November 19, 2012

Steinberg’s MMQB: A weekend worth remembering

Neither of Sunday’s Division Final games were decided by more than a touchdown, which is just the way it should be.  The Toronto Argonauts and Calgary Stampeders advanced to the 100th Grey Cup by winning close, nail biter games.  

Now, as we look back on the penultimate weekend of the 2012 season, we can’t help but hear the countdown clock ticking to Grey Cup game day in less than a week.

Eastern Promises

More on the Western Final

» Images: CGY at BC
» View Game Stats
» Video: Glenn Finds McDaniel For TD
» Video: Banks’ 77-Yard Pick-Six
» Video: Price Hauls in 29-Yard TD
» Video: Bryant’s 57-Yard Major
» Western Final Playoff Centre
» Preview: Calgary at BC

Many of our esteemed columnists had Toronto winning the Eastern Final prior to Sunday’s game.  I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can tell you why I thought there was a good chance of an upset.  I felt the Argonauts had done some nice things down the stretch and their first string offence seemed to be firing on all cylinders.  

That offence came to play at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.
In Toronto’s 27-20 win, a very important thing happened.  More than anything else, the most integral parts of their attack laid it all on the line.  It starts with Ricky Ray.  

This column has shown nothing but love towards this guy all season long, and for good reason.  He has almost singlehandedly transformed an offence that sputtered at best over the last number of seasons.  Against the Alouettes, Ray did what he does best: share the spotlight.
Yes, he threw for almost 400 yards and a touchdown while missing just nine passes.  What sets Ray apart from most other quarterbacks in this league, however, is his ability to have us talking about everyone else but him at the end of the game.  

Chad Owens racked up 207 yards on 11 catches and turned in a performance that cemented his position as the East Division’s Most Outstanding Player.  

Chad Kackert showed us why Cory Boyd was expendable with a touchdown and 139 rushing yards on 13 carries.
Yet, it wouldn’t have been possible without the calm, cool, and collected performance of the quarterback.  Ray’s lightning quick decision making and his pinpoint accuracy made it possible for the Argos to exploit looks underneath and to keep the Montreal front honest on the ground.  

Things were happening so quickly through the air that handing off the ball to Kackert seemed to really stun the Als defenders, the same way quick passes into the middle tier of the defense did.  Ray is no stranger to playoff games, and showed us all why he’s also no stranger to postseason success.
The solid job Toronto did defensively brought two names to the forefront for me: Scott Milanovich and Chris Jones.  Why?  It’s simple: they drew up the perfect game plan to go against Anthony Calvillo and the Als offence.  

Let’s not forget that Milanovich was the offensive coordinator in Montreal for the prior three seasons, working side by side with the greatest quarterback of this era.  It is also pertinent to point out that Jones was the Als defensive coordinator from 2003 to 2007 where his units worked against Calvillo in practice nonstop.
So what exactly did the Argos draw up that worked so successfully?  More than anything, they were sneaky.  Take for example Calvillo’s third quarter interception.  The Argos rushed five as usual and Marcus Ball looked like he was going to stay in the middle of the defensive stack.  

More on the
Eastern Final

» Images: TOR at MTL
» View Game Stats
» Owens breaks new ground in Argos win
» Close loss tough to swallow for Alouettes
» Video: Jennings Rumbles For Major
» Video: Montreal Alouettes Goal Line Stand
» Video: McPherson’s Touchdown Plunge
» Video: Inman Evens The Score
» Video: Kackert Bolts 49 Yards for TD
» Eastern Final Playoff Centre
» Preview: Toronto at Montreal

Instead, he dropped back into coverage and suddenly what looked to be a throw in single man coverage turned into a pass thrown into Ball’s zone coverage sphere.  Plain and simple, Toronto baited Calvillo into throwing the ball right where they wanted it.
Jones’s defensive scheme was sneaky all afternoon long and it forced Calvillo to throw a good number of incomplete passes to go along with the two interceptions that were forced.  The way the Argos utilized their linebackers in and out of coverage (funny enough, it was Ball and Robert McCune with the picks) was just one of the not-so-subtle ways they confused their opponent on Sunday afternoon.

How the West was won

Could Sunday afternoon’s performance from Kevin Glenn be the defining moment of his career to this point?  It very well could be, even as much as Calgary’s quarterback would like to do it one better against the Argos in less than a week.  

Aside from Glenn’s impressive numbers (three touchdowns and 303 yards on 15 for 24 passing), there were two things that impressed me above all else when watching him against the BC Lions.
First, Glenn did what he has been doing all year long: played a game where nothing rattled him.  He was cool as a cucumber when he found out the news that Drew Tate was injured heading into yesterday’s game, the same way he displayed an aura of calm when Calgary’s starter went down in week two of the season.  

So should anyone be surprised when that same poise is displayed in game action?
Glenn started the game in outstanding fashion, hooking up with Marquay McDaniel on a 68-yard touchdown strike.  But he gave those points right back when he gift-wrapped Korey Banks an interception which was ran back to the house to the tune of 77 yards.  

It was a horrible decision that could have set certain pivots back for a few series.  Not this guy and not on this afternoon.
The very next drive Glenn had the Stampeders right back on top with a 29-yard major strike to Maurice Price.  It was a series where Calgary went 75 yards downfield to respond, and a drive where Glenn didn’t throw an incomplete pass.  It was another example of how the veteran just doesn’t let his focus get skewed, even when many think it might.
Second, Glenn displayed something that we hadn’t seen a ton of from him this year: the ability to extend plays long enough to finish off meaningful completions.  I’ve got two good examples for you.  The aforementioned Price touchdown comes first, where Glenn eluded the impressive BC pass rush and threw cross body to find his receiver wide open in the end zone.  

His third quarter flip pass to Jon Cornish on 2nd-and-12 was just as impressive.  Glenn scrambled away from pressure and probably would have been well served to just chuck it away and get his team ready to punt.  

Instead, he had the awareness to look for his check down (who did a great job of making himself visible).  In this case, he was fortunate that his check down was the most explosive running back in the country.
Plays like that were what put Tate over the top in the mind of Head Coach John Hufnagel when he made the decision to give him the start ahead of the Western Semi-Final.  Well, Glenn showed us, at least for one afternoon, he’s got that same ability to extend plays.  

It may be the most impressive performance in the journeyman career of Kevin Glenn, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Give Dave Dickenson some credit as well, as Calgary’s offensive coordinator had the stones to dial up some gutsy looking plays.  Nothing was more risky than Bo-Levi Mitchell’s play action fake on 3rd and 1 that found Price for a long gainer that set up one of Calgary’s two third quarter touchdowns.  

The Stampeders offensive line came to play and they kept the sack-happy Lions front at bay from start to finish, not allowing a single sack.
Defensively, it was almost night and day from their win over the Riders.  Calgary was nowhere near as susceptible to the big play, and they weren’t making the boneheaded tackling mistakes they were a week prior.  

Deron Mayo took the place of Juwan Simpson at mike linebacker and was a huge part in holding Andrew Harris to just 33 yards rushing.  

The Stampeders didn’t allow a passing play longer than 26 yards, and a huge part of that was their improved tackling.  Against the likes of Kackert and Owens in the Grey Cup, that theme is going to have to continue.

Three unanswered questions

1.     Was Travis Lulay more hurt than perhaps we knew?  I wonder, because the reigning MOP didn’t try for a long ball until late in the game.  Calgary brought it in impressive fashion defensively, but it was a little odd to see BC so reined in with some of the playmakers they possess.

2.    Was Sunday the last time we’ll see Anthony Calvillo suit up?  Of course the Als quarterback wasn’t going to answer following a heartbreaking loss, but every year it’s a fair question to ask.  After sustaining closes losses in their last two playoff appearances, maybe this year is it?  If it isn’t, don’t be surprised if he’s the same Cal next season.

3.    Did Montreal and BC suffer from having a week off?  With Montreal, I don’t think so, as they started the game in impressive fashion and didn’t seem to be showing any signs of rust.  The Lions, however, seemed to be out of sync with and without the ball.  To see their defence lit up for long balls the way they were was shocking.  They allowed by far the least amount of passing touchdowns in the regular season, yet looked like they could be thrown on all game long.  The Lions seemed indifferent down the stretch, and I don’t think sitting around for a week helped them one bit.  It’s funny, because of the two teams, I thought that factor would affect BC a whole lot less.