As the Montreal Alouettes and BC Lions get ready for Division Final weekend, the teams they beat to open the 2023 playoffs now have lots to figure out. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Calgary Stampeders have some important questions to address as their winters begin earlier than expected.
Before we get to those questions, though, big ups to the Lions and Als. I picked against both over the weekend and obviously shouldn’t have, because we were treated to a pair of simply dominant performances.
Lions’ head coach Rick Campbell knew what he was doing when he removed Vernon Adams Jr. in BC’s 41-16 regular season finale loss to Calgary. It gave Adams a little extra rest in a game that had mid-level stakes at best. It also eliminated any additional head-to-head reps the Stamps could potentially have used in a playoff meeting a couple weeks later.
The results were staggering. Adams put together an absolutely electric performance en route to a 41-30 win over the Stampeders. With 413 passing yards, two passing touchdowns, 57 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns, Adams not only won his first ever CFL playoff game; he also put together the best outing of his professional career. People talk about big players making big plays in big games and what we saw from Adams was a picture-perfect illustration.
Speaking of which, William Stanback was clearly thinking the same thing. The Montreal tailback, who had been picking up steam down the stretch, went for 120 offensive yards and was a driving force in a 27-12 win over Hamilton. It’s a good sign for the Als as they head to Toronto next weekend, because a dialled in Stanback gives this offence a totally different dimension.
Oh, and what a day for the Als’ defence. From Darnell Sankey to Shawn Lemon, Tyrice Beverette, Lwal Uguak, Reggie Stubblefield and more, Montreal’s defensive unit was redlined from start to finish. Montreal forced three turnovers and held the Ticats to just four field goals in a simply smothering performance.
Now some important, and potentially hard, questions from the other side of Saturday’s results…
What’s next for Bo Levi Mitchell?
To say Year 1 in Black and Gold was a frustrating one for Mitchell would probably be an understatement. Injuries limited Hamilton’s biggest off-season splash to just six starts in 2023 where Mitchell threw six touchdowns against 10 interceptions. Come playoff time, it was Matthew Shiltz getting the start and seeing most of the playing time in Montreal.
And in typical Mitchell form, he was honest when asked about the situation postgame by TSN’s Matthew Scianitti.
“Obviously it’s fresh right now,” Mitchell said. “If you’re not playing your highest paid player on this team in a playoff game, I don’t foresee myself being here. I love this team, I love this organization, I hope I can be here in some capacity because I would love to be a part of it again but that is obviously for other people to decide.”
And while Mitchell’s “I don’t foresee myself being here” comment raised plenty of eyebrows, I didn’t interpret it as “I don’t want to be here”. Instead, it felt like a savvy veteran understanding the economics of pro football.
Mitchell has two years remaining on a deal that makes him one of the CFL’s highest paid players. In a league governed by a salary cap, Mitchell knows as well as anyone how decisions can sometimes be made for financial reasons. I’m curious to watch how Hamilton’s quarterback situation plays out this winter.
Can Jake Maier take it to the next level?
Maier’s first year as a full-time CFL starter laid some important groundwork. He led the league in passing attempts (578), completions (363), and finished third in passing yards (4,237). And while he threw 15 interceptions, his 2.6 per cent interception rate was the lowest among quarterbacks with 300 or more passing attempts.
All these things are solid building blocks for Maier. Now it’s about taking that next step. For instance, it’ll be interesting to see if a more comfortable and seasoned Maier can stretch the field more in 2024, as his 7.3 yards-per-throw average was the lowest amongst regular starting pivots.
Do both coaching staffs stay intact?
As of now, there’s one CFL head coaching job up for grabs and that’s in Saskatchewan. And even if that job is the only vacancy we see this winter, there’s a chance a member of Hamilton’s or Calgary’s coaching staffs could be making the move to Regina.
Stampeders special teams coordinator and assistant head coach Mark Kilam has been a rumoured head coaching candidate in recent years. And after another solid year defensively for Calgary, don’t be surprised if defensive coordinator Brent Monson’s name starts being discussed similarly in the near future.
Then there’s Scott Milanovich, who just finished his first season with the Tiger-Cats as senior assistant coach. With five years as a CFL head coach already under his belt, and plenty of recent NFL experience, you can understand why Milanovich was one of the first names to be linked to the Riders when their job opened up a few weeks ago.