With Winnipeg ending their losing streak on Friday night and Edmonton continuing theirs on Saturday, the Canadian Football League is as wide open as it’s been all year long. The crossover is by no means a guarantee and it’s fair to say all eight teams have legitimate playoff hopes with just one third of the season left to play.
Signs of improvement
First off, credit goes once again to the BC Lions for their league leading ninth win of the season on Saturday night. In their 19-18 victory over Edmonton, they executed when they needed to most and now have a two game cushion for top spot in the West Division. But we spend enough time extolling BC’s virtues in this column.
Let’s focus instead on their opponent. Taking away their humbling loss to Hamilton last week, the Eskimos have lost three of their games in this four game losing streak by a combined four points. It would be totally understandable if a great deal of frustration was to set in, but we believe that a lot of good things were shown on Saturday night.
More than anything else, Edmonton moved the ball consistently. It’s a trait that hasn’t been there anywhere near enough this season, but I thought Steven Jyles did a nice job managing the game and helping keep his defense off the field. While the Eskimos went two-and-out on four separate occasions, they did them in a fairly spread out fashion.
It is not coincidence, then, that when Edmonton’s defence was at their most potent in the first half, the offence were only two-and-done on just one occasion. The Eskimos do have a strong defensive group who play a tenacious style. However, because they play such a high octane brand, they can wear down if they aren’t allowed to reset on the sidelines for more than a few moments. They got a whole lot more of that on Saturday, especially in the first half, and it’s the biggest reason why they looked a whole lot better.
One of the most frustrating things about the 2012 campaign for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers has been Buck Pierce. But it isn’t frustration just because he’s been in and out of the lineup all season long or that his team has just three wins. More than anything else, it’s been frustrating because of how big a fan of his we are here at the MMQB.
I truly believe Pierce has the tools and the capability to be a premier quarterback in this league. However, it is impossible for that to happen knowing the amount of time he’s missed this season, and in prior seasons. Talking about Buck’s injury woes is tired and played out, and that’s not what this chunk of the article is going to be about. It is, however, one of the more unfortunate realities of the last few years in the CFL.
Recap: Hamilton 12, Winnipeg 34
What I’ve always liked about Pierce is his decision making while in the pocket. He cycles through his progressions in a smooth fashion and is one of the more accurate pivots we’ve seen in recent years. In Friday’s 34-12 home win over the Hamilton Tiger Cats, we saw that on display in fine fashion.
Pierce spread the ball around to six different receivers while completing 21 of 31 passes for 288 yards. He did all that with a great deal of composure. Pierce’s accuracy comes from his patience and his ability to move off his primary receiver very quickly. He’s always read coverage very well, and as such, he can recognize when to check down in a soft zone and when to exploit something down the field to a third or fourth option. All of that was showcased against Hamilton, albeit in a more subdued fashion.
There have always been two drawbacks to Buck Pierce at quarterback, though. First of all, he’s always been a tad reckless. Pierce recognizes a collapsing pocket or good coverage very well and I’ve always felt he picked his spots to make something happen himself very well. However, his desire to gain that extra yard or two has far too often led to a big collision thanks to a defender smelling an opportunity to pop a quarterback.
That’s why it sure was refreshing to see a big fat zero on the board under Pierce’s name for rushing yards on Friday night. As much as you don’t want quarterbacks, or any successful player for that matter, to change the way they play, sometimes they simply have to. Pierce has to recognize that remaining in the pocket is his best bet, even if it means a few more incomplete passes.
Secondly, Pierce has long had a bad habit of holding onto the ball too long. Earlier we highlighted how his patience can be a virtue. That’s very true, until he becomes too patient. While he’s always had a good knack of knowing when to pull the ball down, he’s also been prone to wait a little long in waiting for things to develop. It’s a very admirable trait, but he has to find a happy medium. Hamilton recorded four sacks on Friday night and at least one of them could have been avoided with a simple pass thrown out of bounds.
The moral of the story from this vantage point is simple: throw more incomplete passes. Sure his completion percentage will go down, but he’ll take a whole lot less punishment at the same time. If given a choice between Pierce throwing at 65% for half the season or 60% for the whole season, we’d take the latter every time. If Pierce can find a way to do the same, I think Bombers fans will be pretty darn happy with their quarterback.Defensive case
They were plenty motivated heading in, and that motivation seemed to really pay off for the Saskatchewan Roughriders defense on Sunday afternoon. Prior to their 30-25 win over the Calgary Stampeders, Corey Chamblin laid out one of the more creative challenges we’ve heard in some time. The Riders Head Coach guaranteed he’d be making a roster cut if Stamps running back, and CFL rushing leader, Jon Cornish went over 100 yards on the ground. Who knows how much Chamblin’s gauntlet played into what happened on the field, but the Riders D sure does deserve some credit.
Give Joe Lobendahn a ton of credit on the Cornish front. He spearheaded the Saskatchewan effort to slow down the man who put up 157 yards on the ground in Calgary’s last trip to Mosaic. Give Lobendahn a ton of credit. When the Stampeders released him earlier this season, I really thought his days as an impact linebacker were dwindling.
Recap: Calgary 25, Saskatchewan 30
He’s found new life in Regina, though. At the mike linebacker position, Lobendahn has tackled well (five on Sunday including two on Cornish), but it’s been more than that. On Sunday, he played his angles perfectly and did a nice job of forcing Cornish into the solid tackling arms of linebacker cohorts Diamond Ferri and Tyron Brackenridge. The three of them combined for 16 tackles against Calgary, and Lobendahn played a big part in that.
Sunday also saw the best game in green thus far for Odell Willis. Don’t get me wrong, because the former Mayor of Swaggerville has been an impact player all season long for the Riders. Against the Stamps, however, he took it to a different level. Willis played a big part in limiting Cornish to 67 yards, but also made things difficult on quarterback Kevin Glenn all afternoon long.
Even though he’d like to have his fourth quarter late hit on Glenn back, that doesn’t take away from how often Willis was around the Stamps pivot from start to finish. He finished with one sack and could have had at least one more as Calgary just couldn’t seem to come up with an answer for him. Willis had his biggest presence in the backfield all year long and was another huge reason why the Riders were able to snap their seven game losing streak to the Stampeders. Maybe Chamblin needs to make job related guarantees every week.Big loss?
I won’t spend too much time on Ricky Ray right now because we don’t know how serious his apparent knee injury is. Toronto’s quarterback was hurt early on in their 31-10 loss to Montreal on Sunday afternoon and didn’t return. I sure hope he’s able to get back on the field in short order. The Argos have been one of the league’s best stories this year, and Ray has been the biggest part of their offensive turnaround.
Even though he doesn’t have the passing yards of Calvillo or the touchdowns of Burris, Ray has been outstanding nonetheless. He leads all regular quarterbacks in completion percentage and would get my vote for Most Outstanding Player at the two-thirds mark of the season. I say that mainly because of how he’s transformed an offence that floundered for much of last season into a pretty well rounded unit.