It was easy coming up with things to write about while watching Week 5 action in the Canadian Football League. My mind was instantly drawing parallels while watching both quarterbacks play in BC on Friday night.
The Week 5 opener in Edmonton saw some risky decisions end up backfiring. And two teams seemingly on the mat got back up and delivered an impressive shot in the arm to their season. All things considered, I sure did like what we saw!
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I’m sure some Eskimos fans are still lamenting a few of the risky play calls that ended up going against their team on Thursday night. After all, the decision by Head Coach Chris Jones to fake a punt late inside their own 10-yard line ended up costing Edmonton seven points.
Their choice to go from the shotgun on second-and-inches late in the fourth quarter similarly didn’t work out as planned. In a game that ended 26-22 for the visiting Stampeders, decisions like those end up being easy to pinpoint.
Yet, we here at the Monday Morning Quarterback are looking at things a little differently. Yes, the Esks suffered their first loss of the season, and yes things might have been different had one or two things gone differently. But we’re looking at the bigger picture.
Edmonton now sits with four wins and one loss on the season, and much of that has been because of their aggressive nature. They’re extremely aggressive on the defensive side of the ball, leading the league with nine interceptions.
The Eskimos get after opposing quarterbacks, they’re not afraid to let Mike Reilly stretch the field with his arm, and they have seen many so-called risky moves pay off. It’s extremely important to remember that.
This is a revamped Edmonton team that looks legit through five games, despite falling to their provincial rivals. They could easily have beat the Stamps on Thursday, and with two more meetings to come, who knows how the season series will end up. The Eskimos look like a legit team in large part because of the way they play, and that comes right from their coach.
Jones is an extremely intense individual, and that’s been the case going back to his days in Montreal. Edmonton is playing an intense brand of football. When you play on the edge like these guys do, sometimes a few decisions may backfire.
But with this group, it’s important they keep on making risky calls, because it’s helped get them where they are. That means, as a fan, you’ll have to accept a few misses every once in a while.
Drew Willy has been one of the most talked about players in 2014, and that has been no different on Monday’s in this column. We’re going to talk about him again, because it sure was cool to see him help the Bombers get back on the winning side of things on Friday night.
Willy was solid and composed in a 23-6 win over the Lions, missing on just eight passes all night.
But it was more than that for me. Watching Willy lead the Bombers to their fourth victory of the season was neat because of the guy he did it against.
Kevin Glenn has had his problems in his first season with the Lions, and some of them were on display at home to Winnipeg. He was outduelled by Willy on the other side, and spent far too much time on the BC Place turf when he was in control. But it was the fact that Willy bounced back against Glenn that had me thinking.
It’s been a long time since fans in Winnipeg could be as excited about a quarterback as they are right now. In fact, you probably have to go back to 2008, which was the last time the Bombers had an established, consistent, durable number one quarterback. His name? Kevin Glenn.
Since Glenn was released by Winnipeg following the 2008 season, it has been an extremely rough go at pivot in Manitoba. Stefan LeFors lasted one season. Buck Pierce was really fun to watch and extremely dynamic, but couldn’t stay healthy. Alex Brink, Joey Elliott, Max Hall, and a handful of others were never able to truly run with the opportunity they were given.
Willy is trying to end that bad run. He’s five games into his CFL starting career and still has work to do to establish himself as an unquestioned number one. But he ticked off another box on his checklist Friday night, bouncing back from a rough game the week prior.
He just happened to do it against the last guy to be a true number one quarterback in Winnipeg.
Beyond the obvious
Kudos to new running back Will Ford and his three-touchdown performance in his Riders debut Saturday night. I don’t want to write too much about him, though, because the last time I wrote about a new running back in Saskatchewan, he was cut a day later. So, Mr. Ford, good on ya and welcome to Regina, you made a very impressive first impression!
I want to pinpoint another player that stood out to me in that 37-9 Riders win over Toronto. Let’s look at what we saw from receiver Taj Smith. He only caught two passes for 43 yards, but showed us, once again, how he’s turning into a very dynamic receiver in this league.
His 35-yard reception in the latter stages of the second quarter took some real concentration and some real ability. He had Jalil Carter all over him in tight coverage and had to reel in a ball that was hammered in there by Darian Durant. He made the catch and he set Ford up for his second major of the night. But his season to date deserves a little more recognition.
Remember, the Riders don’t have Weston Dressler in 2014, which adds a ton of responsibility to the entire receiving core. That responsibility becomes even heavier when you take into account four first year CFL’ers on the active roster right now. Oh yeah, and Chris Getzlaf has played just one game this season due to injury.
Currently, Smith is the only familiar target for Durant, yet he’s had to be careful in using him. Opposing defences know who to key in on, and Smith is getting the tightest coverage he’s ever seen in his career.
He’s on pace for slightly fewer catches and yards than he accumulated last year, but his yards-per-catch average is up by more than three yards. When the ball comes his way, he’s making his touches count.
As it stands, Durant doesn’t have the luxury of always looking for Smith, and has to use some of his other, less experienced targets. But when Getzlaf returns to the lineup, all of a sudden there are two dynamic receiving threats in green.
And all of a sudden, Smith gets freed up for a few more looks per game. The way he’s been playing this season, that’s a dangerous prospect for Saskatchewan opponents.
First off, can I say how much fun I have watching CFL games play in non-traditional venues every once in a while? Ideally, yes, the Tiger-Cats would be playing in their new stadium.
But seeing a jam-packed Ron Joyce Stadium at McMaster house them in the short term made for cool TV. I loved the Lions at Empire Field, I loved the games in Moncton, and Hamilton’s 33-23 win over Ottawa on Saturday night had a cool feel as well.
It was probably aided by a pretty decent Tiger-Cats performance, as they picked up their first victory of the season. It was a win that saw Hamilton recognize their weaknesses and adjust accordingly.
To be perfectly honest, the Ticats offensive line has been subpar to say the least this season. They’re learning and they’ll improve, but right now, they’re not protecting well enough. So, the Hamilton offence adjusted.
How do they do that? First, they installed the right quarterback (for the time being), and allowed him to succeed. Zach Collaros is the guy, we know that, but in his absence, Dan LeFevour makes more sense than Jeremiah Massoli.
After choosing the right guy to start, Hamilton also put LeFevour in a place to succeed by coming up with the right scheme.
En route to passing for 361 yards and a touchdown, LeFevour was asked to get the ball away quickly. If your line is struggling in pass protection, don’t call plays that ask for five step drops. LeFevour used plenty of three step drops, made some pretty rapid reads, and got the ball away quickly.
The scheme also allowed LeFevour to run when he saw fit. The Central Michigan product pulled the ball down 13 times to the tune of 109 yards on the ground. Some of those runs were by design, and some were out of necessity when protection broke down.
But it doesn’t matter; the game plan allowed for LeFevour to use his speed to help move his team forward.
He also helped himself by playing it safe. Rarely has a Hamilton quarterback had the time to drop back and fire one down the field. So, instead, LeFevour used his check-downs very effectively.
It just so happened that some of those safe plays ended up going for big gains, but even if they didn’t, LeFevour managed the ball well.
How else do you combat a suspect offensive line? You use plenty of misdirection in the run game. C.J. Gable and Brandon Banks didn’t see a lot of traditional handoffs up the gut.
Instead, the Tiger Cats saw some big yardage on counter plays to stretch things to the outside. Gable and Banks added 88 more yards on the ground to LeFevour’s impressive total, as Hamilton finished with 197 total rushing yards when it was all said and done.
Was all of this work aided by a suspect Ottawa defence? Yeah, that probably added to some of the gaudy totals. But the Tiger-Cats still came up with a good game plan that addressed one of their biggest weaknesses right now.
For the time being, Hamilton might have to remain creative offensively until the big men up front give them enough confidence to be more traditional.
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.