September 26, 2011

Steinberg: Monday Morning QB for Week #13

Pat Steinberg

We talked about the Jekyll and Hyde aspect of some of teams last week, and we saw it once again this weekend. There really has been just one constant during the 2011 Canadian Football League season: inconsistency. 

As we move into the stretch drive, there are six, maybe seven teams capable of making a case for why they could be Grey Cup champions. More so this year than any I can ever remember, the team that is able to get something steady going late is going to be the team winning it all.

The champs

It was the Montreal Alouettes we’ve come to know offensively on Friday night in their 34-21 win over the Edmonton Eskimos, and it got me thinking about a number of things. First of all, the effort solidified my opinion of Brandon Whitaker, being that he is the best runningback in the league. 

On top of that, it was so good to see him rewarded with majors, as he finished with three touchdowns to his credit, his first multi-touchdown game of the season. For all of his work this year, Whitaker hasn’t seen many trips to the endzone, so that was nice to see. 

So much of his work goes unseen, specifically what he does as an extra blocker to Montreal’s pass pro packages. Whitaker doesn’t treat pass blocking as a necessary evil; he attacks it each and every time and has the ability to tee off on linebackers.
Loudest roar

The BC Lions are a scary football team right now, because they’re finally starting to get the most out of their talented lineup. They did two things very well in their 42-5 romp over the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Saturday afternoon. 

First of all, they got things done defensively, making life extremely difficult on all facets of the Riders attack. There was no room in the middle of the field, as the Lions basically took away any space between the numbers. Wes Cates couldn’t gain any traction running the ball, and BC’s playmakers were scary in how they swarmed to the ball.

Solomon Elimimian controls the game from his spot. He covers so much ground laterally in coverage and his amazing burst allows him to jump to the ball carrier in scary fashion. When you combine his explosiveness with BC’s effective scheming, there was no way it was going to be a good day for the Riders. 

The way Ryan Phillips and Anthony Reddick were used in an attacking role was also impressive. They played very shallow throughout the game which allowed them to limit Saskatchewan gains when passes were completed.

The second thing that was impressive was just how little the Riders had the ball. Part of the credit goes to BC’s defensive front, and the rest goes to just how efficient they were with the ball. 

The Lions held around a 13 minute possession advantage, with drives where you thought there was no way they were giving up the ball. 

Travis Lulay spread it around to seven different receivers, hooking up on some long passes, but mostly managing things very effectively. When the Lions are in a rhythm, they can be very scary on the attack.

I have to add one thing when it comes to the Lions, and that is just how good Paul McCallum has been this year.

Granted, BC could have had me kicking on Saturday and still have won by a long shot, but that’s not the point. McCallum is going on 30 consecutive field goals made, and he’s been exactly what the Lions have needed in both bad times and good.

In the red

So, I’m not sure exactly what I witnessed at Touchdown Atlantic in Moncton on Sunday, but it’s not what I’m used to when it comes to the Calgary Stampeders offensively. They were scorched through the air, they had trouble making stops on the ground, and it just wasn’t anything close to what we’ve seen from these guys on the field for most of this season.

Calgary’s defence has been the victim of a lot of short fields and an inconsistent offence for most of the season, but that really wasn’t as much a factor on Sunday. They just made too many mistakes caused by mental errors and eventually it went from errors to frustration.

In the end, they had 55 points put up on them, something we’re just not used to seeing from a Chris Jones coached defensive group.

That said, I’m not really worried about the Stamps without the ball and will chalk Sunday up to a bad day. However, I’m very intrigued to see what Calgary is going to do offensively going forward since they have a few things to figure out.  First, what the heck are they going to do at runningback? 

I’m still not convinced that head coach John Hufnagel’s decision to bench Joffrey Reynolds was the right one. I don’t think he should be punished for having gone down in numbers. Running stats are down across the league, which speaks to what’s going on defensively more than anything. 

Second, Reynolds has run behind an offensive line in flux, and a group that hasn’t been able to open consistent running lanes for him.

Finally, it’s tough to have a running game when your team tends to make a habit of trailing in the first half. 

I for one still think Reynolds is a top rusher in this league, and I think the team is worse off without him in the long term. I say that not only because he can still be a gamebreaker when carrying the ball, but also because he is close to the same caliber of blocker as the aforementioned Whitaker.

Second, I can’t figure out why Henry Burris is having such issues with his short passes, especially into the flat as of late. He’s either overthrowing guys or one-hopping them, and I’m starting to wonder if it’s in his head a little bit. 

The short passing game is vital to Calgary’s attack, so it’s something they’ll need to work out heading into their rivalry game with the Riders this weekend at McMahon.

No panic

I know the Bombers have lost three of four games, and their latest loss came at the hands of the CFL’s worst team, yet I’m not really all that worried about them. 

They were a beaten up squad against Toronto on Saturday, and were going to be hard pressed to win, and yet the Argos needed a single in the waning seconds to put them away. 

With names like Pierce, Brink, Brown and more sitting on the sidelines, not to mention Lobendahn injured prior, Winnipeg had an uphill climb regardless.

It was too bad seeing Pierce leave the game, as we’ve seen him play a good succession of games in a row without having to be pulled due to injury.

That said, I think head coach Paul LaPolice made the right call when he decided not to keep Pierce in the ballgame since his quarterback was suffering from some soreness.

“Buck said he was sore and wasn’t sure if he could scramble around so I said, ‘Get out, I’ll put Alex in,”’ LaPolice said. “I just wanted to protect him.”

The Bombers are going to the playoffs, and if they’re going to have success there, they’re going to need a healthy Buck Pierce there with them. That’s no knock on Alex Brink, who filled in well before he was knocked to the sidelines as well. 

However, Pierce is a real difference maker when he’s healthy. His accuracy is impressive and as we’ve mentioned before on the MMQB, he’s getting the ball away much, much quicker than he has in the past.

As the Bombers try to lock up first spot in the East Division, it’ll be very interesting to look at their schedule and how it shapes up. They’ve got two remaining contests against
the Alouettes, a team they beat the last time out. 

Winnipeg also has a game with Edmonton and a game with Calgary remaining. That’s not an easy haul, but the two meetings with Montreal could prove to be two of the most exciting games of the season.