November 26, 2021

Ferguson: A deep dive on this weekend’s QBs

Peter McCabe/

By the time we reach playoff football in the Canadian Football League there are many trends, identities and predictable styles that have been established at the quarterback position.

Whether quarterbacks realize it or not, every throw they attempt in-game is another argument for or against a playoff scouting report note ready to be presented to a coach who will turn that information into a game plan.

The Eastern and Western Semi-Finals this year in the CFL present a unique set of those trends, caused by a quartet of quarterbacks who all put their personal spin on how to spin it in the great white north. Let’s take a look at each matchup and the key notes that could define the pivot that punches his team’s ticket to the next dance.

» Aerial Report: Western Semi-Final | Eastern Semi-Final
» Fantasy: Divisional Semi-Final projections
» Four Stampeder X-Factors in the Western Semi-Final

Hamilton vs. Montreal

In Hamilton, Trevor Harris will play the Ticats for the first time since — unbelievably — the 2019 Eastern Final. That’s when his Edmonton squad fell to Dane Evans‘ and Brandon Banks‘ aerial attack 36-16 despite Harris having a solid game. Harris joined the Alouettes after they had finished their two regular-season games against the Ticats and before Edmonton could play Hamilton, by some sort of strange schedule magic, dodging a Black and Gold defence that has more than held their own in 2021.

Just how different is Alouettes’ Harris from Elks’ Harris though?

– Harris EDM (first number) vs. MTL (second number)
– Yards In Air: 9.57 vs. 9.92
– COMP %: 68.2 vs. 67.7
– Accuracy Grade: 66.0 vs. 66.4
– Production grade : 53.8 vs. 55.4

I wrote back when Montreal treaded for Harris that it would take a meeting in the middle of football minds to make this marriage — no matter how temporary — work. Harris has agreed to expand his depth of target, while head coach Khari Jones seems to have adapted some Harris concepts. Mission accomplished.

The result is Harris having a slightly lower completion percentage as is normal with a deeper depth of target, but an improved accuracy grade and significantly better production grade on passing plays, despite learning the mannerisms and skill set of his new receivers on the fly.

The difference between Vernon Adams Jr.’s Als attack on the quarterback centric second-and-long down is startling as well. On snaps of second-and-seven or more yards, Montreal has called 100 per cent passes for Harris. Why? His ability to avoid interceptions, maximize scoring opportunities and limit sacks while maintaining a high conversion rate have built immediate trust.

With Vernon Adams Jr.
– 90% called passes (90/100)
– 9 sacks (10.0%)
– 32 conversions (35.5%)
– 3 touchdowns (3.3%)

w/ Trevor Harris
– 100% called passes (43/43)
– 2 sacks (4.6%)
– 15 conversions (34.8%)
– 4 touchdowns (9.3%)

If Jeremiah Masoli can take a page from Montreal Harris’ playbook, protecting the football and eliminating unnecessary risks while still finding ways to challenge Montreal’s aggressive secondary down the field, Hamilton should be able to put up enough points to advance. That would earn them meaningful revenge for a late game home loss to Montreal earlier this season when Masoli was extremely effective under 10-yards downfield.

Calgary vs. Saskatchewan

In the Western Semi-Final it’s all about the deep ball. Unfortunately for Riders’ QB Cody Fajardo, this has been a persistent discussion all year long. It’s one that was created by Fajardo himself following a loss to Calgary in which he explained the frustration of not being able to complete the game-changing deep target. Here’s a look at 2021 completions to get a sense for just how different the success rate is between Fajardo and his counterpart in red, Bo Levi Mitchell.

When Fajardo does go deep, it would be shocking for Duke Williams not to be waiting on the other end. Duke is targeted at an average depth of 15.9 yards right now for the Riders; that’s 7.5 yards deeper than any other Saskatchewan receiver!

On pass attempts of 30-plus yards in the air, Fajardo is 3/34 (8.8 per cent) to anyone not named Duke Williams. Duke has as many catches (three) of 30-plous YIA as the rest of the team, despite playing in just four games. At three catches on six targets of 30-plus yards, Duke is catching 50 per cent of the deep shots. Perhaps all that 50/50 talk that led to his signing was spot on, but can one man create a deep threat or will Shaq Evans, Kian Schaffer-Baker and Brayden Lenius have to step up in the biggest moment of the year?

Against Calgary in three games, Fajardo is 1-12 with two interceptions on passes of 20-plus yards in the air, but most concerning for me is that he has barely targeted the middle of the field (only twice) between the numbers and beyond 20-yards. All of this against a secondary with a CFL-low six interceptions which makes you wonder: What is Fajardo scared of in that secondary? Does he not have enough time to process the middle of the field, or is the challenge an internal struggle?

For Calgary the name of the game, is Begelton.

When leading the CFL in receiving yards (1,444) in 2019, Begelton was catching 70 per cent of his targets. In two games, he has hauled in just 9-19 passes (47.1 per cent), but the fact he’s averaged almost at 10targets per game should tell all you prop bettors out there just how much Calgary plans to emphasize No. 86.

One true game breaking aspect of this matchup could be Fajardo’s legs and offensive coordinator Jason Maas’ willingness to employ them as a weapon. In 2021 Fajardo has 65 runs, 32 of which were scrambles, while the other 33 were called. It doesn’t get more balanced and varied than that. Those 65 runs don’t include his 22 sneaks on short yardage and goal line this season, all of which have resulted in either a first down or touchdown.

Deep balls, quarterback scrambles, evolving styles of play after a change of scenery and a quarterback trying to get a home Grey Cup the tough way. It’s all on the table Sunday for us to enjoy the theatre of playoff CFL football.

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