November 26, 2012

Steinberg’s MMQB: Argos play smart, win big

It is entirely fitting that the 2012 CFL season concluded with an unexpected champion.  The last 23 weeks have proven just how unpredictable and exciting our brand of football can be.  It was one of the most mind blowing campaigns in the history of the league that saw even the most seasoned gamblers pulling their hair out.  

More on the 100th Grey Cup

Headlines and Stats:
» View Game Stats
» Kackert named Most Valuable Player
» Foley named Most Valuable Canadian
» Landry: Owens outstanding despite injury
» Team first mentality leads Argos
» Horne’s interception TD a game changer
» Rugged defence anchors Grey Cup win
» Clock strikes twelve on Glenn’s GC bid
» Home soil gives Argos advantage
» Team-first mentality leads Argos to glory
» MMQB: Argos play smart, win big
» Preview: Calgary vs. Calgary
» 100th Grey Cup Centre

» Recap: Toronto 35, Calgary 22
» Owens Opens Scoring For Argos
» Pacino Horne’s 25-Yard Pick Six
» Inman Strikes For Argos TD
» Durie Dives Into the Endzone
» Ricky Ray 1-on-1 Post-Game
» Chad Kackert 1-on-1 Post-Game
» Ricky Foley 1-on-1 Post-Game
» Chad Owens 1-on-1 Post-Game
» Ejiro Kuale 1-on-1 Post-Game
» Jordan Younger 1-on-1 Post-Game
» Stampeders Post-Game Reaction
» Milanovich’s Post-Game Reaction
» Hufnagel’s Post-Game Reaction
» John Hufnagel’s Pre-Game Speech
» Scott Milanovich’s Pre-Game Speech

» Grey Cup Halftime Show
» 100th Grey Cup Images

In the end, it was the perfect game plan for the Toronto Argonauts in front of their home crowd that got the job done.  In the end, it was a team stringing five consecutive wins together when things were at their most important.  In the end, it was the team with more Grey Cup’s than anyone else who rightfully earned the privilege to raise the historic trophy in the air to celebrate 100 years of tradition.

Perfect planning

The blueprint for Toronto’s win was laid out for everyone to see on Sunday afternoon, and it was mightily impressive.  Offensively, we didn’t see much deviation from the script that saw them put up good points in the two prior playoff games.  

Quarterback Ricky Ray did what he always does: keeps defences off balance by deceiving elusiveness in the pocket and perfect reads across the middle of the field.  The offensive line, much maligned throughout the entire year, held a sack happy Calgary front at bay for a large portion of the game.  

And running back Chad Kackert turned in an MVP worthy performance on the ground (more on him later).  Offensively, the Argos didn’t reinvent the wheel.  Instead, they stuck with what they needed to do and executed as flawlessly as you can.
Things weren’t quite as simple defensively.  You could tell just how prepared Toronto was right from the very get-go of this game.  You could tell how studied they were, and you could tell how motivated they were.  

In limiting Stampeders runningback Jon Cornish to just 57 yards on 15 carries, the Argos had to be doing something special.  But what exactly were they doing?
I watched Chris Jones coach the Calgary defence up close and personal for his entire tenure with the Stampeders.  That’s why I couldn’t help but chuckle and nod my head while watching his Argos D go to work.  

The two hallmarks of a Jones-coached group were on display in full force: tireless preparation and a fierce swarming mentality.  These have been elements on display at other times during the season, don’t get me wrong.  It was just emphasized on a much larger scale at Rogers Centre.
You could tell how well prepared the Argos were by the way they played Cornish.  The West Division’s Outstanding Player is dangerous at all times, but never more dangerous than when he plants his feet and explodes off his first cut.  The issue for him Sunday was getting to that first cut.  

Cornish does such a good job running the ball outside because once he changes direction, his burst is so explosive that defences can’t adjust in time to prevent a long gain.  What Toronto did, however, is shadow him perfectly from start to finish.

When the Stampeders elected to run the ball off-tackle, the Argos had it sniffed out so quickly that Cornish couldn’t plant his feet and drive in a new direction.  Toronto was able to do it by using their speedy linebackers and linemen to spy laterally, always awaiting that explosion.  

I believe it’s a big reason why Calgary was hesitant to keep running the ball outside as the game progressed

This was just as prevalent when Cornish tried to take the ball up the middle.  He’s an extremely patient back and uses his stutter step to explode through the line better than any other in this league.  Once again, the Argos had this scouted perfectly.  Toronto was not hesitant whatsoever in letting Cornish dictate where he’s going.  

While somewhat risky, the Argos committed very early to Cornish’s line anticipating his stutter thus not allowing him to achieve that burst through the line.  The amount of prep work that went into what seemed like an instinctual result must have been enormous.
Jones also preaches flying to the football.  Using Cornish as an example once again, that’s exactly what you saw throughout.  The Calgary tailback is extremely difficult to bring down one-on-one, as the BC Lions learned one week ago.  

Instead, once Cornish ran into trouble getting his feet set, the Argos made things worse by having defender after defender launch themselves into the battle.  Heck, aside from Nik Lewis’ one big gainer, they did this every time any Stampeder playmaker had the football.  

We shouldn’t be surprised, because it’s what Jones is to a T.  But it doesn’t mean it’s any less impressive to watch.

What went wrong?

I want to preface this next blurb with one thing: Toronto was the biggest reason why Calgary struggled mightily offensively.  Being that this column emanates from Cow Town, I want to make sure all due credit goes to the winning team here.  

The Argos played a brilliant game defensively that went beyond what was outlined above.  Yet, if you’re a member of the Stampeders, you have to be wondering to yourself why things didn’t click anywhere near as well as they did one week prior.
First and foremost, it came down to Kevin Glenn.  Calgary’s quarterback had his career defining performance against the Lions in the Western Final.  To have expected him to have a repeat performance was probably unlikely, and wasn’t absolutely necessary for the Stamps.  

What they needed was a calm and composed Glenn, the same Glenn they had for good chunks of the regular season.  His cool demeanor is what defined him throughout the regular season, and I really didn’t think I’d be asking this question: was the moment too much for Glenn?  We’ll never know whether the pressure of playing in the Grey Cup played into his struggles, but it’s a fair question to ask.
Glenn struggled right from the very get-go despite solid protection up front.  He was nowhere near as accurate as he was against the Lions and he made another killer decision in the first quarter.  Against BC, a pick-six was responded to with an impressive touchdown drive immediately following.  Against Toronto, a first half interception returned for a touchdown was met with a prompt two-and-out.  That’s really all you needed to know.
Glenn over and under threw receivers and didn’t get a ton of help from his targets.  He just wasn’t in sync whatsoever, which is really too bad.  It took Glenn four teams and more than a decade in the league to reach his first Grey Cup as a starter, and it just didn’t go the way he had planned.  Having an injury force him out of the 2007 game, he was a feel good story in so many different ways heading into Sunday.  His fairytale ending will have to wait.
Calgary’s anemic attack wasn’t aided at all by some odd play calls throughout.   The redzone end-around call to Romby Bryant in the latter stages of the second quarter comes to mind immediately.  It lost the team eight yards and guaranteed a field goal as opposed to a shot at six.
The Stampeders struggled with penalties for much of the regular season but really seemed to get on top of things as the season came to an end.  Their discipline was very impressive come playoff time and was at its best in the Western Final when Calgary didn’t get flagged until the fourth quarter.  

The Stamps got dinged 11 times Sunday, many of them at extremely important times.  It seemed even as Glenn got into a groove, any rhythm would be snuffed out with a momentum killing infraction.
and simple, Calgary didn’t play their best when they needed to.  The Toronto Argonauts executed at about as high a level as you possibly can in all facets of their game.  The Stampeders simply did not after having such success team wide against BC.  

I would have loved to see both teams firing on all cylinders in this one, as I think it would have made for a truly classic game.  That said, I can’t comfortably say the result would have been any different regardless of what Calgary had done.  Toronto was simply the better team from start to finish, and that likely would have been the case regardless.

Answered question

Should we be surprised with the performance of Chad Kackert?  No.  The MMQB talked about why he might be exactly what the Argos were looking for when he took over for Cory Boyd much earlier in the season.  

The diminutive back put up great numbers in his final season at New Hampshire and showed that he could handle a heavy load in the backfield.  Before he got injured in the regular season, he was showing some great promise and picked right back up on that in the playoffs.

Unanswered questions

1.     Did Calgary let the moment get the better of them?  Much like with Glenn, we’ll never know, but I would tend to say that it didn’t.  The Stampeders were immune to distraction all year long, and I just don’t think it was the reason why they lost on Sunday.  There could be a number of potential reasons why they didn’t come ready to play the same way they did a week prior, but lack of focus isn’t one of them that I buy.

2.    Who is Calgary’s quarterback next year?  It was one of the interesting underlying stories leading up to this game back here.  What if Kevin Glenn leads the Stamps to a Grey Cup win?  Should it be Drew Tate or Glenn in 2013?  My gut says it’ll be Tate because he’s the guy they pegged as the quarterback of the future.  His injury issues this season, however, may make the Stampeders a little more hesitant in that decision.

3.    I hate to rub salt in the wounds, but the question has to be asked.  Ricky Ray joined a new team this season and transformed them unlike any one player has transformed a team that I can remember.  To me, he was the league’s Most Valuable Player this year, because he did so many things on and off the field for Toronto.  The fact they gave up so little for him still blows my mind.  I don’t think we’ll ever quite understand Eric Tillman’s full rationale for pulling the trigger on that deal such a short time ago.