You just never want to change the channel or leave early in this league. That was the case once again on Thursday night, as Montreal and BC gave us one for the ages to kick off Week 9 of the 2013 season. Between that thriller and the tight affair between the Riders and Eskimos that closed the week, we had two teams show us some good signs.
All in all, I think that’s a pretty good way to close out the first half of 2013.
No rhyme or reason
|Related: Week 9 Action|
Montreal vs. BC
Calgary vs. Toronto
Hamilton vs. Winnipeg
Saskatchewan vs. Edmonton
I’m still not quite sure how the Montreal Alouettes managed to pull off their 39-38 victory over the Lions to start the week.
I’m also still not sure how they lost their Week 8 game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders. I saw both of them start to finish as they happened, and yet I’m still shaking my head.
If your kids ever get the test question 20 years from now about how a team turns the football over six times and wins, all you have to do is write down “August 22nd, 2013”. So how does a team survive all that mismanagement?
On this night, it was special teams, defence, and an incredible catch in the waning seconds that allowed Montreal to accomplish that feat.
And hey, they should be proud of it, because it exemplified what we hear all the time about this great sport: play to the whistle.
I know they allowed 38 points, but this Montreal defensive group deserves a huge tip of the hat. It’s not like this is the first time they’ve deserved it, either. Entering Week 9, the Als were top four in almost every important defensive category.
We understand Montreal has struggled with consistency and health on the offensive side of the football, but this group has straight up brought it defensively.
There is one defensive category where the Als are dead last, but don’t let that fool you, because it was a huge reason why they were able to triumph over BC.
Montreal has now allowed a league-worst 25 field goals against, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Just like they did on Thursday night, the Alouettes have been able to limit damage on a consistent basis all year long.
Thanks to turnovers and poor offensive execution, Montreal’s D has had bad field position on far too many occasions this year. They allowed five Paul McCallum field goals on Thursday, mainly because they did a good job of clamping down as soon as the ball crossed mid field. The Als forced Travis Lulay overthrows and dropped balls as the field got shorter, and they deserve a lot of credit for that.
The Lions could have done a whole lot more damage otherwise with the amount of times they could have pounced…excuse the pun
On special teams, Sean Whyte was able to do the job when called upon, hitting four of five field goal attempts. He averaged almost 44 yards a punt on top of that and was a big reason why the Als were able to hang around.
And of course we can’t forget Tyron Carrier’s 90-yard kickoff return touchdown in the fourth quarter, a play that really swung momentum back Montreal’s way.
So, once again, how do you win a football game when you turn the ball over six times? You rely on your outstanding defensive group to do what they do, you get your special teams to bail you out time and again, and you cross your fingers and pray really hard.
The Calgary Stampeders had to deal with more than their fair share of injuries en-route to a West Division title last season. Apparently that spate of bad/good luck isn’t over, because the injury bug keeps buzzing in Cowtown.
Just as Als fans should be proud of their team’s win with all kinds of injury issues, so should Stamps fans after their team took an impressive 35-14 win in Friday night’s 100th Grey Cup rematch.
Calgary’s 21 point victory in Toronto happened without two of their most vital offensive pieces: Jon Cornish and Nik Lewis. Cornish, the reigning Most Outstanding Canadian in the CFL, missed out with a thigh injury and left the Stamps without a running back averaging more than 100 yards a game.
Lewis, on the other hand, is out long term nursing a surgically repaired fibula that was busted up last weekend against the Lions. Lewis has been one of the most durable players in this league for years, and is so often the straw that stirs Calgary’s drink.
So, what did the Stamps do against the Argos? They fell back on the old “next man up” line of thinking, and made it work to perfection.
Running behind an outstanding offensive line, Jonathan Williams and Matt Walter combined for 138 yards on the ground, making up for the loss of Cornish and his usual century mark of rushing yards.
At receiver, Calgary used an old favorite of Kevin Glenn to do most of their damage, while spreading the ball around effectively the rest of the way. Glenn and Marquay McDaniel spent a good chunk of time together in Hamilton, and Glenn was a huge part of McDaniel’s career 2010 season.
That year, McDaniel totaled almost 1,000 yards receiving. He’s not on pace for quite that much this year (currently McDaniel is on pace for 838 yards), but who knows how that could change.
Without Lewis for the foreseeable future, McDaniel becomes the main inside target for Glenn, if the quarterback can stay healthy. The team boasts big targets like Jabari Arthur and Greg Carr in the slot, but it’s McDaniel who has the most proven track record, and it’s McDaniel who knows the quarterback extremely well.
He could be a hugely important piece for the Stamps in the second half of the season.
Under the radar…kind of
Rider fans can skip over this section, because nothing I write here will be anything new to them. But it might be for anyone who doesn’t bleed green. The most intense spotlight in Regina has been on Kory Sheets during 2013, and so it should be.
The guy remains on record pace and put together another physics-defying performance against the Eskimos on Saturday afternoon (for the record, Sheets is now on pace for 2380 yards in 2013).
Flying somewhat under the radar, however, is the other huge name involved in that Saskatchewan attack: Darian Durant.
The Riders quarterback is quietly putting together the best season of his career, and shows no signs of slowing down midway through the year.
Durant has been a viable CFL starter since he burst onto the scene in 2008, and he’s given Rider Nation plenty of memorable moments. Unfortunately, a few of those moments have been memorable for the wrong reasons.
As well as we’ve seen Durant play at times during his six season run as Saskatchewan’s starter, we’ve also seen him prone to questionable decisions and key moments. That hasn’t been the case this year.
Through eight games and 201 passing attempts, Durant has yet to be picked off, a season-starting run we’ve never seen from him before. This isn’t altogether shocking, mind you, as Durant has seen his interception total drop each of the last three seasons.
In 2010, he was picked off a career high 22 times, a number that dropped to a career low 12 last year. You can see this trend is not a coincidence, as Durant has become a much better decision maker as he becomes more and more a CFL veteran.
Just as his mistakes have decreased, there’s clearly an instant correlation to an increase in efficiency. Durant was a career best 64.4 per cent passer last season, and he’s upped that by more than three full percentage points in 2013, clicking with receivers at a 67.7 per cent clip halfway through.
Plain and simple, Durant is seeing the field better, being more patient in the pocket.
Sheets confirmed to the MMQB on Twitter a few weeks back that he is indeed not from this planet (he says he’s from Mars). Saskatchewan’s running back is a massive reason why that team continues to pace the league at 7-1.
Make no mistake about it, though: Durant’s career best start and one of the best green starts in history go hand in hand.
This and that
I wonder what Jim Popp is thinking when it comes to his quarterback situation going forward. I know that Tanner Marsh completed a huge pass late in Montreal’s win over BC to set up a winning field goal, but his success was certainly fleeting.
Marsh was throwing up prayers all night, was picked off four times, and had ball security issues to go along with that.
Yes it was raining, and yes he was thrust into action on short notice, so some benefit of the doubt comes into play here. But the comfort level can’t be high right now, and it clearly wasn’t high as it relates to Josh Neiswander, who got just one quarter on Thursday night.
Do we see Troy Smith anytime soon? Montreal has been using a revolving door at the position the last three weeks anyway, so why not?
I don’t think anyone is surprised to see Hamilton where they are. Now at 4-4 and second in the East, the Tiger Cats won back-to-back games against the Bombers, as they were expected to do.
This team looks a whole lot better as they become healthier, but now have a true test in the offing. Hamilton will play two straight against the Lions and then travel to Calgary for a date with the Stamps.
We’ll get a much better idea as to where this group is once Week 12 is in the books.
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.