The Canada Day weekend is supposed to celebrate our great country coast to coast but it was the West Division opponents sweeping their eastern rivals in convincing fashion. The defending Grey Cup champs are off to a good start, the Riders gave their fans some early positivity after the nightmare that was 2011, the Eskimos looked as stingy as last time we saw them, and the Stamps made quick work of a perennial powerhouse. Yup, we’ve got lots to cover as the regular season is underway!
You have to give the Stampeders some credit for how they were able to confuse their opponents, basically from start to finish. They racked up just one quarterback sack, but the Stamps had pressure all night long in the face of Anthony Calvillo and forced him to make numerous bad throws. Coverage was tight, mostly because the push up front from guys like Torrey Davis and Charleston Hughes allowed the secondary to bump and press Jamel Richardson and S.J. Green, thus neutralizing their physical advantage.
“We just came to play football,” linebacker Juwan Simpson told me in the locker room postgame.
“When you get 12 guys all with the same mindset, it’s hard to stop, so we had a good mindset, we prepared for them all week, we knew it was going to be a tough challenge…so I just think guys responded well.”
But Calgary wasn’t the only team getting the job done on the defensive side of the football. I don’t want to gloss over the lights out performance of the Riders offence, but I think I was more impressed with their work defensively in their 43-16 blowout of Hamilton. Besides, I don’t think the MMQB needs to come on here telling you how good Weston Dressler was.
Right away, you could tell there was something different on the Saskatchewan front, and it played a factor all game. I think Odell Willis played a big part, as big #11 on the right side looked like the impact player the Riders lacked all of 2011. Willis may not have showed up on the stat sheet when it was all said and done, but he was a big reason why Keith Shologan was in Henry Burris’s grill all night long, and a big reason why defensive coordinator Richie Hall had no qualms sending his linebackers on blitzes all night long.
While Burris racked up some yardage in the first half and the Tiger-Cats kept it close, the unrelenting push from that capable front made for a forgettable final two quarters. The Riders defensive backfield really answered the bell in the second half, acting as the perfect ying to the front four’s yang. Coverage became tighter and Burris’s progressions became more and more frustrating, because there weren’t very many open looks.
Edmonton’s 19-15 win at home to Toronto was much less resounding than Saskatchewan’s opening weekend win, but the Eskimos looked just as painfully frustrating to play against defensively as their West Division counterparts. Employing very similar schemes and philosophy from one year ago, Edmonton put on a tackling clinic and just didn’t let the Argos get their night in order when it was time to make a stop.
Lead by JC Sherritt’s 11 tackles, the Eskimos swarmed to the ball the same way they did en route to a home playoff date one season ago. It was a constant trait in Rich Stubler’s defence last year, and that carried over very noticeably with Mark Nelson’s group last night. That shouldn’t be a surprise. Nelson coached the linebackers last season and Edmonton saw a sizeable chunk of their tackles come from the middle tier of the defense. On Saturday night, the starting three of Sherritt, T.J. Hill, and Damaso Munoz combined for 22 tackles. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
I can’t remember the last time we saw a Montreal Alouettes offence look as out of sync as they did on Sunday night’s week one finale in Calgary. Attending the game in person, it just didn’t seem like the well oiled Montreal attack that we’ve come to know.
It started early on as Calgary opened an 18-0 first quarter lead thanks in large part to a Richardson fumble. We’re talking about one of the game’s most physically dominating receivers and a guy who rarely has the ball stripped from him. Well, it just so happened the ball was there for the taking on what seemed like a simple catch-and-turn for the Als, only down three points at the time. But what Juwan Simpson told me was a “routine tackle” turned into a forced fumble and a 63 yard return on the recovery for rookie safety Keenan MacDougall. And Montreal just couldn’t seem to reel it in afterwards.
Calvillo would throw two interceptions on just 174 yards and 16-for-31 passing Sunday night, and I can’t honestly tell you when I’ve seen him look as flustered as he did against the Stampeders. Some credit has to go to the home side, but it was the reaction from the all-time passing leader that really struck home with me.
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|