July 04, 2011
It's the return of Monday's Point After, your regular breakdown of all the weekend's CFL highlights and lowlights. Score links in each section go to video highlights of each game on the league's home page. If you've got suggestions for something you'd like to see here, contact me by Twitter or e-mail.
Quick links (to the respective section of this column; you can click "Back to top" at the end of any section to come back here):
— Montreal 30, B.C. 26
— Edmonton 42, Saskatchewan 28
— Toronto 23, Calgary 21
— Winnipeg 24, Hamilton 16
Game of the week: Montreal 30, B.C. 26: The CFL's opening game, billed as a potential Grey Cup preview, largely lived up to the hype. It looked like a potential blowout early on after quarterback Anthony Calvillo (seen above running away from B.C.'s Brent Johnson) and the Alouettes' offence racked up 27 points in the first half and led by 17 at the half, but his B.C. counterpart Travis Lulay put on a show in the second half and got B.C. back in the game. If not for a curious third-down decision (which head coach Wally Buono has since apologized to his team for), we may even have seen a tied game and overtime, which would have been a fitting successor to last year's thrilling Alouettes-Roughriders double-overtime opener. Even without that, though, this game had plenty of thrills, and it provided numerous things to watch for as the season progresses.
Perhaps the key takeaway from this one is that there still seems to be a gulf between Montreal and the rest of the CFL pack, however. Although the final score of this game was close, it's notable that the Alouettes seemed to rein in their offence a bit down the stretch. Calvillo finished with 22 completions on 30 attempts (an incredibly efficient 73.3 per cent) for 312 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions, but he and the Montreal offence didn't air it out much in the second half. The Alouettes seemed to take their foot off the gas pedal, mostly focusing on running the ball (Brandon Whitaker looked very good as Avon Cobourne's replacement, picking up 117 yards on 17 carries, or seven yards per carry) and killing the clock, and their defence appeared to ease up a little as well. The Lions looked quite strong down the stretch as well, but this was still Montreal's game.
The Alouettes will have some questions to address over the next week, though, primarily around replacing injured defensive back Jerald Brown (who gruesomely fractured his ankle and may be gone for the year); Saint Mary's product Jeff Hecht, who the Alouettes picked up as an undrafted free agent in May, looked good in relief, but we'll see if he can hold on to the job or if the Alouettes will bring in another import. Hecht's performance was just another indication of Montreal's tremendous depth though, and it's that depth that may be key to their efforts to win a third-straight Grey Cup.
For B.C., there are questions as well, but of a more serious nature. The passing offence looked great; Lulay finished with 26 completions on 45 attempts for 366 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions, and receivers both old (veteran slotback Geroy Simon had five catches for 115 yards) and new (rookie wide receiver Dobson Collins hauled in three receptions for 85 yards) stepped up. The running game was most notable by its absence, though; Jamal Robertson only got one carry (which he took for 12 yards) and Andrew Harris had two (for a total of 12 yards also). Part of that was thanks to falling behind by so much so early, which convinced the Lions to shift to a more aerial-focused offence, but mixing in some runs here and there might have helped with a little balance. More importantly, the running game will remain a question mark going forward.
Another issue is in the B.C. secondary, which got carved up by Calvillo and his receivers (Jamel Richardson had nine catches for 162 yards and two touchdowns, S.J. Green hauled in six passes for 88 yards and a touchdown). They looked better in the second half, but weren't thrown at much thanks to the Alouettes' shift to the ground game. This wasn't a bad showing from the Lions, and losing by four points on the road to the defending Grey Cup champions isn't anything to be ashamed of at this point in the year, but they are going to have to improve if they want to make a cup run of their own.
Edmonton 42, Saskatchewan 28: If the Alouettes' first-week performance suggested their run to the 98th Grey Cup was no mirage, the opposite was true of their opponents in last year's title game. Reigning West Division champion Saskatchewan got clobbered at home by the basement-dwelling Edmonton Eskimos, who many had pegged for another finish at the bottom of the West and perhaps the bottom of the entire league. For Edmonton, it was a great win few saw coming, led by tremendous performances from quarterback Ricky Ray (21 completions on 27 attempts, a ridiculous 77.8 per cent mark, for 294 yards and three touchdowns), slotback Jason Barnes (five catches, 104 yards, two touchdowns) and wide receiver Adarius Bowman (seven catches, 103 yards and a touchdown). As Twitter user @matthewgc pointed out, Ray's three touchdowns in this game are 27 per cent of the 11 he threw last season. Even backup quarterback Kerry Joseph, a former Roughrider, got in on the action with a touchdown scramble (seen at above right).
Edmonton's defence wasn't perfect, though, even if they picked off Darian Durant three times and recovered another one of his fumbles. Their ground game was also largely held in check; Daniel Porter (pictured at right below) averaged 3.3 yards on 10 carries, while Calvin McCarty averaged 4.7 on six and Jerome Messam put up 4.1 on nine carries. For now, the Eskimos can rejoice at being on top of the West Division all by themselves, but they can't rest on their laurels if they want to seriously contend for a playoff berth this season.
It's a similar story for Saskatchewan. Yes, this loss is a crushing start to the year, especially against a low-ranked team like Edmonton at home. Yes, there were plenty of problems, from Durant's four turnovers to the secondary repeatedly forgetting that Jason Barnes was, in fact, a member of the Eskimos again. The defence did not look good at all against the pass under new coordinator (and former Edmonton head coach) Richie Hall; they used more conventional schemes than the unorthodox blitzes frequently deployed by former DC Gary Etcheverry, but weren't able to get much pressure on Ray (at least partly thanks to the Eskimos' cunning usage of tackle Scott Mitchell as a tight end in several sets), and they're going to have to get better.
However, the Riders' offence didn't look all that bad; Durant picked up 339 yards and two touchdowns after completing 27 of 37 attempts, even if he threw three interceptions (one of which came in garbage time), and Wes Cates collected 56 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Weston Dressler (seven catches, 103 yards) and Chris Getzlaf (three receptions, 66 yards) shone in the receiving corps, and Efrem Hill and Jason Clermont had some stellar moments too. This is a veteran-heavy Saskatchewan team, and it wouldn't be surprising to see them in a dogfight at the top of the West as the year goes on. Maybe this will serve as a wake-up call that the games aren't played on paper, and you can't underestimate anyone.
Toronto 23, Calgary 21: This clash was an excellent example of why the final score isn't always the most important thing to note about a game. If I gave you just the stats, you'd probably conclude that Calgary won a narrow one. Henry Burris completed 26 of 37 passes (70.2 per cent) for 293 yards, although he did throw an interception and didn't throw a touchdown pass. Meanwhile, the supposedly new and improved Cleo Lemon looked a lot like the old model, completing 16 of 30 passes (53 per cent, sour) for 186 yards (double sour) and one touchdown with an interception (triple sour on the rocks). The Argonauts' rushing game was effective, with Cory Boyd picking up 100 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, but Joffrey Reynolds and Burris combined for 107 yards on just 15 carries. It would have been nice to see Jon Cornish more involved for Calgary, but he did get a touchdown on one of his two carries and made some tremendous special-teams plays. Generally, Calgary looked pretty solid against a terrific Toronto defence, and they could have won this if they'd made more than one of their four field goal attempts.
Blaming the loss on kicker Rob Maver, as many fans at the game and on Twitter did, is rather short-sighted, though. Maver may or may not have cost his team the game; in a Stampeders.com/CFL.ca piece published Monday, he takes responsibility for the loss, but it's worth pointing out that the Stampeders had plenty of other chances to win despite his misses. It's also worth noting that Maver was later found to have several tears in his quadriceps; kicking in professional football is never easy considering the pressure and the leg strength and accuracy required, but it's much harder if you're hurt. Playing through that kind of injury takes major guts. Maver's going to be out for quite a while, and the Stampeders have already signed former Concordia kicker Rene Paredes to replace him. Maver had a great rookie season last year and will hopefully be able to get his career back on track once he recovers. We'll see how the new man does, but it's not worth blasting the old one for trying unsuccessfully to fight through an injury.
Maver is also not the only injured player the Stampeders have to worry about. Non-import defensive tackle Corey Mace suffered an Achilles tear Friday, linebacker Malik Jackson may miss their next game with a concussion and receiver Ken-Yon Rambo (who had a team-high seven catches for 64 yards Friday) might be out with a hamstring issue. This wasn't a terrible showing from the Stampeders, and they're still very capable of contending in the competitive West Division. To do so, though, they're going to have to start putting more points on the board and have their replacements step up.
For Toronto, the main positive to take away from this win was the play of their defence. They kept Calgary's explosive offence (the Stampeders scored a league-high 626 points in 2010, 105 more than second-place Montreal; no one else passed 500) mostly under control, which isn't the easiest thing to do. They were particularly solid against the run, limiting the impact of Reynolds, and their stats would look much better if Burris hadn't picked up 50 yards on three scrambles. They didn't get burned too badly in the passing game, either, giving up lots of completions but generally holding Calgary to field-goal attempts instead of touchdowns. However, the Argos still have major issues going forward, especially at quarterback. They'll need a better performance in the passing game to get far this year.
Winnipeg 24, Hamilton 16: This game wasn't a particular delight to watch, but it had plenty of notable moments, including Jamall Johnson's massive hit on Buck Pierce (seen below), the quarterback controversy that may or may not be underway in Hamilton and the first recorded planking touchdown celebration in a CFL game. The result was quite memorable too, as few expected the Bombers (4-14 last year and likely in for another rebuilding season) to come into Hamilton and beat the Tiger-Cats (9-9 last season and supposedly set to challenge Montreal at the top of the East).
Still, this wasn't the game to watch if you're a fan of passing offence; Winnipeg's Pierce completed 12 of 26 passes (46.2 per cent) for 151 yards with a touchdown and an interception, Hamilton's Kevin Glenn converted 18 of his 31 attempts for 187 yards and a touchdown but threw three interceptions, and Tiger-Cats' backup Quinton Porter went four-for-seven for 40 yards with an interception. It was a good day for defenders like Winnipeg safety Ian Logan (seen above being tackled by Aaron Kelly after an interception) but all around, an ugly day for the men under centre, even if they were able to survive hits like this one:
The quarterbacks weren't the only ones to struggle, though. With so much offensive ineptitude on display, there was lots of call for punting, but the punters didn't look great either. Winnipeg's Mike Renaud notably shanked a couple, one that wound up in a net gain of about five yards after penalties, and had another one blocked when receiver Cory Watson unbelievably elected to allow 2010 defensive player of the year Markeith Knowlton through without so much as an attempted shove. Hamilton's Justin Medlock was great on field goals (three-for-three), but his punting average of 40.9 yards per punt (on nine attempts) was below Renaud's 42.2 (on 11 tries). The defences generally looked good, but that's about it. Both teams have a lot of work to do if they want to get better. Winnipeg fans will be happy with the win and Hamilton ones disappointed with the loss, but both teams appear to have plenty of questions remaining to answer.