October 29, 2021

Ferguson: Digging into a great Masoli game

Jason Halstead/CFL.ca

Consistency, accuracy and decision making are all crucial elements of a highly effective CFL quarterback.

Much more is required to become an all-star or Most Outstanding Player contender: Traits like deep ball efficiency, athleticism, ability to make plays off schedule and off kilter, pre-snap defence comprehension and more. The list goes on and on, which is what makes analyzing quarterback play in this pass-happy league so great.

Once in a while I see a performance that reminds me just how talented and capable CFL quarterbacks are as they ride the ups and downs of each season. Last week in Hamilton was that reminder.

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I have always believed that Ticats’ QB Jeremiah Masoli has one of the highest ceilings in the entire CFL. When Masoli is combining his feet with timely decision making and pure throwing talent, he is as good as any arm across the country.

I was in Edmonton during the 2016 game that Masoli set the all-time CFL single-game consecutive completion streak record. He was locked in. Everything from the mundane check downs and wide open quick outs, to daring back shoulder and fade ball throws was clicking that day.

Five years later, Masoli remains with offensive coordinator Tommy Condell, dialing up the Black and Gold attack as he did that day in Edmonton. While there was no record-setting streak last week against Ottawa, Masoli did finish with the best completion percentage of any quarterback this season. Here’s a look at the top-10 completion marks of 2021 measured with attempts, completions and percentage all by percentile relative to every performance this season.

While it’s an impressive number (89.3 per cent) you quickly realize that completion percentage is a stat requiring a great amount of context to fully evaluate and appreciate.

What makes me say that? Look at the second-best completion percentage on the list above. Hamilton in Ottawa during Week 7, when David Watford completed 19 of 22 attempts.

One glance at Watford’s target chart for the game and you quickly see that not all top-end completion percentage games are equal, as Watford completed just two of those 19 passes beyond six yards in air (known as YIA moving forward) through the Ottawa rain.

Ticats’ sometimes starter Dane Evans also reached into the consecutive completion streak record books, when he completed 19 of 20 second-half passes on Labour Day of 2019, good for fifth on the all-time list.

There is a direct relationship between depth of target and completion percentage. As targets get deeper, completion percentage drops, as seen from all 2019 CFL throws.

With that in mind I wanted to find a way of appreciating top flight quarterback performances this year in a consumable but enlightening way.

I settled on three measurables.

  • How much is the quarterback being asked to do (attempt percentile vs. all other other performances).
  • How many passes are being completed (completion percentage percentile vs. all other other performances).
  • How daring is the quarterback in throwing vertically (yards in air percentile vs. all other performances).

Before getting the results, enjoy the top YIA games of 2021 with a significant French flavour dominating the rankings.

When we take attempts, completion percentage and willingness to challenge defences vertically and add the three percentiles detailed above we get a ‘game score’.

So, does Masoli’s Week 12 outing put him in the top-10 quarterback games of the year by these standards? Yes, but just barely.

The game in question lands just behind Masoli and Argos’ QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who tied at 162.7 in their back-and-forth Week 10 affair decided by the right boot of K/P Boris Bede.

Riders’ leading man Cody Fajardo makes an appearance for his Week 3 victory over Ottawa, while Calgary backup Jake Maier (and his Stampeders’ record 17-straight completions) against Winnipeg this year arrive at sixth on the list.

The top-five consists of a Vernon Adams Jr. game, Trevor Harris‘ dominant Labour Day win in Calgary and a couple of gems from MOP front runner Zach Collaros. Tied with Collaros’ game in BC though, is Trevor Harris‘ Week 1 loss to Ottawa. That one’s a confusing and slightly disappointing result after putting the measurements together, but it just goes to show that math is never perfect in judging outcome and that a few catastrophic plays can offset a good overall performance.

One thing is for sure, if Masoli — or Evans — can get into a rhythm as they have in both the past and recent weeks, completing a high volume of passes and not being afraid to challenge defences down the field, Hamilton could be primed to really make a run at their home Grey Cup this year.

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