Carrying on with the CFL Obituaries series, here's a look at what led to the demise of the Calgary Stampeders' season, which ended Sunday with a 33-19 loss to Edmonton.
The Calgary Stampeders' 2011 season met its demise Sunday in violent fashion. Eyewitness accounts from the 30,183 in attendance and the 1.4 million-plus watching on television fingered the Edmonton Eskimos' defence as the prime suspect, but inquiries were still underway as of press time. An forensic autopsy made one thing clear, though; the Eskimos may have inflicted serious injuries, but those injuries only proved fatal thanks to the failure of not one, but both of Calgary's quarterbacks.
The Eskimos had some very fearsome moments Sunday, especially on the defensive side of the ball, but the damage they did on offence was more akin to flesh wounds than critical injuries. The Stampeders' sometimes-maligned defence came through in reasonably solid fashion, allowing just 26 points through three quarters despite the offence's inability to move the ball (with 22 of those coming in the dismal second quarter) and only gave up the final touchdown after the offence stranded them on their own one-yard line with just minutes left. Part of that was their own play, part of it was Edmonton's offensive issues. Still, that defensive effort would have been enough to survive many CFL games, but it proved lacking Sunday because of the failures of Calgary's offensive systems. That left Stampeders like the ones pictured above (#87 Arjei Franklin #81 Jabari Arthur and #45 Karl McCartney) heading home with heads hanging low.
Those systemic failures weren't complete; in fact, they was easy to localize. Some areas of the offence functioned quite well, particularly the ground game. Jon Cornish ran 14 times for 127 yards (with an incredible 9.1 yards per carry average) and a touchdown. Perhaps he could have helped the season survive if they'd given him the ball a bit more or given him any support whatsoever in the passing game.
Despite calls for help, that support wasn't forthcoming, though. Drew Tate started the game at quarterback and completed just five of 10 passes for 99 yards, with a crucial fumble and a bad interception to boot. The failure of Tate caused Calgary to take desperate measures and attempt to shift the load to their other quarterback, Henry Burris, who came in after half; he underwent critical failure as well shortly thereafter, though, completing just seven of 15 passes for just 75 yards. With neither quarterback functioning, the moderate wounds inflicted by the Eskimos proved impossible to survive.
On the whole, it was an up-and-down season for the Stampeders. They were only 11-7 and finished third in the West thanks to tiebreakers, but reached spectacular heights at times, particularly on offence. They put up 511 points on the year, tied for second in the league behind only Montreal, and they had several memorable outings, including a 34-32 Week Two win over B.C. and a 45-35 Week Seven win over Saskatchewan. The offence also saw the emergence of Cornish and LaMarcus Coker as bonafide stars in the ground game, pushing incumbent running back Joffrey Reynolds to the sideline. It wasn't all roses on offence, though, as Burris' inconsistent performances pushed Calgary to go to Tate late in the year, and neither quarterback looked particularly convincing Sunday. The offensive line also looked much weaker minus 2010 CFL most outstanding lineman Ben Archibald, who left for B.C. in the offseason. The defence was even more concerning most of the year, particularly in blowouts like Touchdown Atlantic where they gave up 55 points to Hamilton, but they generally came through when it counted Sunday. The quarterbacks didn't, and that's why the Stampeders' season came to an end.
Calgary's 2011 season will be survived by some of its close associates, but not all. General manager and head coach John Hufnagel will be back, and with good reason. This year was a bit of a step back, but the team's still been incredibly successful under him, and there's lots of hope for their future. Key young players like Cornish and Juwan Simpson signed extensions last offseason and should return, so there are promising sings.
The quarterback situation is more unsettled, however. Every indication up until Sunday was that Tate would be the guy going forward and Burris wouldn't be back, but that could potentially change with the underwhelming performances both turned in. Smart money is still on Tate getting the job, as he was effective in an audition down the stretch, but that's no longer a sure thing. Expect changes in the receiving and defensive back corps as well. The coaching staff may also see some changes, as both defensive coordinator Chris Jones and offensive coordinator Dave Dickenson have received buzz around the vacant head coaching job in Saskatchewan.
The 2011 season's premature demise is rough for the Stampeders, certainly. They also don't have the easiest offseason ahead to recover. They're not in crisis mode yet, though, and there are still a lot of promising signs for the 2012 season. There's work to be done to stop 2011's problems from recurring, but as long as they can find a functional quarterback, the 2012 season shouldn't be in terrible shape.