July 10, 2012

Cauz: Four plays that changed the game

Today’s column is brought to you by the following football cliché: Football is a game of inches.

Now the reason something is a cliché is that it is based in truth. I’ll give you an example, here is a cliché you have never heard: “Defence is over-rated if you want to win a Grey Cup you need solid guard play.”

With all due respect to interior lineman, no one has ever said that. Why? Because it isn’t true.  But many a football game can be won or at the very least greatly influenced on a single play.  I wanted to highlight four plays that either won the game for a particular team or were so magnificent they had to be mentioned.  

(1) Ricky Ray to Andre Durie.
This was a play a lot of people residing in Toronto have waited a long time for. It’s late in the 4th quarter, just moments earlier Toronto punts on a 3rd and one then Larry Taylor does Larry Taylor things, namely rendering 12 men useless on his 64-yard return.

The very next play Kevin Glenn easily finds Nik Lewis against Brandon Issac for a 25-yard touchdown.

Cue Ricky Ray.

First play after a nice Chandler Williams return Ray finds himself on his own 46 yard line with a minute to go.

The pass itself was nothing impressive; the ball traveled about 13 yards to a wide open Andre Durie. But it was Ray’s composure and pocket awareness that stands out.

Ricky was nearly sacked by one of Calgary’s better defenders, linebacker Malik Jackson.  Ricky managed to avoid the sack while keeping his head up to find the wide open Durie.  A scrambling quarterback is a wonderful weapon to have and fun to watch but the quarterbacks who can avoid pressure while still focusing down field are more far more dangerous.  

On the other end of that combination is Andre Durie. As someone who watched him dominate in college and then saw his career derailed with injuries it’s great to see him shed the label of hard luck running back and have it replaced with playmaker.

(2) The Brady Browne offsides penalty.

I hate focusing part of this column on the mistake of one player but sometimes it’s the little plays in the middle of games that make all the difference.  Despite the final score, Winnipeg was in this game.  Starting in the 3rd quarter, the Blue Bombers had managed to wrest much of the momentum away from the Alouettes by scoring the final ten points of the half.

Third quarter starts and, thanks to a drop by Jamel Richardson, Montreal went two-and-out and was forced to punt. This was the perfect opportunity for Buck Pierce and company to take the lead.  Instead Browne jumps a little too early, this leads to an offsides penalty, which sets up a 3rd and less than a yard which results in Adrian Mcpherson barely converting the 3rd down.

Four plays later, Calvillo hits Patrick Lavoie with a short pass and he rumbles his way 20 yards for a touchdown, 24-13, game over.  

(3) Chevon Walker is better than you.

There are some plays that cut through the clutter. Sports fan or non-sports fan it really doesn’t matter.  I was sitting on my couch watching the game with my girlfriend, I was recording it on PVR as I was feeling the effects of a long week of waking up at 3:30am + a nice combination of French wine. Clearly neither of us were giving the game our full attention.

Then Walker raced 95 yards for the score. Even the cleverest defensive scheme becomes moot in the face of such supreme skill. Both of us immediately woke up/sobered up.  Let’s move away for Walker for a moment and spread the praise.

Henry Burris’ patience paid off as he sucked in five Lions towards him before calmly delivering the pass to Walker. The Ticats offensive linemen also deserve credit.

How often do we see a lineman release too early, hold an oncoming rusher or tip off to the defence that a screen is coming?  Instead it was textbook blocking from snap to touchdown.
Finally there’s Walker. You know you have talent when you’re a stud high school prospect in Fort Myers, Florida and then recruited by the Florida Gators.  

Walker’s touchdown was the perfect mixture of patience and athleticism. Much like his lineman Walker let the play come to him, he did not outrush his blockers and then when he saw daylight he treated the Lions defence the way Usian Bolt treats a group of recent graduates from Jenny Craig. Yes the Lions won the game but that play stood out like no other from this past weekend.

(4) The Larry Taylor touchdown (I couldn’t resist)

Now I could go with the Kory Sheets fourth quarter touchdown run but I have a rule, if a game has 20+ punts I don’t feel any obligation to break down a single play.  

But there is one storyline I found very compelling. Reading Murray McCormick’s musing about the game he talks about Brent Hawkins giving the football he got on a second quarter fumble recovery to his fiancée Andrea Cecchini.

Hawkins shoulder injury kept him off the field for the 2011 season and his soon-to-be wife played a major role in his rehabilitation. I love that story! So sweet.  And in an era where we are inundated with stories of bad fathers like Antonio Cromartie and bad husbands like Tiger Woods it’s refreshing to learn about stories like this.

So in lieu of looking at a play from Eskimos / Roughriders game let’s revisit the Larry Taylor missed field goal return touchdown. Ha! You didn’t think I was going to skip the play that excited millions of Canadians and confused millions of American’s did you?

One way you can measure the explosiveness of a returner is by how far away they are from the goal line when you realize they aren’t going to be stopped.  You could tell by the 21 yard line, 89 yards away that he was going to score.

The majority of long return touchdowns have several highlight-worthy missed tackles. But with Taylor he is so fast and is so intelligent about the cuts he makes he really didn’t need any Herculean efforts to break free from the coverage. He can manipulate the entire coverage team with one shoulder fake.

Yes he displayed some nifty footwork at around the 20 but what I will remember was his ability to create a hundred separate special teams break downs in five seconds early in his return and then directing traffic near the of the return. How do you make a 125-yard touchdown return look so easy???