The Birmingham Stallions have started the 2024 season 2-0 on the road against some tough opponents. Despite the win this weekend, the Stallions may have come out of it with more questions than answers. 

Specifically at the quarterback position where they have continued to use the two-quarterback system, yet neither player has set themselves apart in this race. Is it time to turn back to J’mar Smith as the starter? Or are these concerns premature given the lack of a preseason and a short training camp? 

Defensive Battle

This game quickly turned into a defensive battle with the offenses trading possessions without scoring touchdowns. It was just over 25 minutes into the game when the Michigan Panthers finally found the end zone. This came on a blown coverage by Mark Gilbert that resulted in a 76-yard touchdown. The stallions finally found the end zone in the second quarter as well. 

The most impressive part about this game was the pass rush for the Birmingham Stallions. The Stallions in past seasons lacked a premier pass rusher that could get home regularly. However, in this game, as a unit they collected seven sacks. Taco Charlton managed three by himself. Carlos Davis added two, bringing his season total to 3. So far defensive coordinator John Chavis has this unit firing on all cylinders. If it weren’t for that one play by Gilbert, this defense would’ve held the Michigan Panthers out of the end zone altogether and walked into week three with just one touchdown allowed. As it stands this defense has allowed just two touchdowns in two games.  

This defensive line did a great job slowing down the run game by the Panthers as well. In week one the Panthers had the second-best rushing attack in the league, having been only one of two teams to top 100 yards as a team. Wes Hills topped 80 yards rushing last week, and we saw Matt Colburn chip in as well. In week two, the Stallions defense forced them to abandon the run early. They would only attempt 14 run plays all game long. This amounted to 47 yards rushing, with Hills going 7 carries for 10 yards. 

Quarterbacks for Both Teams Struggle to Find Consistency

Whether it was just the defensive prowess in this game, or the fact that the quarterbacks simply aren’t on the same page as their wide receivers to this point, both teams suffered from subpar quarterback play in this game. We saw Danny Etling enter the game for the Michigan Panthers for the first time this season, although he quickly exited following a fumble. 

For Birmingham, it was Adrian Martinez who led the way with just 88 yards passing on the day. Collectively Matt Corral and Martinez managed just 13 completions on 27 passing attempts for 141 yards and 1 interception. Martinez to his credit also led the team in rushing in week two with 8 carries for 65 yards including a 29-yard run at one point.

The reality of the quarterback position as it stands for Birmingham is that until Matt Corral runs away with this job Adrian Martinez will consistently have a role in every game due to his legs. Week two only made that more likely even with the fumbled snap near the goal line. His ability to take over a game with his feet could be enough to keep him involved until he figures it out as a passer and eventually becomes the starter. However contrary to popular belief, now is not the time to make that move. During his media availability this week, Martinez wasn’t shy about speaking about how he can improve moving forward.

Stay the course with the two quarterbacks until one of these two men sets themselves apart. Memphis Defensive Coordinator Carnell Lake spoke about years past when Birmingham started both J’Mar Smith and Alex McGough on their way to two straight championships so we shouldn’t expect them to stray from this approach in 2024. 

Special Teams Continue Special Run 

Chris Blewitt has picked up right where Brandon Aubrey left off in 2023 when he signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Blewitt to this point has proven how important it is to have a big leg in this new league. He has gone 5 of 6 with his only miss beyond 50 yards so far. He’s also kicked off 11 times, with all 11 being returned for a total of 254 yards, leaving him with an average net of 45 yards per kickoff. This might be the one area of this unit that could use some work.

Colby Wadman has done a solid job even though he’s only been called on five times, he’s placed punts inside the 20 three times. He has an average of 45.2 per punt, and his unit has allowed just 22 return yards. 

The return game has been doing its part through two weeks as well. Amari Rodgers has been handling the punt returns and on his 6 returns has collected 85 return yards or 14.1 yards per punt. On kick returns, Deon Cain has managed 91 yards on just two attempts while Gary Jennings has three returns for 81 yards. This breaks down to 34.4 yards per return. This has been a direct contributor to the offense finding the end zone. They are rarely pinned deep thanks to Rodgers, Cain, and Jennings. 

All three phases of special teams will need to continue to produce in this manner in order to buoy an offense that simply hasn’t played up to the level it did in 2023. With so many new faces this shouldn’t be entirely a surprise. Both Martinez, and Corral are new to the Stallions, Amari Rodgers, Gary Jennings, and more are new in the wide receiver room, and of course the biggest change was the addition of Phillip Montgomery as Co-Offensive Coordinator.

Stallions Look to Stand Their Ground at Home Opener Making the Call to Fans to Show Up 

Many players and Coach Holtz have taken to any form of media available to them to pass the message along to fans that they saw what St. Louis did and they know the bar has been set for the high-water attendance mark in the league. Stallions fans may have been the class of the USFL, but they’ve got a new level of competition with the XFL markets coming into the UFL. Can the Stallions manage to top their previous high on opening day in 2022 of just over 17,000? 

The Stallions ticketing sales have adjusted prices to inflate ticket sales over the final few days before their home opener. 

With just days remaining the view on Ticketmaster is not looking promising so far. This should truly not come as a surprise, since the 17,000 mark in 2022 the Stallions have been chasing that number without reaching it although they have reportedly come close at times. For a state like Alabama that doesn’t have another professional football team of this level, watching their attendance fail to reach new heights should be a concerning prospect for the longevity of the Stallions in Birmingham. This is now their third year in the market, it’s time for fans to step up and prove that they want professional football in Alabama long-term, or suffer the fate of teams past, the majority of which left before even seeing season three.

Countless teams have come and gone from Alabama could the Stallions be in danger of one day leaving Birmingham if attendance continues to trend in the wrong direction? It might be early to ask this question, but it’s a question that needs to be answered. I know the Birmingham market is hesitant to embrace teams after being burned so many times, dating back to the World League of Football. At some point fans will have to realize it’s year three, this is the best hope Birmingham has had to keep a team long-term but the Stallions need fans to prove to the UFL that they shouldn’t abandon Alabama. 

Ratings Hold Strong

While the attendance in the USFL markets has still left a lot to be desired, the television ratings have stabilized above the 800,000 mark on average across the board. 

This coupled with the support in markets like DC, and STL shows fans want this league. They just need to find the right local marketing formula to capitalize on the markets at hand before they ever worry about expanding.

How to Watch/Listen to the Game

This game will be broadcast in prime time at 7:00 pm ET on Fox. The Audio broadcast can be found on Fox Sports SiriusXM channel. As mentioned above all tickets have been reduced to $10 for this weekend’s game and can be found at the following link: 

https://www.ticketmaster.com/event/20006036A84914BB

Betting Lines

For this game, the Stallions are 7-point favorites at -325 odds. The over/under is 41 points. 

As seen on this past week’s episode of Spring Football Reports, I predicted Birmingham would stay undefeated in week three. Winning by a score of 27-20 over Memphis. With that, I would say bet the over in this game if you’re so inclined. 

I hope the Stallions fans show up, and get loud, the two-time Champions deserve to feel what a real home-field advantage is like. 

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Sam Just

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