June 30, 2023

Ferguson: Kelly, Adams battle could spell new QB era

Walter Tychnowicz/

Think back just one year ago to where Chad Kelly and Vernon Adams Jr. were.

As we head towards a marquee matchup between the two starting quarterbacks in Monday’s Canada Day long weekend celebration, it’s important to remember how far they’ve come in such a short period of time. Perhaps a suggestion of their ability to carry the league forward into a brave new era of QB play.

At the end of June last season Adams Jr. had been benched in Montreal for Trevor Harris. He was languishing on the bench hoping for a trade that would find a fit for the suddenly available Alouettes Week 1 starter.

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Meanwhile Kelly was just a wide eyed CFL rookie, himself also backing up a starter who would go on to lead Toronto’s Grey Cup charge into Saskatchewan.

For one there was great hope and talk of potential. For the other there was despair and frustration as an inevitable second exit from Montreal lingered.

Yet here they are, ready to go head-to-head while leading two undefeated teams who look like – early on – legitimate Grey Cup contenders.

For BC it’s all about defence and smart decision making on offence right now. The Lions rank first in points allowed per game (7.0) net offence allowed (211.7) and opponent scrimmage plays allowed per game (48.3).

That net yards allowed number is 78.8 yards better than the next best club. Simply put they have been dominant home or away, against Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton who they shut out in a raucous BC Place.

For Toronto it’s been the running game and timely Kelly throws as they’ve taken advantage of Hamilton’s early season struggles and an Edmonton club looking for any kind of consistency at quarterback to start 2-0.

While leading their teams Kelly and Adams Jr. have been selfless, quiet leadership and infused their rosters with confidence from opening kick to final whistle. How they’re doing it throwing the football differs though.

Vernon Adams Jr.

Chad Kelly

Adams Jr. has begun his first full season in BC taking the smart throws, and not forcing the issue downfield just to prove he can. Receiver Dominique Rhymes being out also affects the vertical BC passing game, but you can see the patience and clarity Vernon is seeing the game with right now, and it shows in his PFF heat chart.

Kelly meanwhile has been more excitable. More willing to take the deep shot and stretch the field from sideline to sideline as he heats up the deep corners for explosive plays including a debut flat footed 71-yard bomb to Damonte Coxie that clearly showed Kelly’s arm strength isn’t just rumoured, it’s real and it’s ready to strike at any moment.

These two offences called by Jordan Maksymic in BC and Ryan Dinwiddie in Toronto are both getting the best out of their deep passing game, in different ways.

BC is a high volume deep passing team as they challenge Bo Levi Mitchell and Matthew Shiltz led Hamilton attack for most likely to throw it over 20-yards in the air. The Argos are the CFL’s most efficient deep passing team right now, not pushing the ball unless Kelly trusts what he sees and can throw a strike.

Again, the problem here for Toronto is that BC’s secondary has only allowed one completion on 14 pass attempts over 20 air yards, that of course leads the CFL through Week 3.

If Toronto can’t hit the explosive passing plays, maybe they grind it out on the ground with A.J. Ouellette and Andrew Harris. The big bodied due have churned out 152 rushing yards per game through two contests, mostly when in control and trying to stay productive as clock melts away from their opponents.

Both BC and Toronto are getting great initial push in the run game to create yards before contact, while generating plenty of production after first contact.

Two teams built to win, one who just finished celebrating an iconic championship, another hungry to taste that feeling a week after taking down their West division roadblocks from Winnipeg. What a gift we get on Canada Day Monday.

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