive line, we call it the gut. Losing your two of your top three defensive tackles, the position group most largely responsible for stopping the run is less than ideal. With that being said, as it stands, the linebacker group might have their work cut out for them in 2023. Whether we are talking about the loss of the defensive tackles, or leading sack artist Chris Odom, or having to fill the hole left behind by Tegray Scales, this defense has a lot of questions to answer after carrying some momentum into the offseason.