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February 20, 2020

Upon Further Review: Calgary Stampeders

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

CALGARY — As 2019 Stampeders training camp kicked off, everything was possible. Bo Levi Mitchell was poised for another season of utter domination, Dave Dickenson was ready to make a run at another Grey Cup and the big game was in their own stadium.

How could it get any better?

The year finished with a home defeat in the Western Semi-Final, another reminder that the sports gods don’t care about your storyline stars aligning. It was the first time since 2011 that Calgary failed to reach the Western Final.

So what happened? How did the Stamps end in disappointment despite having another season of double-digit wins and a home playoff date extending their franchise-record streak of fifteen straight playoff berths?

To understand the end, you have to look at the beginning.

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When Mitchell suffered a pectoral injury, the rhythm and flow of the offence completely changed. The Stampeders were two completely different offensive teams when Mitchell was healthy, and when he was sidelined.

Bo Levi Mitchell Nick Arbuckle
1st Down Pass Production Grade 59.4 57.4
2nd Down Pass Production Grade 46.2 49.2
TD:INT Ratio 1.73 2.20
Yards Per Pass Attempt 8.34 8.83

In Nick Arbuckle, the Stampeders found a sturdy and reliable backup, but a passer unwilling to attack in the same way Bo has become known for.

For perspective, look at a comparison of the two quarterbacks passing location tendencies with the superior attempt percentage being listed.

Mitchell owned 15 of a possible 20 throw locations beyond 10 yards in the air while Arbuckle’s charting showed his willingness to take safer throws under 10 yards and behind the line of scrimmage, where he owned eight of 10 available throw locations.

The result? A league-leading completion percentage and user-friendly accuracy mark.

Nick Arbuckle Stats
Completion % 73.1% Rank: 1st
Accuracy Grade 70.7 Rank: 1st
TD:INT Ratio 2.20 Rank: 4th

Here you can see how Arbuckle took over Mitchell in 2019 completion percentage including throws down the heart of the field.

It’s worth noting here as well that Calgary quarterbacks completed 96.6% of passes at or behind the line of scrimmage — the highest mark in the CFL last season.

Playing two dramatically different styles in one season can be a difficult adjustment. Now, look at the number of man-games lost to injury for Calgary’s receivers in 2019. Huff? Ambles? Sindani? Mayala? They all missed at least four games to injury. In fact, the Stamps’ top two receivers, Reggie Begelton and Eric Rogers, had to carry so much of the load they set new marks in a Dave Dickenson-led offence for targeted tough percentage over the last three seasons.

Even more amazing is that Arbuckle, Dickenson and Mitchell had to use rookie Canadian receivers to fill the void, and they barely missed a step.

In the 2019 CFL Draft, 14 receivers were taken.

Thanks to Hergy Mayala (first round) and Colton Hunchak (eighth round), the Stamps led the CFL in 2019 Canadian rookie targets (58.1%), Canadian rookie catches (64.2%), and Canadian rookie receiving yards (70.1%).

If anyone asks you about who got the most out of offensive skill drafting last year, it was Calgary in a landslide.

While the Stampeders’ offence was difficult to characterize due to the evolving nature of personnel and approach, we do know this: The Stamps were not explosive enough in 2019.

With Mitchell working his way back in and Arbuckle refusing to take shots down the field, Calgary’s offence looked more like Trevor Harris’ last season in Ottawa than anything we’ve come to associate with a Dave Dickenson-led approach.

Since the season ended, Calgary has lost longtime receivers coach Pete Constanza, who left for a bigger role in Winnipeg. The continuity of the coaching staff should bode well compared to the last off-season when everybody wanted a piece of a Red and White coordinator following their championship victory.

As for player movement, Calgary was more aggressive than usual as the fourth-most active team after seven days of #CFLFA 2020.

They lost defensive lineman Chris Casher, running back Don Jackson and receiver Juwan Brescacin. But they brought in what had to be their most prominent target in offensive lineman Sean McEwen followed by kicker Ronnie Pfeffer, defensive backs Richard Leonard and Brandon Dozier, hometown boy Conor McGough and Argos’ castoff quarterback Dakota Prukop.

The 2020 Stampeders will look a bit different, but expect them to return to a style, a mentality and record more familiar to what we’ve seen in recent years.

In an ultra-competitive CFL West Division, the Stamps aren’t going anywhere so long as they have Dickenson, John Hufnagel and Mitchell.