August 18, 2014

Steinberg’s MMQB: Dissecting a wild Week 8 Gagnon

The gap between West and East during the 2014 Canadian Football League season widened even further over the weekend.  

After Week 8 featured only inter-division matchups, West Division teams are now 20-3 against their Eastern counterparts.  

So, with that fact addressed, we can get into the most compelling of the storylines from the longest week of the season.

Now what?

The ever-evolving quarterback situation in Montreal took two more turns over the weekend.  Prior to their 16-11 setback in Regina on Saturday night, the Alouettes placed Troy Smith on the six game injured list. 

Related: Week 8 Action

Edmonton vs. Ottawa
» Esks defence shines in win
» Highlights: EDM 10, OTT 8
» Reilly, Esks show their mettle
» View Game Stats
» Images: EDM at OTT
» Video: Carter’s Spectacular Grab

Calgary vs. Hamilton
» Stamps coast by Tiger-Cats
» Highlights: CGY 30, HAM 20
» Mitchell heaps praise on Charles
» View Game Stats
» Images: CGY at HAM
» LeFevour leaves game with injury
» Video: West grab sets up TD
» Video: Stamps vs. Ticats recap

Winnipeg vs. Toronto
» Argos shut down Bombers
» Highlights: TOR 38, WPG 21
» Rogers: Grigsby fine with stat line
» View Game Stats
» Images: Winnipeg at Toronto
» Steele runs wild in Argos win
» Video: Steele Rumbles for Six
» Video: Kohlert hangs on
» Video: Bombers Post-Game

Montreal vs. Saskatchewan
» Riders edge Als in Saturday action
» Highlights: SSK 16, MTL 11
» View Game Stats
» Photos: Alouettes vs. Riders
» Must Watch: Carter’s 122-yard TD
» Video: Rob Bagg’s 30-Yard TD Grab

BC vs. Toronto
» BC surges late, down Boatmen
» Highlights: BC 33, TOR 17
» View Game Stats
» Images: BC at TOR
» Video: Arceneaux Puts Argos Away
» Video: Brown Return Sets up Logan TD

Then, they gave Alex Brink his first start in Als colours in an effort to earn their second win of the season.
Brink was just okay, throwing for 187 yards and an interception on 19-for-31 passing against the Riders.  In a lot of ways, that’s nothing to be ashamed of, as the Saskatchewan defensive group has been extremely formidable in recent weeks.

I mean, let’s be honest: John Chick is virtually unblockable right now and it’s tough to be an opposing quarterback at Mosaic on the best of days.
But this whole situation still remains up in the air for Montreal.  First off, let’s not forget that even at 1-6, the Alouettes are still very much a playoff hopeful team.  Decisions they make right now aren’t the same decisions you’d be making as a 1-6 team in other CFL seasons.  

Head Coach Tom Higgins is still coaching with only right now in mind, because right now, they’re a win away from being alone in second place in the East Division.
Even knowing that, though, I still think Tanner Marsh needs to be someone considered heavily.  To blame Brink for Saturday’s loss to the Riders is unfair, because it’s not all on him and he probably deserves another game.  

But let’s not forget what we said a few weeks ago, because it still holds true: Brink is what he is.  He’s a 28-year-old journeyman who has value, but is unlikely to ever be a fulltime CFL starter.
If Brink doesn’t impress and the Als lose again on Friday night in Winnipeg, there’s really no reason not to give Marsh his shot.  Yes, Montreal still is playing for a playoff spot, and yes you still have to make decisions based on what is best for your team right now.  

But playing Marsh may very well be a good right now decision, and knowing that he’s just 24 years old, it also has plenty of benefit down the road as well.

Revolving door

Is anyone surprised that Hugh Charles had a productive debut as a member of the Calgary Stampeders? If you are, you shouldn’t be, because that’s what the Stamps have made a habit of doing this season.  

Charles was their fourth starting running back of the season, following Jon Cornish, Matt Walter, and Martell Malllett. And, once again, the Calgary offence didn’t miss a beat.

Charles ran for 102 yards on 14 touches in just his second bout of game action this season.  If you remember, he played one game for the Roughriders earlier on before being released and catching on in Calgary shortly thereafter.  

After a stint on the practice roster, Charles got back into game action and looked exactly like the guy the Stampeders were hoping for: A motivated, hungry tailback.

So how does Calgary keep getting solid performances out of their running backs, regardless of who they are? There are a few different reasons, starting with great scouting.  

Head Coach and GM John Hufnagel knows the nature of this game, and knows that counting on any one player at a position wouldn’t be a smart bet.  So, instead, he hedges his bets and cultivates a very deep roster at every position.  

That’s why when Charles was available; Calgary pounced, even though they already had numbers in the backfield.

Second, they’ve got a great scheme anchored by a very good offensive line.  Even without rookie beast/guard Brander Craighead in the lineup, this Stampeders line has done nothing but impress all year long.  

On top of allowing a league-best nine sacks against, they’ve also allowed three separate understudies to step in seamlessly.

I believe there are a few other teams in this league where comparable results could be achieved in similar circumstances.  Right now, however, Calgary is the only team going through running backs in the fashion they are.  The fact they’ve suffered no adverse affects is something very worthy of praise.

Patience is a virtue

The BC Lions really have no reason to rush Travis Lulay back into the fray. The 2011 Most Outstanding Player hasn’t played all year as he continues to recover from off-season shoulder surgery.  

However, Lulay is back on the active roster and could return if called upon.  But the question needs to be asked: Why not keep him out as long as you need?
Right now the Lions are clicking on all cylinders.  After a 33-17 win over the Toronto Argonauts on Sunday night, they’ve now won five of their last six games, and they’ve scored 25 or more points in each of those five wins.  

From Andrew Harris to Stefan Logan, from Emmanuel Arceneaux to Courtney Taylor, BC has their playmakers on point right now.  And their understudy quarterback is managing things just fine.

After a slow-ish start with a new team, Kevin Glenn is starting to come into his own calling the plays for the Lions.  He’s putting those aforementioned playmakers in spots to succeed, and he’s doing so while making very few mistakes.  

If you’re Head Coach Mike Benevides, you have to be pretty happy the way things are moving right now.
And that’s why there is no rush to see Lulay return.  Make no mistake: I’m not advocating for Lulay to spend the rest of the season on the sidelines.  In fact, I think getting Lulay back into regular season action is crucial at some point this season.  

But it doesn’t have to be right now.  It can be whenever it is best for everyone involved.
The way Glenn is playing right now gives BC the great luxury of getting Lulay back up to speed in a no pressure situation.  Then, when Lulay is ready for a return, the Lions will know he’s ready and they haven’t been hasty with the decision.  

In the meantime, he can practice with the offence and get as comfortable as he  possibly can before making a long awaited return.
It’s important for Lulay to get in a number of games before the playoffs.  But, if you have the luxury of getting him back in when you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’s ready, then why not?

Glenn is allowing BC to go about their business that way, which is exactly why they brought him in.  So whether Lulay is back Sunday against Saskatchewan, or not until after Labour Day, you can feel confident as a Lions fan he’ll be back.

And now you can feel confident that your team will be just fine in the interim.

Parting shots

How bad do you feel for Martell Mallett in Calgary? The guy went more than 1,700 days without a carry in a football game and was a feel good story upon his return.  He totaled 175 yards of offence in his first game back, but then suffered a groin injury against Ottawa last weekend.  

Therefore he couldn’t play in Hamilton, and prior to that game, he was placed on the six-game injured list.  If this guy didn’t have bad luck, he’d have no bad luck at all.
Speaking of felling bad, that’s exactly how you have to feel about Dan LeFevour in Hamilton.  He was playing some really good football prior to the knee injury he suffered against the Stamps, and he could very well have earned himself some more time despite the closer return of Zach Collaros.  

The injury prognosis is still unknown, so for LeFevour, let’s hope that he hasn’t suffered a huge setback right as he was coming into his own.
Finally, we couldn’t end this week’s column without tipping our MMQB hat to the signature jerseys we saw during Week 8.  I thought both the Argos and the Riders looked great, but man, that Toronto jersey sure did pop.

I was watching Sunday’s game with a few non-football fans and even they were commenting on how sharp the Argos attire was.  Well done on all fronts.