Omitting whatever it was we saw in Regina on Sunday, the 2012 Scotiabank Labour Day Weekend gave us some outstanding action and some crazy finishes. We’ve got seven teams fighting for six playoff spots right now, and if the season ended today, the crossover would come into effect and all four West Division teams would be postseason bound. That very fact should make things extremely interesting over the next two months.
|Williams Runs Past Gizmo|
Montreal’s 30-25 win over BC to kick off Week 10 on Friday night was a great example of what the Alouettes are capable of doing offensively. But honestly, how many times do you need to scroll through a Monday Morning Quarterback (or Tuesday morning) and read about how much we appreciate Brandon Whitaker? By the way, he had 112 yards of total offence and three touchdowns against the Lions, but we digress.
Let’s give some credit to what was most impressive Friday night: the Als defence.
Our good friend AlsRule gave us some flack a few weeks back for a comment, however benign, about the Montreal defensive group. It has always been a work in progress, and now nine games into their season, there’s no question we’re starting to see signs of real progress from them.
What they did against the defending Grey Cup champs was a perfect example of that progression.
Don’t forget that after Travis Lulay hooked up with Arland Bruce for the go-ahead score, Montreal forced a two-and-out and got the ball back with good field position, setting up Whitaker’s third touchdown.
More than that, however, was what I saw from the Alouettes throughout the entire game. It was the best I’ve seen them look at the point of attack, and they did exactly what you need to against Lulay: keep him on the run. BC’s pivot is probably the CFL’s best of making things happen on the run, but that doesn’t mean the Lions want him scrambling all night long. It seemed like Lulay was trying to elude pressure for most of the night, and while he made lots happen, he also felt the heat a few times.
It was defensive tackle Ventrell Jenkins and linebacker Rod Davis leading the way. Jenkins was the guy getting most of the statistical credit because he finished with a pair of sacks, but the guy really was a wrecking ball in the interior of the line. Along with Alan-Michael Cash (what a name), Jenkins gave Montreal inside pressure all night long allowing Davis to pursue like crazy with little blocking to slow him down.
While Davis didn’t finish with a sack or a tackle, he was a big part of keeping Lulay on the run, which was a big part of why the Als moved to the top of the East Division at 6-3.
It’s been a defence that has had their struggles so far this season, but Head Coach Marc Trestman has said from the very beginning that it’s going to take some time. Things are not where he wants them to be, especially knowing Trestman’s exceedingly high standards, but what he saw Friday had to be encouraging. It certainly was from our vantage point.
Out here in Alberta, we call the annual early September meeting between Calgary and Edmonton at McMahon Stadium the “Labour Day Classic”. In recent years, that hasn’t always been the most fitting billing, but the 2012 edition lived up to its moniker and then some with the Stampeders holding on for dear life in a 31-30 win.
A few things stuck out to me in Monday’s Week 10 finale, but there was one in particular. I couldn’t help but marvel at how intense the battle was at the line of scrimmage. There wasn’t a whole lot of yapping, pushing, or shoving in this renewal of traditional rivalries. Instead, these two teams teed off on each other in an extremely physical fashion and it was the host Stampeders winning in that department, albeit slightly.
Despite some second-quarter struggles, the Calgary offensive line did a really nice job for the majority of Monday’s win and it allowed the running game to be a huge factor. Running back Jon Cornish racked up 71 rushing yards and 94 yards of total offence in the win, which aren’t mind blowing totals, but it was the Calgary rushing attack did in the first and third quarters that defined this game for me.
The Stampeders’ offensive line was able to keep Edmonton’s very impressive, and sizable, front four at bay to start both halves, and it was no surprise that was when Calgary was at their most dangerous.
Cornish was able to pick up big chunks of yardage on first down which kept the impressive Eskimos defensive unit guessing, which is exactly what you need to do against them.
Two third quarter plays drove the point home for me, and they came on the same drive. With Cornish having spun off 40 yards and a touchdown on his last four touches, Calgary Offensive Coordinator Dave Dickenson chose a pretty darn good time to use an old favorite. On second-and-two, following an eight-yard Cornish run, Calgary went play action to open up a 36-yard pass from Kevin Glenn to Johnny Forzani.
Then, two plays later at the Edmonton 11, it looked like a foregone conclusion it was a give to Cornish for some more positive first down yardage.
Instead, the Stampeders handed the rock to Matt Walter who took it the house and froze the Eskimos defence, giving Calgary the lead. Those two sequences highlighted one of the great line battles we watched. The other one was a whole lot more even.
The scrimmage battles when Edmonton had the ball Monday afternoon were extremely well contested and we saw a ton of success on both sides. Early in the game, the Eskimos couldn’t seem to get a run game going because the likes of Corey Mace and Demonte Bolden were dominating in the interior. But then Hugh Charles started developing traction in the second quarter, going over 100 all-purpose yards in the first half alone.
The second half saw the Edmonton offensive line open things up nicely for Jerome Messam at times, but the Mace-Bolden duo also made life extremely difficult on other runs.
For quarterback Kerry Joseph it was much the same. He was given some outstanding blocks allowing him to run for 30 yards and a touchdown while also getting plenty of time in the pocket to throw for over 300 yards and a pair of majors. On the other hand, the Stampeders got to him plenty of times and finished the afternoon with three sacks.
All in all, that specific matchup was an absolute battle of attrition, one where you know the men involved were feeling after the fact. The fact I enjoyed it as much as I did is probably selfish. The fact I’m jacked up for these same scrimmage battles in the return meeting on Friday? That’s absolutely selfish.
Pat Steinberg is the co-host of the drive home program on Sportsnet Radio FAN 960 in Calgary. He also reports on the CFL and the Stampeders and hosts pre and post-game programs for the team. He looks forward to traveling to the Grey Cup every year. Follow Pat on Twitter @Fan960Steinberg.
|2||Blue Bombers||DE||Mulumba, Andy|
|3||Alouettes via EDM||LB||Edem, Mike|