November 12, 2012

Steinberg’s Monday Morning QB: Semi-Final Edition

There’s no question the 2012 Western Semi-Final by far out-dueled its Eastern counterpart on Sunday afternoon.  Yet both games left us asking a ton of questions as Calgary and Toronto get set to hit the road to continue their post-season trip while Edmonton and Saskatchewan reflect on where things went sideways.

What did go wrong?

It’s going to take a while for the Roughriders to come to grips with what exactly happened at McMahon Stadium.  When Darian Durant found Greg Carr in the endzone to take a one point lead with less than a minute to go in the fourth quarter, it took a slight risk.

Leaving a sizable chunk of time on the clock for the highest scoring regular season offence in the CFL wasn’t the most desirable outcome, but Saskatchewan wasn’t going to complain after taking their first lead of the football game.

A look back at
the Western Semi

» Video: Saskatchewan at Calgary Recap
» Images: SSK at CGY
» View Game Stats
» Tate saves his best for last
» Riders witness two extremes in loss
» Video: Bryant’s 68-Yard Game-Winner
» Video: Greg Carr Leaps For TD
» Video: Tate To Arthur For 38-Yard TD
» Video: Mitchell’s 1-Yard TD Plunge
» Video: Sheets’ 11-Yard Reception TD
» Video: Sheets’ 3-Yard Catch-and-Run
» Video: Paredes’ 50-Yard Field
» Western Semi-Final Playoff Centre
» Preview: Saskatchewan at Calgary
» Tickets: Western Final in Montreal

It certainly wasn’t out of the realm of possibility to see the Stampeders get themselves into field goal range, and most people watching knew it.  Knowing Calgary could trot out Rene Paredes for a lengthy field goal made a one point Saskatchewan lead tenuous at best.  

But, what is going to frustrate Rider fans until July is not how much time was left on the clock, but instead, how little they made the Stamps use of it.
We all know a mistake was made on Drew Tate’s 68-yard hookup with Romby Bryant, and that mistake will haunt the Riders defence for the next number of months.  

And while that play is going to be the resounding image for the rest of the off-season in Regina, it’s not the only instance where mistakes killed Saskatchewan.
Calgary’s first touchdown was aided largely by 45 yards in Rider penalties thanks to a span of four plays where the defence committed three major fouls.  That same drive started with a 15-yard no-yards penalty that gave the Stampeders good field position, so it could be argued Calgary was gifted more than half the field to take their first lead.
The second quarter could have been a huge one for the Riders, in fact.  Eliminating those aforementioned penalties would have been a start, but it goes beyond that.  Allowing Keon Raymond (block) and Fred Bennett (return) to team up for a blocked convert return turned a 17-14 lead into a 16-16 tie.  

Just moments later, the Riders fell asleep at the wheel when they allowed Jon Cornish to rattle off a 29-yard run which was designed to simply run out the clock.  Instead, Paredes was given the opportunity to nail a 50-yard field goal at the end of the half.  Knowing the season he just completed (93% accuracy), there wasn’t much doubt there.
All in all, Saskatchewan did a lot to put themselves in a situation to win this football game.  I know Maze is going to have nightmares about a red #83 jersey eluding him down the sidelines for a long time, but he needs to realize one thing.  
The Riders did a lot to shoot themselves in the foot earlier in the game.  Maze’s gaffe was just one of many on Sunday afternoon.
As for the Eskimos, it’s a little easier to pinpoint where things went wrong in their 42-26 Eastern Semi-Final loss to Toronto.  Why?  Simply put, what plagued them Sunday was the same thing that killed them over an 18-game regular season.  

Edmonton could not keep the Argos off the field because they couldn’t stay on the field themselves.
Playing without Most Outstanding Player team nominee J.C. Sherritt at linebacker, the Eskimos hung their defence out to dry the same they did for the better part of the regular season.  

Plain and simple, Edmonton didn’t manage the ball anywhere near effectively enough to win a CFL football game.
Things started in such promising fashion, too.  The Eskimos opened the game with an 11-play, 91-yard drive that displayed exactly how they were going to have success.  They ran the football effectively with Cory Boyd and Hugh Charles, they set up high percentage plays for quarterback Kerry Joseph, and they got a big play.  

But even without that 46-yard run for Charles to get the drive into the red zone, Edmonton was moving the football in a slow and steady fashion.  For one drive, that is.
Following their opening shot across the bow, Edmonton didn’t put together a drive of more than five plays for the rest of the first half.  And, hey, their defence held up throughout the first quarter as well, because that’s what good units do for as long as they can.  

Eventually, though, the dam had to break because there just isn’t enough support to keep it standing.  Support in this case comes from an offence that can move the ball long enough to provide somewhat of a rest.
The Eskimos D finally eventually gave in on the first drive of the second quarter, one that saw Ricky Ray hook up with Chad Kackert for a game-tying major.  How did Edmonton respond?  With a 38 second drive that didn’t see them move beyond their 25 yard line.  

That’s not going to inspire any type of confidence defensively, and not surprisingly, the Argos scored again on the very next drive.
The MMQB isn’t going to be winning any Nobel Peace Prizes for this thesis statement: the Edmonton Eskimos need a quarterback.  Head Coach Kavis Reed made the right call when he tipped Joseph as the starter, but therein lays the problem.  

When a 39-year-old pivot who hasn’t played a playoff game since 2007 is your best option, it tells you exactly where you are.
Alas, many questions have to be answered in the proper manner this winter for the Eskimos to rebound effectively.  Not only do they have to address the elephant in the room at the quarterback position, they also have to make sure important defensive pieces like Sherritt and TJ Hill are back in the fold next year.  That task might seem like a walk in the park when compared to figuring out who is going to lead the offence next season.

Now what?

For the victorious Stampeders and Argos, the question becomes very simple: what more do they have to do in order to advance to the 100th Grey Cup?  This is not meant as any disrespect to the East Division Champion Montreal Alouettes, but I don’t think there’s any question the task looms more difficult for Calgary.  

As such, they’re the team that is in need of the biggest improvement looking ahead to next Sunday.
Don’t get me wrong, the Stampeders did plenty right in their home win over the Riders.  They made the right call at quarterback and Tate proved it as the game moved along.  

While it took him a few series to get right back into it, Tate looked pretty darn good in his first full game since week one of the season.  More than anything, he showed off one of the elements that put him over the top in the debate between himself and Kevin Glenn.
On numerous occasions, Tate was able to elude pressure and extend plays using his ability to scramble outside the pocket.  On some of those occasions, his pass fell incomplete.  On two specific occasions, however, he made big plays that continued (or finished) drives.
Tate’s throw on the run to Jabari Arthur in the second quarter might have had a little luck added to the mix, but it doesn’t change the fact he turned nothing into something.  

Tate dodged a few tackles, put himself in a spot where he could avoid a sack at the very least, and decided to try a shot to a tall receiver in single coverage.  While it was a pass lacking ‘oomph’, it still found its way to the endzone and into the arms of Arthur for a 14-3 lead.
A similar play, this time moving to his left, kept a touchdown drive alive in the third quarter.  This time with a ton of pressure from all sides, Tate was able to keep a play alive long enough to find Maurice Price for a 22-yard gain.  

The hookup got the ball into Saskatchewan territory at a point in the game where things were separated by just three points.  Bo-Levi Mitchell would eventually finish the drive off with his second touchdown plunge of the game seven plays later.  Those type of plays are why Tate started the game over Glenn.
So what does Calgary need to do better against the defending Grey Cup c
hampion BC Lions this coming Sunday?   

A look back at
the Eastern Semi

» Video: Toronto 42, Edmonton 26
» Images: EDM at TOR
» View Game Stats
» Ray gets redemption over old team
» Owens picks his spot with huge TD
» Joseph on Nichols: ‘He will be back’
» Video: Owens’ 59-Yard Return TD
» Video: Koch Reels in 11-Yard TD Pass
» Video: Kackert’s 12-Yard First Half Major
» Video: Maurice Mann’s 11-Yard TD
» Video: Ray Calls His Own Number
» Video: Kackert Notches His Second TD
» Eastern Semi-Final Playoff Centre
» Preview: Edmonton at Toronto
» Tickets: Eastern Final in Montreal

First off, they need to limit big plays against.  Weston Dressler finished with 153 yards through the air and deserves a ton of credit for his big afternoon.  But Calgary also made things a little too easy on the diminutive Riders receiver and his counterparts.
On five separate occasions, the Stampeders gave up plays of 30 yards or more, two of them to Dressler.  Against anyone, that’s just not going to cut it, whether it’s the BC Lions or not.  The Lions finished with the best record for a reason, and they will make the Stampeders pay for missed tackles on a more deadly scale than Saskatchewan did.

Can Calgary beat the Lions at BC Place?  Of course they can, it’s the 2012 CFL season.  When it comes down to it, though, the Lions are a better team at their best than the Stamps are at their best, I believe.  For Calgary to overcome that, they’re going to have to limit mistakes on their end at all costs while hoping for a few from BC.

How does Toronto beat Montreal in the East Division Final at Olympic Stadium?  They do it by doing the same things they did against the Edmonton Eskimos.  By doing that, they won’t open up a 31-7 halftime lead this time around, because the Alouettes are a far superior team to the Eskimos.  But the blueprint was laid for how the Argos are going to have success for the rest of the post-season.  If they follow it, they’ll have a great chance at pulling an upset.

Offensively, they came with a conservative, but effective, game plan.  Quarterback Ricky Ray didn’t complete a pass longer than 28 yards against Edmonton, but he also only threw seven incomplete passes on 30 attempts.  Toronto came with good balance, allowing Ray to spread the ball around to six different receivers and also keeping running back Chad Kackert involved heavily with 19 touches.

The only thing they might need to do a little more of this coming weekend is involve the big play.  

Montreal has the ability to bring a little more pressure than what we saw from Edmonton, and Ray might be well served by trying to keep them honest.  Taking a few shots deep down field might just do that.

Defensively, Toronto was the model of efficiency, especially in the first half when it mattered.  What happened in the final 30 minutes is almost immaterial because the game was so far out of reach at halftime.  The Argos covered extremely well and made life pretty darn difficult on Joseph at quarterback.

By mixing up their coverage packages, Toronto forced a lot of incomplete passes from Joseph when there simply wasn’t anything to throw at.  The Argos played simple but that did the job.  Once again, however, they might need to add a few more wrinkles if they’re going to frustrate Anthony Calvillo at the Big ‘O’.

While Toronto applied decent pressure on Joseph against Edmonton, they also were facing a quarterback who is much less patient than Calvillo.  While Joseph would elect to get rid of the football to avoid losing yards or forcing a play, AC is much more likely to hit his third or fourth progression with a pass simply because he cycles so much quicker.

Joseph was throwing the ball away or over receivers when there wasn’t much pressure applied at all.  That’s just not going to be the case with Calvillo.  Toronto is going to need to keep mixing their coverage packages up, but they’re also going to have to find a way to cause more disruption at the point of attack.

So while the Argos laid the blueprint against the Eskimos, there’s always room for structural additions.  Without them, they risk their building collapsing when faced with a much stiffer test in the form of the high powered Alouettes attack.