The Michigan Panthers fell to the back-to-back USFL Champions the Birmingham Stallions in week 2 by a score of 20 to 13 in a game that came down to the final minute. The Panthers’ defense played exceptionally well keeping Birmingham’s 2 quarterbacks to a combined QBR of 48.53.

Defensive Coverage Still Working on Communication

The Michigan Panthers’ cover defense has impressed me so far this season. It seems though that it could be improved further as the communication improves. There have been instances in both weeks 1 and 2 in which there are crossing routes and the defensive backs did not successfully communicate quickly enough to switch who is covering who. 

There was a play early in the 2nd quarter against Birmingham in which the outside receiver crossed over the middle and cornerback Keith Gipson Jr did not make the switch quick enough to go with the inside receiver who ran a corner route and the play resulted in a relatively easy 16-yard pickup for the Stallions. There was a similar play in week 1 in which the cornerback did not switch to cover the tight end on a successful 2-point conversion attempt by the Battlehawks.

I would expect this to improve through the season as the secondary continues to gel after an offseason full of changes.

Pass Protection Needs Better Presnap Recognition and Communication

The Panthers did a pretty effective job for the most part keeping Perry protected in week 1 and allowed 1 sack. Week 2 had some tough sledding against the stout Stallions’ pass rush as Michigan gave up 7 sacks.

The final offensive play for the Panthers was a sack allowed from an unblocked defensive end. Left tackle Ryan Pope moved away from Charlton to help block in the interior perhaps reacting to a linebacker moving blitzing toward the interior. However, he needed to pick up the defensive end who was lined up across from him and allow runningback Wes Hills who was in pass protection to pick up the linebacker in the interior. As a result, Charlton was not blocked and was able to run a direct line around the edge to pick up his 3rd sack of the game.

In week 1 there was a play in the third quarter in which Pope allowed pressure around the edge from a linebacker blitz as he did not pick him up. The Panthers line could benefit from a film session with some coaching to clarify what players’ assignments are and work to improve their presnap communication to ensure there are no pass rushers getting a free pass to the backfield.

Concerns With the Ground Game

After week 1 against St. Louis,  runningback Wes Hills was the league leader in rushing yards after he rushed 11 times for 89 yards and an impressive 7.7 yards per carry. His explosive runs were highly impressive as he had 4 runs for 18 yards or more. However, on his other 7 rushes, he tallied only 6 yards and only rushed further than 1 yard on 2 of those rushes.

Hills’ numbers in week 2 against Birmingham were 7 rushes for 11 yards averaging just 1.4 yards per rush. To be fair, the Stallions are a very good run-stopping team but it’s hard to imagine the Panthers beating Birmingham without the presence of a strong run game.

After 2 games he has 18 rushes for 95 yards averaging 5.3 yards per carry. If you look at his numbers without his 4 explosive runs from week 1, he has 14 rushes for only 16 yards. Of course, looking at his numbers without his biggest plays will have a significant impact on his numbers, but regardless this seems drastically low for the 2023 USFL rushing leader.

The frequency at which a Panthers’ run play results in a defensive stop has been too high over the first 2 weeks of the season as there has at times been a struggle to create holes for the running back.

Jake Bates is a Ridiculous Kicker

Jake Bates made the 64-yard game-winner in week 1 setting the record for longest professional non-NFL field goal outside of the NFL and tying the 2nd longest. In week 2 he made a 62-yard field goal before the half and made a 52-yard field goal in the third quarter. All of his kicks were down the middle with plenty of distance. In week 1 he even made the 64-yard attempt twice as he was iced the first time.

While it feels unrealistic to expect him to continue to make 100% of his kicks from extreme distances there is no denying he is off to an incredible start this season. His 62-yard field goal would tie the previous longest field goal in professional football outside of the NFL which was set at 62 yards by Paul McCallum of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2001 in the CFL.

Experience Optional: Jake Bates’ 64-Yard Field Goal Draws Interest From NFL Teams Including the Detroit Lions

Panthers’ Run Defense Continues to Impress

Birmingham’s quarterbacks Alex Martinez and Matt Corral contributed 94 rushing yards on 12 rushes averaging 7.8 yards per rush. Michigan will need to do a better job containing them on their dropbacks when they next play each other in week 10 in Birmingham.

Against Birmingham’s runningbacks, Michigan’s defense played very well. Despite Marable having 2 rushes for 10 yards or more the Panthers held his average to 3.9 yards per carry over 14 rushes with 49 yards. Ricky Person rushed 7 times for 16 yards. 

The 2 Birmingham running backs combined for 77 yards over 21 rushes, 3.66 yards per rush.

It was a group effort as a lot of Panthers defenders got involved in run stops. For what I considered to be a stop, linebacker Frank Ginda led the way being involved in 3 solo run stops and 3 shared run stops. Defensive tackles Daniel Wise and Garrett Marino were both involved in 3 run stops. DE Ricky Carter and LB Noah Dawkins were both involved in 2 run stops.

There were 9 total Panthers that I took note of in having a solo and or an assisted run stop. Other players got involved in 1 run stop including safety Corrion Ballard, DE Breeland Speaks, CB Nate Brooks, and S Bryce Torneden.

YouTube video

Great Game from the Pass Defense

Quarterback Matt Corral was the quarterback selected by Pro Football Focus in their team of the week for week 1. Against Michigan, he was held to just 53 passing yards as he completed just 5 of his 12 passes with a 4th-quarter interception caught by Keith Gipson in the endzone. Birmingham used their other quarterback Alex Martinex much of the game as well and he completed just over 50% of his passes on his way to 8 completions over 15 attempts for 88 yards. The combined QBR between the 2 quarterbacks was only 48.53.

Cornerbacks Nate Brooks and Keith Gipson both had a pass breakup in the game. There were multiple targets thrown Gipson’s way in which he provided excellent coverage as the play resulted in an incompletion although he needed to get his head around faster on a 2-point conversion attempt earlier in the game.

E.J. Perry’s Numbers Were Good Considering the Pressure

Perry is not a quarterback who easily rattled and played pretty well despite being sacked 7 times. He completed 20 of his 33 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown with an interception. He also added 25 rushing yards on 4 rushes. His passer rating of 75.69 is moving in the right direction after being only at 39.58 in Week 1. His performance is made more impressive when you consider the success of the Birmingham pass rush. In addition, he was playing without run support.

The highlight of his game was the 76-yard completion to Marcus Simms for a touchdown on a go route down the right sideline. However one would hope to see more total yards out of your quarterback over the course of a game when there are 76 yards added from 1 play. On some of his incompletions, the accuracy needed to be better. Considering the pass rush and run-stopping presented by Birmingham it was overall a good game from Perry.

The ceiling for the passing offense seems like it could be very high but the possible floor feels like a mystery. Overall I feel positive about the Panther’s offensive future but certain aspects will need to be fine-tuned.

Closing

My biggest takeaway is that the Panthers’ defense looks to be truly an elite defense in this league. They were on the field a lot as Birmingham dominated time of possession with 37 minutes to Michigan’s 23 yet Michigan’s defense stood up to the task and did a great job keeping the Panthers in the game.

The Panther’s offense leaves some question marks on what their ceiling is. There has not been a lot of consistency in the success generated although there have been some very big plays.

@JonathanClink on Twitter

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Jonathan Clink
Jonathan Clink will work as UFL News Hub's primary correspondent covering the Michigan Panthers for the 2024. He has written over 250 articles covering the Canadian Football League prior to joining UFL News Hub. Clink is originally from Winnipeg, Manitoba and currently lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has a background in several other sports as well having played soccer, basketball, and hockey competitively.

1 Comment

  • Posted April 10, 2024 8:33 pm 0Likes
    by Shimmy

    Jonathan, would like to here your feelings on attendance not only at Panther games but the league overall, to me it seems sparse (except St Louis, DC 15000 + however it is around 80% Audi field capacity). What by UFL standards is acceptable attendance. Jonathan being from Winnipeg (I was in that stadium August 2017 ED vs W 33000 it is a great venue) and now living in Grand Rapids, MI , I see in Grand Rapids, Grand Action 2 presented a downtown 8700 seat soccer stadium they are pitching to serve pro soccer (small for MLS) however USL champions, or league one would be fine. If the UFL can partner up with pro soccer, can see it as win win, if that capacity was increased by 10000 in Grand Rapids could you see the Michigan Panthers playing out of Grand Rapids. Other communities, Albuquerque, NM, Sacramento, CA Omaha, NE all have plans for soccer stadiums. MLS stadiums are smaller 18000 – 35000 most with natural turf, putting seating on top of the field with a overhang protecting the fans from some of the weather. AUDI field(MLS) a perfect example . just a note in the early 60s Grand Rapids, MI was a member of the UFL, then the Professional football league of America, thank you

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