September 27, 2012

Cauz: Has Durant returned to All-Star form?


I know there are some Calgary fans upset over the officiating after some “missed” calls during their 30-25 loss to Saskatchewan. But I hope you won’t mind if I do not focus on what may have been missed.

It’s quite rare to see storylines about a running back overshadow those surrounding the quarterback in the CFL. But that is exactly what happened this weekend.

Going into the Stampeders vs. Roughriders game all the attention was on Corey Chamblin’s rather novel guarantee that Jon Cornish would not rush for 100 yards; and if by some fluke chance he did hit triple digits there would be cuts.

Personally, I loved this rather brazen proclamation, but then again I’m not a member of Saskatchewan’s defence.

While everyone was busy paying attention to how well the Riders were able to maintain Cornish, I noticed something that was somehow overlooked.

What slipped through the cracks was the mini comeback by Darian Durant. I know this is not exactly Peyton Manning coming to Denver, nor did Durant suffer a near career-ending injury but he is a former All-Star who has quarterbacked his team to two Grey Cups.

I was interested in seeing just how mobile Durant would be and what sort of game plan would Chamblin, Bob Dyce and Khari Jones implement for their returning quarterback.

» By the Numbers: Darian Durant
Passing Yards: 2,556
Passing TDs: 12
Completion %: 63.2
QB Rating: 90.3
Interceptions: 8

After watching and re-watching the game, it is clear that Durant’s mobility is not even close to where it needs to be for him to recapture his 2009 form. However, it is more than good enough to win.

This was never more apparent than in the first quarter on a simple eight-yard completion to Neal Hughes. On that play Durant escaped the Calgary rush and managed to convert the second down play. The burst wasn’t there but he had enough mobility and smarts to keep the drive alive; a drive that would lead to a touchdown seven plays later.

Durant’s velocity is also there. You could see that on several long out patterns, the type of route that so often leads to interceptions, Durant looked comfortable while hitting Scott McHenry on an 11-yard strike on that same initial touchdown drive of the first quarter.

Speaking of comfort, a telling sign for just how effective a returning quarterback will be is his ability to stand in the pocket and take a hit. The moment a quarterback starts to shy away from contact is the moment he can no longer lead men, he will no longer be an All-Star. With just over two minutes to go in the game, Durant hit Taj Smith for 13 yards while taking a hit from a blitzing Eric Fraser.
Speaking of Smith, and well you know how much I hate to pick on guys, but Durant’s numbers would have been even more impressive if he hadn’t dropped several passes. I counted at least three drops including two deep patterns and one potential touchdown pass that Smith dropped.

Now, on some of those occasions he did have to adjust his body to the route and one pass was broken up by a perfectly timed hit by Fraser, but if the ball touches your hand you should make the catch.

Durant finished with 264 yards and easily could have finished with well over 300.

Now while Smith struggled, it was good to see Durant and Weston Dressler were on the same page. The two hooked up on short passes all game long, keeping drives alive with Durant hitting Dressler in stride repeatedly. This is a good sign for all those fans that enjoy watching these two work together.

Overall, the coaching staff did a good job protecting Durant. He rarely was asked to throw deep, instead mixing a variety of short pass patterns with mostly three and five step drops. As for his mobility, Durant was effective keeping Calgary’s defence guessing with a myriad of bootlegs and roll outs.
Credit also needs to go to the offensive line that did yeoman’s work keeping Durant upright. This was most evident at the nine minute mark of the third quarter on an 18-yard strike to Dressler. Durant, on a play action pass, had enough time to scan the field while Dressler ran a long developing pass pattern that eventually led him to being wide open over the middle of the field.

The next play, Durant’s first touchdown of the game, was a perfectly executed slant pattern between the two.

One stat that every Roughrider fan was happy to see, was zero turnovers as Durant threw the ball away when necessary.

Now of course there is still much work to be done. For this offence to hit its peak they will need their quarterback to make big plays running the ball and the deep pass will need to be a part of the attack but the progress could easily be seen on the field.

Before I go here are three thoughts I could not ignore:

1) Charleston Hughes is an absolute beast. Yes, he didn’t have a sack but he was abusing linemen all over the field. Sorry for being Captain Obvious but it just needed to be said.

2) Love the versatility of Nik Lewis as the team lined him up as a tight end on several plays. Did not love his drop to start the fourth quarter. It’s just odd seeing him drop a pass.

3) That interception by Kevin Glenn is unacceptable. Glenn did not see Joe Lobendahn at all; easiest pick Joe will have all season. For Calgary to overcome all their injuries they’re going to need Glenn to avoid such mistakes.