September 6, 2011

Steinberg: Monday Morning QB for Week #10

Pat Steinberg

We’re a little later this week by virtue of the long weekend, so it’s the Monday Morning Quarterback… on Tuesday! There were some very good performances and some emotional wins, but Week 10 of the Canadian Football League season wasn’t full of the fireworks some were expecting heading in. 

That said, things are super tight atop the West Division once again while the East Division continues to have all kinds of intrigue and jockeying. Many believe the real CFL season starts after Labour Day, so things are setting up pretty darn good.

Great taste, less filling?

It was Miller time on Sunday afternoon as the Saskatchewan Roughriders made Ken Miller’s return a successful one in a 27-7 beat down of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

First of all, the importance of the Riders win cannot be underscored enough. Saskatchewan couldn’t afford to lose again, especially with five of their final games against the Eskimos, Stamps and of course one more with the Bombers. It was a heavily emotional win, and the Riders certainly displayed some reasons to be encouraged going forward.

Those bright spots came on both sides of the football.

Defensively, it was their best showing of the season, without question. Winnipeg didn’t waver from their plan to run the ball, handing off to Fred Reid on 14 occasions, but it was the Saskatchewan defensive front that kept his average per carry around two yards. They were tough on the line of scrimmage, and very, very strong in the secondary. 

DBs like Tristan Jackson were smothering all day long, and Jerell Freeman’s fourth quarter interception was the exclamation mark (even though he’s a linebacker).

When defensive coordinator Richie Hall dialed up his tight, bump and run coverage, the talented group of Winnipeg receivers had a tough time coping. The Riders defensive backfield has had some tough, tough outings this season, so a game like that was really important for them.

On the other side of the ball, seeing a pair of Chris Getzlaf touchdowns has to be an encouraging to Rider Nation. His rather lackluster campaign to this point has been a large reason why the attack has been fairly stagnant.

With him more involved and not dropping the football gives Weston Dressler more frequent open looks. Otherwise, it’s very easy for a defence to shade towards number seven when he’s the only one consistently providing game breaking potential.

Darian Durant may not have had an incredible game, but he threw for three touchdowns and completed passes when it mattered most. All in all, Saskatchewan has a lot to feel good about heading into the rematch on Sunday.

Not so Classic

The annual Labour Day Classic at McMahon Stadium between the Stamps and Eskimos hasn’t been so thrilling as of late, and Monday’s 35-7 Edmonton win carried the trend forward.

There’s little doubt in my mind who won the day for the victors: the Eskimos defence was beastly all afternoon long, setting up their shorthanded offence with some very, very favourable situations.

It was a pair of linebackers getting the job done, with third year man Rod Davis leading the way. Davis was around the football all day long, making life extremely difficult for Joffrey Reynolds, Jon Cornish and the Calgary running game while also wreaking havoc in the backfield. 

He was a presence all day, clogging up the middle of the field, and allowing names like Greg Peach and Marcus Howard to really do some damage on the outside. Stamps quarterback Henry Burris was on the run all day long, thanks in large part to the disruptions by Davis and what the Eskimos did on the edge.

“We came out with a great gameplan,” Davis said on the field following the win. “The guys stuck together and executed, it didn’t go as to plan at the beginning of the game what we wanted to do, but we stuck in there, displayed heart, and played four quarters.”

The win was sweet for the Eskimos, since they’ve now won the season series with the Stampeders and have evened things on top of the West Division.

However, it has to be even more sweet knowing what happened last year: both Davis and Peach were members of Edmonton’s squad that was beaten 52-5 by their provincial rivals.

“Last year is last year,” said Davis. “This year we came out and we did what we had to do to get this one win, we know we have them on Friday and we know they’ll give it all they’ve got and we’ve just got to come out and play hard and hopefully get the same outcome.”

Peach also had a lot to say about the win.

“One of the best wins of my career, by far,” Peach said on the field.  “Its momentum, really, I mean we’ve got this series, now we’ve just got to finish it off.”

The Eskimos get their chance to finish it off on a winning note on Friday night.

An unhappy bunch

Calgary’s four game winning streak was snapped by the last team that beat them, with the Stamps dropping to 0-2 this season against their neighbors to the north. However, it’s the way they were beaten that seems to be sticking in their craw.

Plain and simple, the Stampeders were beaten in all three phases of the game. While the Eskimos deserve a ton of praise for their performance, the focus in the Calgary locker room was not on their opponents.

“Very disappointed with our football team, all three phases,” head coach John Hufnagel told the media.

“Our offence after that one drive; we never did give our returner much of a chance to do something once he caught the ball; defensively we held the fort in the first half, we put our defence in poor field position and they did some good things; second half not so good and we wore down and Edmonton came down here a hungry football team and they took it to us.”

The offence started out just fine, in fact putting together a very impressive drive on their only scoring play. On that drive, the Stamps went downfield with Henry Burris going eight for eight passing, finishing with a Nik Lewis major. At that point, Burris was nine for ten overall; the rest of the day, he’d go four for thirteen.

“I gotta play better,” Burris said. “I started pressing there towards the end when we weren’t getting some things done and got a couple interceptions but hey, it’s a long journey, there will be games like this throughout the season but we’ve gotta learn from this, put it behind us, because we’ve got a big game up there on Friday and we gotta come out there and play our ball because that definetely wasn’t our football.”

Runningback Joffrey Reynolds didn’t get anything going on the ground, with the Edmonton front playing strongly all night. However, he is one of the guys to look to in the Stampeders dressing room when things don’t go the way of his team. Monday was no different.

“It was a horrible performance from our offence,” Reynolds told me. “We didn’t do anything and we have a quick turnaround on Friday and for us it’s a big reality check and I just think we’ll see what this team is made of by taking a shot like we did today.”

Nothing doing

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats didn’t do anything overly crazy in Monday’s early game, but they got the job done offensively when they needed to. What struck me most about Hamilton’s 44-21 rout of Montreal was not so much what they did with the ball, but what the Als didn’t do when they had it. 

After losing a tou
gh game in Calgary, Montreal could not seem to move the ball with any type of consistency, and it gave the Ticats short fields time and time again. Seven punts from Sean Whyte? That’s something we’re definitely not used to seeing from the Alouettes.

They just couldn’t seem to get anything going, and their inability to turn Avon Coborne’s second quarter fumble into any points spoke to that loudest.

However, as much as Montreal was unimpressive, you’ve got to tip your hat to Hamilton. While Montreal failed to score on three separate occasions in their jumbo package, they did run into a damn good defensive stand.

That stand saw Luc Mullinder carry a ton of the load, helping on a huge tackle on second down, while allowing Carlos Thomas and Kyle Jones to make huge tackles on first and third down respectively. It had to feel nice for Mullinder, who was unable to catch on with the Als earlier this month when he was dealt by the Riders.
Speaking of sticking it to your former team, Cobourne’s strong afternoon paced the Hamilton offence, which didn’t put up overly large numbers because they didn’t have to go all that far most of the time.

Because they had great field position all day long, quarterback Kevin Glenn’s numbers look fairly pedestrian, but he did a great job getting the team down the field regardless of where they started. It was an efficient afternoon for the Tiger-Cats attack, but they did what was most important: cashed in when they had the opportunity.

The Lulay show

I’ve said on our radio show here in Calgary a few times that of the three teams under the .500 mark right now, the BC Lions have the best chance of turning it around. I know it sounds easy since they did the same thing last year and seem to have developed a reputation for starting slow, but that’s not really the main reason.

I feel like there’s too much talent for BC to not be more competitive, and that talent was on display to kick off Labour Day weekend on Friday night.

In their 29-16 win over the Toronto Argonauts, quarterback Travis Lulay displayed what he has to offer at the position, and affirmed why head coach Wally Buono has been adamant about his man all year long.

Lulay’s arm was on display, as he spread the ball around in very impressive fashion, utilizing seven receivers in the process. His accuracy and poise were the most noticeable traits, as he went through his progressions quickly but not frantically, and had no problem going to his second or third look.

When the Argos were able to get some pressure on him, Lulay made things happen on the run, and most importantly made smart decisions. He decided to not take undo risks when receivers weren’t open. He threw for one major and ran one in himself as well, showing he’s a danger when things break down in the red zone.

The best part about wins by the Lions and Riders is that things are still very much up in the air for the final West Division playoff spot. Sure, they only have five wins between them, but Saskatchewan and BC play twice more this season, and they both are 100% in the playoff hunt. 

And let’s not forget the two win Argos are right there too. A bit of a run and all of a sudden that East Division crossover becomes a little bit more of a factor.

Therefore, even though there are three teams way back in the hunt for division crowns, we have eight teams legitimately fighting for six CFL postseason spots. We wouldn’t have it any other way.