While there were certainly some exciting results during Week One of the CFL season over the Canada Day long weekend, it was Week Two that managed to set off fireworks that only Canadian Football can produce.
A thrilling finish in Toronto led the way with two other fun, high-scoring affairs mixed in along with a defensive gem on Sunday night.
Waking up Related Links
After getting stymied at the hands of the Eskimos to open the season, the Argonauts looked like a whole new team offensively at home against the Stampeders. The Argos had a ton of questions surrounding their offensive line coming into the season, and those questions were seemingly answered during their Week One loss.
Nonetheless, it looked as if the group took a big step forward in their home opening 39-36 win over the Stamps.
Playing against a Calgary defensive front that wreaked havoc in the Montreal backfield one week earlier, Toronto was able to give quarterback Ricky Ray enough time to make careful decisions on a good majority of snaps.
It allowed their veteran play caller to spread the ball around to eight different receivers and take advantage of some Stampeder mistakes. Rookie receiver Dontrelle Inman’s first touchdown was a perfect example of this, as Ray found Inman for a 56-yard touchdown, thanks in large to some great work up front.
It wasn’t a perfect afternoon for them, but the Toronto front five allowed just one sack and got some help from a poised quarterback along the way. Numerous times, a quick sidestep or a subtle step up saved a second for the Argos offence and allowed Ray to get the ball away at the very least, and in more than a few cases, complete a pass and keep a drive alive.
The key fourth quarter hookup with Andre Durie was a perfect example of this, as a quick step forward from Ray eluded a closing defender and put Toronto in a great spot for Noel Prefontaine’s game-winning field goal.
Maybe more importantly, however, was the push the offensive line provided on the ground. The Argos handed the ball to Cory Boyd 20 times because A) the guy is a freak and B) he was taking advantage of some really nice holes opened up in front of him.
Running between centre Jeff Keeping and right guard Joe Eppele, Boyd was able to get into the middle tier of the Calgary defence on numerous occasions, racking up 101 yards in the process. All in all, the Toronto offensive line looked leaps and bounds better than they did against Edmonton.
|Whitaker Runs Wild|
Brandon Whitaker took off 235 all-purpose yards on Friday night. Registering 98 rushing yards, while adding 137 through the air.
What we’ve come to expect
A commenter on last week’s MMQB noted that Calgary’s frustration and deconstruction of the Montreal Alouettes offence could have awakened a mean, efficient sleeping giant. That thought proved prophetic as the Als opened up Week Two with a 41-30 win over the defending East Division champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
We’ve come to expect the Montreal attack to be nothing less than a well oiled machine, and while it looked wonky to open the year, it seemed as good as new on Friday night. Anthony Calvillo turned in a three-touchdown, 443-yard performance without breaking a sweat and it happened for a few different reasons.
He certainly had the time, and I think that said as much about Montreal’s protection as it did about Winnipeg’s suspect pass rush. But more importantly, this just wasn’t a contest at the line of scrimmage when the Als had the ball.
Whether it was Brandon Whitaker breaking tackles at the line on one of his 16 carries, or Jamel Richardson engaging two defenders in press coverage, Montreal made things work because everyone was on.
Richardson was covered so well because he demanded that type of coverage, because he was so explosive. The Als receiver was so tough to contain at the line of scrimmage, things opened up so nicely away from him.
As such, S.J. Green was the benefactor of some long hookups, while Calvillo was able to exploit the underneath game with so much being committed to the deep threat of Green, Richardson, Brian Bratton and more.
Whitaker thrashed the Bombers in the short passing game in the process, adding 137 more yards and a pair of touchdowns through the air.
Just as scary were the defending Grey Cup champions in their second win of the season. The Lions opened up a nine point halftime lead and never looked back in their 39-36 win over Hamilton.
Give the Tiger-Cats credit for giving BC all they could handle down the stretch, but their fourth quarter heroics are going to fall short on most nights, especially when a championship team is allowed to move the ball as effectively as they did.
Aside from Andrew Harris’ incredible rushing performance (147 yards on just 13 carries), there wasn’t anything really incredible from the Lions. Instead, it was just like Week One, where everyone pulled their weight.
BC boasts too much offensive talent when all things are clicking, and that showed once again on Friday night.
Travis Lulay is a star quarterback in this league, but all he needed to do Friday night was manage the football effectively and make smart decisions. Mission accomplished on that front.
The scary thing about BC since the middle of the 2011 season is how imminent the threat of danger is whenever it’s their offence’s turn on the field. Once the Lions are inside the opposing 50, it seems like such a tall order to stop them from gaining another 20 yards to put Paul McCallum in field goal range. Even worse? Tim Brown keeps putting them in such great field position that a trip into opposing territory seems like just a simple Lulay throw away in too many circumstances.
And yes, I know, McCallum missed a field goal. But he also hit twice from 32 and once more from 19, all in the second half, to tack an extra nine points on the board for the Leos. With all the weapons they have, it seems unfair sometimes they have the deadly accuracy of McCallum to act as a safety net.
They might have been three relatively makeable kicks for McCallum, but his nine field goal points kept BC afloat in a more conservative second half.
In their Week One thumping of Hamilton, I was just as impressed with the defensive work of Saskatchewan as I was their rather scary looking attack.
We knew their Week Two test against Edmonton was going to be a much stiffer one in the offensive department, and the Eskimos held up their end of the bargain rather admirably, holding the Riders to just six points in the first three quarters.
Unfortunately, that dam was almost a shoe-in to break, because Edmonton just didn’t have the ball at Mosaic Stadium.
Yes, there will be plenty of questions among the Eskies faithful about quarterback Steven Jyles, and for good reason, because he just didn’t look comfortable. But let’s not forget, a big reason for his discomfort was the doing of the opposition.
With a defensive front seemingly transformed by the addition of Odell Willis and the return of Brent Hawkins, the Riders went to town on Edmonton. Because Jyles doesn’t go through his progressions as effectively as most quarterbacks do in this league, his decision making can sometimes be delayed.
Delayed decision making just wasn’t going to fly on Sunday.
Saskatchewan forced all kinds of rushed decisions from Jyles, whether it was an incomplete passes or an ineffective connection. When it was all said and done, the Riders allowed just 11 first downs and looked extremely formidable.
In winning their first division game since 2010, I really do feel Saskatchewan has proved just how much they’ve improved. Yes, it’s early on, but the way they attack at the line and they way they tackled against Edmonton and Hamilton is night and day from one year ago.
They’ll need to improve as the year continues, but in comparison to the nightmare that was 2011, I’d be feeling a whole lot better if I wore green on a regular basis.
Pat Steinberg is the co-host of the drive home program on Sportsnet Radio FAN 960 in Calgary. He also reports on the CFL and the Stampeders and hosts pre and post-game programs for the team. He looks forward to traveling to the Grey Cup every year. Follow Pat on Twitter @Fan960Steinberg.