October 15, 2012

Steinberg’s MMQB: The Playoffs are coming

We all know how important being on a roll is heading into the CFL playoffs. Getting hot at the right time is more of a factor in the CFL than in any other professional league, and there are candidates aplenty for that title this year. With Week 16 in the books, maybe we’re seeing two more teams starting to heat up at the most opportune time.

The right stuff

For old times’ sake

Kerry Joseph

Kerry Joseph seems to be recapturing some of that 2007 magic, when he won Most Outstanding Player while leading Saskatchewan to a Grey Cup Championship.

By the Numbers: Kerry Joseph

When the MMQB advocated on Kerry Joseph’s behalf during Edmonton’s Labour Day home-and home series with Calgary, we had no idea the results were going to be this good.  After throwing three more touchdowns in an Eskimos 37-20 win over Saskatchewan on Saturday, Joseph now has six majors since returning to active duty last week against Hamilton.  I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Edmonton has won two straight since his return.

I don’t think seeing Joseph resembling his 2007 form is going to be the norm down the stretch, but then again, I don’t think that’s what the Eskimos need from him either.  If you’ll remember, the reason I thought he was the best choice available for Edmonton at quarterback wasn’t his ability to shoot the lights out like he has.  Don’t get me wrong, the Eskimos will take it any day of the week, but I think his contributions go deeper than just his impressive touchdown total and his 639 passing yards in two games.

First off, I don’t think there’s any question Joseph brings poise to any offence once they’re on the field.  Whether a guy played in the league when he was Most Outstanding Player in 2007 or not, you can’t help but notice how Joseph carries himself like a guy who has been there before.  Whether he’s on his game like he was Saturday or not, Joseph always runs the offence with confidence which absolutely spurns that same confidence from the guys around him.

Most importantly, though, is how Joseph manages the ball within his limitations.  Look, the guy just turned 39 years old.  He’s going to understand what he can and cannot do on the football field at this point in his career.  So, he’s used the talent around him and made smart decisions with the ball.  It’s not a novel concept at all, but it’s something that hasn’t been done with anywhere near enough regularity in Edmonton this season.

Joseph will take an incomplete pass if it means avoiding throwing the ball into pressure, and he’ll take what’s given to him.  Hamilton allowed Fred Stamps to catch the ball all day one weekend ago, and so Joseph took that look all day long to the tune of nine receptions, 204 yards and a touchdown. 

One week later, Stamps was only targeted five times, catching three balls for 34 yards in the process.   But, when Edmonton’s best receiver was open in the end zone, Joseph found him for a 22 yard major on a perfectly placed pass.

The Eskimos went two-and-out just twice on Saturday, and one of those was at the very end of the game and doesn’t really count.  Is it any surprise that their defensive group looked as good as they have all year long, against a team that had been lights out the prior two weeks?  It shouldn’t be.

Joseph isn’t always going to run the Edmonton offence at such a high paced clip.  However, I do think that you can expect him to manage the football effectively more often than not.  That means limiting turnovers like he has, and extending things beyond two and four plays on successive drives.  With a defence as good as what the Eskimos possess, putting them in a good spot to do their thing is a very good recipe for success.  Adding in a bunch of offensive fireworks like they’ve done the last two weeks is just icing on the cake in my books.

Line up

While watching week 16 end yesterday afternoon, I was struck by how true the saying “some things change, some things stay the same” really was.  In Montreal’s 24-12 win over Toronto, sure I was uttering that phrase to myself in reference to Anthon Calvillo and Jamel Richardson.  More than anything, though, I was thoroughly impressed at how the Alouettes offensive line still gets things done with such a startling amount of efficiency.

The Als attack wasn’t anything overly spectacular on Sunday afternoon, but it did the most important thing: allowed their much improved defensive group the best chance to get their job done.  Montreal only went two-and-out on four occasions, and two of those came very early on.  With only two such drives sprinkled into the final three plus quarters, it was pretty clear the team was moving the ball on a fairly effective basis.  Here’s where the offensive line comes in.
Defensively, Toronto had a really strong game.  They did an excellent job in coverage and managed to pressure Calvillo in the pocket with different blitz packages throughout the afternoon.  Plain and simple, the Argos made it tough on the Als high powered attack, and they deserve a lot of credit for the job they did.  But, it’s the little things in the trenches that allowed Montreal to extend drives.

I’ll give you two examples.  The first was on Eric Deslauriers’s 47 yard reception down the left sideline in the first half.  I know Toronto only sent three on the rush, but even with that, they were doing a good job in making the pocket collapse around Calvillo. 

With left tackle Josh Bourke under pressure from Ronald Flemons, and with two big bodies close to converging on the Montreal quarterback, it was a simple, heads up play that allowed Calvillo the extra second, and extra foot of breathing room, to complete his pass.  That simple play was made by Andrew Woodruff at left guard and it was a subtle reason why the Als offensive line continues to get the job done.

The second example was a little less resounding than the first, but it still had an impact in Montreal’s win.  After the Als D forced a turnover on downs late in the fourth quarter, they needed just one more first down before it was time to move into the victory formation.  With the Argos clearly ready to stop the run, they had no answer for how Montreal controlled the line of scrimmage.  Chris Jennings picked up 12 yards on two carries and sealed a huge win for the Als.

Things weren’t perfect for them, and I wouldn’t even say Sunday was the best game Montreal’s o-line has played this season.  But watching them do their thing week after week is a lot of fun, because they do the little things so well.  Those sometimes unnoticed details can be huge factors in a win.  They certainly were yesterday.

Quick hits

Speaking of Edmonton, I have to quickly point out how refreshing it was seeing Hugh Charles touch the ball as much as he did Saturday.  In racking up 152 yards on the ground on 17 carries, he showed a lot of people what many Eskimos fans have known all year long: this guy is as dangerous a playmaking threat as there is right now.  Excluding this past win, I think Edmonton can use him a lot more than they have.  If they’re going to want to have a shot at winning a playoff game, I think they’re going to have to.

Having Romby Bryant heavily involved in the Calgary offence is something that has some pretty big benefits.  In Saturday’s 32-21 win over Winnipeg, those benefits were on full display.  As the leading Stampeders receiver, Bryant did two things.  First, he took a ton of pressure off Nik Lewis and Marquay McDaniel, who have become the seeming two favourite targets for quarterback Kevin Glenn.  Second, it gave Calgary that big play ability that they sometimes miss.

Both Lewis and McDaniel have big plays in them, and we’ve seen that this year.  But neither guy has the type of blazing speed possessed by Bryant, and neither guy can stretch the field the way he can.  Bryant was targeted on Calgary’s first offensive drive and numerous times throughout the first half.  Teams know he can open things up downfield, and that leaves McDaniel and Lewis both open underneath for good possession catches.

Oh, and BC won again.