The 2013 battle lines have been drawn pretty clearly in the Canadian Football League. With the results from Week 8, there’s no doubting which four teams are leading the way.
It’s also pretty clear that three teams are going to have to fight, scratch, and claw their ways through the rest of the season. That leaves one team very much in limbo, which might make for the most interesting group in the bunch.
A year of questions
It’s been nothing but questions for the Montreal Alouettes in 2013, and those questions are going to continue following their heartbreaking 24-21 loss to the Riders on Saturday afternoon. The newest question is very clear: What is happening at quarterback? And what is going to happen at that same position?
With Anthony Calvillo leaving Montreal’s loss with what many suspect is a concussion, all kinds of plans are now in flux. There’s no saying this early in the week whether the future Hall of Famer is going to play Thursday night at home to BC, but let’s assume the worst. If Calvillo isn’t able to go, even more questions will need to be asked and answered.
|Related: Week 8 Action|
First off, should Montreal go with Josh Neiswander? If you’re asking me, the answer should be no in ideal circumstances. I know he was thrown into action due to injury, and I know he was playing against a very strong defensive group, but I just wasn’t impressed with what I saw against the Riders.
It’s never easy coing in under the circumstances he did, but Neiswander didn’t show a lot of positive signs, even when taking into consideration the big picture.
Not only did Neiswander throw two interceptions, but far too often he made bad decisions without palpable pressure on him. On numerous occasions, the Texas product threw into double coverage, usually targeting S.J. Green.
Now, I get it; Green is one of the league’s best receivers and I’d want to let him do his best with the ball in his hands. But with a defence as good as Saskatchewan’s, they’re going to catch onto that trend very quickly.
Neiswander showed a lot of tunnel vision and would force the ball into bad situations to try and hit his intended target, which wasn’t always the smartest move.
Green finished with 146 yards. Had Neiswander hit him as many times as he looked at him, he was likely to go over 600 yards.
On top of that, Neiswander wasn’t throwing a ton of catchable balls. He ended with 18 complete passes, and many of those were thrown too hard or overthrown. When watching a quarterback in circumstances that are less than ideal, I always like to focus in on how smartly he throws the ball.
There just wasn’t a lot of touch on what he was slinging, and we saw a lot of balls bounce off receivers hands because of it.
I know that sounds like a very critical view of a guy in his first meaningful CFL action, but it’s really not. Neiswander is mobile and athletic and has the potential to turn into a decent pivot, but the problem is, Montreal doesn’t really have that time.
If Calvillo isn’t able to play this coming week and weeks beyond, you don’t necessarily have the luxury of developing someone under fire if you have alternate options. That’s where Troy Smith comes in.
Montreal signed the Heisman Trophy winner last week after coveting him for years. After some time away from football, it seems like Smith is ready to resume his pro career in earnest, and the Als couldn’t be happier. The former Ohio State Buckeye had a prolific college career and has been on Montreal’s neg list in the past, and now it seems like they truly feel they have a potential successor to Calvillo.
It’s not unheard of to see a quarterback join a new team and start a week later, which would have to be the case for Smith to start against the Lions. It’ll be a challenge, for sure. Montreal would have to give Smith a crash course on their playbook, but also an accelerated class on the nuances of the CFL.
We don’t have enough hands to count the amount of quarterbacks trained in four down football have issues north of the border. It’s not as simple as a bigger field and one fewer down; it goes much deeper than that. That said, knowing what we saw from Neiswander against Saskatchewan, Montreal doesn’t have a ton to lose.
On the other side of backup quarterbacks getting their chance comes Max Hall. The former BYU standout got his first CFL start for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in a 37-18 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to start the week. Hall finished with 241 yards on 18 for 30 passing and one touchdown to go along with a pair of interceptions. It wasn’t a an eye-popping line, but we did see some positive signs from Hall.
Fellow BYU alum Ben Cahoon said Hall threw a “catchable ball” prior to his CFL starting debut on Friday night, and that’s exactly what I saw from him.
He put good touch on short passes and lead receivers when trying to stretch the field horizontally. When the Bombers wanted to stretch the field the other way, Hall had the arm to get the job done.
Yes, I know he threw two picks and made some bad decisions, but that’s to be expected. What separated his outing from Neiswander’s was the subtle things.
He wasn’t trying to throw balls through his receivers, and he had a good vision of the field and put balls in good seams the majority of the time. I would like to see Hall get another shot in week nine when the Bombers contest their return matchup with Hamilton. It may not be up to him, however.
Winnipeg fired offensive coordinator Gary Crowton on Sunday night and replaced him with Marcel Bellefeuille in a move we can file in the “saw that one coming” category. When Bellefeuille was brought in to “assist and consult”, many believed it was only a matter of time before he was moved up the food chain. It didn’t take long for that ascension to come true.
Crowton was a guru south of the border, having offensive success at almost every stop. From Boston College, BYU, and LSU (among others) in the NCAA to the Chicago Bears in the NFL, Crowton helped offences click and pushed quarterbacks to new heights. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t a fit in the CFL.
In his two seasons with the Bombers, Crowton wasn’t able to draw any semblance of consistency from his offensive group. Part of that was due to a continued revolving door at quarterback, but handing the reins to a season offensive mind like Bellefeuille seems like the smarter move at this point.
Doing the limbo
There are a lot of good things to like with what is happening in Hamilton, specifically on the offensive side of the ball. Henry Burris leads the league in passing by almost 400 yards. He’s been able to use Greg Ellingson as a primary receiver, and as such, they’ve turned into one of the most potent hookups in the league. Plain and simple. Hamilton has lit opposing secondary’s right up with their potent passing attack.
The Tiger-Cats are also getting healthier. The return of Andy Fantuz is the most high profile addition to Hamilton’s lineup, and he was eased back into the attack on Friday night.
Late last season he and Burris seemed to really start to get on the same page, so there’s no doubting how important his return could be. The addition of Joel Figueroa on the offensive line is pretty important as well, as he’s made a noticeable impact in the two games he’s played.
However, Hamilton remains a work in progress without the ball. It seems like things are starting to take a turn for the better, but it’s tough to read too much positive into just one game.
And while the team can pass like it’s nobody’s business, they do have some trouble on the ground. I happen to like C.J. Gable and I think he’s got the potential to be a pretty dynamic back. As of right now, however, running the football hasn’t been the strongest suit for the Tiger-Cats.
This and that
Speaking of running the football, the league’s two big dogs at that profession had less-than-stellar weeks. League rushing leader Kory Sheets finished with 74 yards against Montreal, while Calgary’s Jon Cornish was held to 77 against the Lions. For all those who thought the lofty projections being thrown around are far too premature, this was your week.
That said, Sheets is still on pace for over 2300 yards while Cornish isn’t that far behind with a projection of over 1900 yards. I know it’s still really early, but I kinda want those projections to stay lofty.
Did anyone else enjoy watching Riders punter Ricky Schmitt as much as I did on Saturday afternoon? 27-year-old journeyman has been absolutely hammering things all season long, which continued the trend he started during the preseason. He’s leading the league averaging 45 yards a punt, but it’s the stupid hangtime he’s getting on his attempts that has made him effective as he’s been.
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.