How can you tell that you’re truly in the thick of a football season? Heads start to roll! We’re not talking literally here, but rather about that time when head coaches start losing their job. Last year, the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ parting of ways with Grey Cup champion HC Corey Chamblin signaled that fans could start realistically thinking about the playoffs, as the message was sent that those Riders’ season was over.
And so it was on Monday: Montreal Alouettes officials announced that, for the fourth time in his career, Jim Popp will relinquish head coaching duties in Quebec, with former receivers coach/offensive coordinator’s assistant Jacques Chapdelaine getting a big promotion to interim head coach for the remainder of the season. Naturally, Popp will retain his position as Alouettes general manager. (“Huh,” snorts the cynic, “might as well keep him there. He’s already done the max damage he can do to this team’s roster and salary cap.”)
While Alouettes fans are supposed to repeat the mantra, “we’re only two games out of playoff contention,” the signal that team owner Bob Wetenhall is attempting to obscure remains clear: 2016 is a lost season.
Worse yet, it gets worse. The subplot here stars Noel Thorpe, Montreal’s current defensive coordinator. As my Rouge, White & Blue CFL Podcast co-host Joe Pritchard points out on this week’s show, Thorpe is the guy whom the Alouettes refused to let out of his contract in order to interview for a position in one of the many capacities then available with the Edmonton Eskimos after the mass exodus from that staff.
After getting passed up for even an interim head coach positions with Montreal, there ain’t too many dots to connect to figure out what Thorpe’s doing for 2017 after his contract unquestionably expires.
Do Francophones still say, «Sacre bleu»? If so, sacre bleu!
Speaking of those Alouettes, last week’s CFL games started in typical fashion, namely…
Hamilton Tiger-Cats 20, Montreal Alouettes 17. It wasn’t easy being positive about this Alouettes team before the coaching shakeup, but The South says damn if Duron Carter’s punt block and touchdown isn’t the Play of the Year in the CFL thus far. (Although, admittedly, Ryan’s Smith no-look catch/real-life Madden glitch in week 3 is still seriously sweet.)
As for the Tiger-Cats, welp, we’ve still yet to see a complete game for this side. Well more troubling for Hamilton’s prospects in the playoffs beyond the general inconsistency on offensive and defensive sides of the ball, however, is the dismal state of the special teams. For the fourth consecutive game, the Ticats have surrendered a blocked punt, which must be close to – if not outright – an ignominious all-time CFL record. Even on a mundane level, the Alouettes spent most of the game starting with a short field, an advantage a better offense (likesay any other in the league) can convert into a win.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers 46, Toronto Argonauts 29. The ballad of Dan LeFevour (which begins along the lines of “The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Argos twelve that day / Their season’s hopes had all but gone away along with Ricky Ray…”) continued through the first half in Winnipeg: LeFevour closed the first half with a nice stat line reading 12-of-18 for 201 yards with 3 TDs against zero interceptions – plus a 22-19 halftime lead.
Alas, Mr. Saturday Night (Get it? “Saturday Night” LeFevour? Hey, this is great stuff here…) was no match for the fierce combination of heart-attack squad and Cinderella team that the 2016 Winnipeg Blue bombers have become. As is their usual wont this season, the Bombers hung tough, swapping leads six times with LeFevour’s Argonauts before taking over the lead for good after a subtly crucial play from Maurice Leggett got the Bombers into that rhythm they sought.
As though we needed more reasons to love the rouge, consider this game’s third quarter. With about 11:45 remaining and a 36-29 Bombers lead, LeFevour led a 65-yard drive which stalled on the Winnipeg 32. Liram Hajrullahu missed a conciliatory field goal, only to see Maurice Leggett return the whiffed convert to just one yard short of the spot of the kick. The Argos never scored again.
For want of a rouge, the battle was lost…
Rod Black’s Weekly Crime Against The English Language – With Bonus Misunderstanding of Probability Theory. In a halftime interview with Winnipeg special-teamer Quincy McDuffie, the Bomber descried the second-half strategy in fairly typical terms: essentially, stick to the game plan and “ball out.”
Naturally, ol’ Rod couldn’t resist reusing such a potentially entendre-laden phrasal verb as McDuffie’s, slathering onto the repetition his single most cringe-worthy and flat out moronic cliché when TSN sent the broadcast back up to the booth.
“Ball out: That’s what you want to do right now. And I would say that [and here Rod pauses for effect, and we all know what’s coming next], the last team with the football may win this ball game.”
To which Duane Black vaguely responded, “Well, that’s sure the way the second quarter closed out.”
Right. Okay. Trying to stay calm here, but doesn’t Mr. Black realize that the statement “the last team with the football wins” is correct nearly exactly 50% of the time AT ANY POINT IN ANY GAME?!?!?! And then, for f***’s sake, man, you add in the “may”? What are you doing, Rod, hedging on a 50/50 bet? Or just talking to fill airtime? (That was a rhetorical question.)
Worse yet, Rod DOUBLED-DOWN on this nonsensical chatter in the third quarter, trying to implicate poor Duane Ford as partly responsible for this idiot “logic”:
“As we mentioned earlier, it might be the last team with the football that could win this game the way it’s going.”
This time, Ford commented only with his turgid silence.
(Incidentally, the Argos had the ball last in this game. Rod was wrong.)
Calgary Stampeders 48, Ottawa RedBlacks 23. These Stampeders are just so good. So very, very good. What else is there to say?
Statistic Of The Week Which Confirms All-Time Level Greatness. In case you missed it, Derek Tyalor’s “Great Wall of Calgary” segment confirmed what CFL fans have suspected all season long: That this Stampeders line is playing at a historically significant level of excellence. According to Derek Tyalor’s “Great Wall of Calgary” segment during the TSN broadcast of the Stamps-RedBlacks game, the ratio of 2.9 sacks allowed per 100 dropbacks is the lowest such mark in the CFL in 20 years.
Granted, the two QB sacks the RedBlacks accrued in week 13 – the first team to drop Bo Levi Mitchell more than once in a game since BC Lions bagged him thrice in week 6 – dropped that ratio a bit
Sacks 2.9% of pass attempts, the lowest in 20 years. Derek Taylor’s “Great Wall of Calgary” segment during the TSN broadcast, but the number’s surely still below 3.5% — and that’s far ahead of any other CFL O-line in the 2010s…
Saskatchewan Roughriders 26, Edmonton Eskimos 23. What kind of odds de you suppose you could’ve gotten on a proposition bet on Dan LeFevour getting a CFL win as a starter before Darien Durant in 2016? 50/1 at very *very* least, right?
And while LeFevour may have won you your imaginary, hindsight-made bet, this game was all Darien Durant’s. With an assist from a brilliant fumble recovery/touchdown by Ed Gainey, Durant put the team on his shoulders for 235 total yards and one fourth-quarter rushing touchdown – ultimately just enough to get the game into overtime and cross the goal line for the winning points.
On the other side, the Eskimos picked a bad time to start looking worn down – but this wasn’t really a choice, was it? The Riders’ totals of one sack, one pick and one fumble recovery don’t tell the story of how once again the crumbling offensive line allowed Mike Reilly to be harassed throughout, ultimately completing just over 50% (19-of-36) of his passes while seemingly constantly under duress. On the defense, Durant has a field day finding soft spots at the second level – a new nightmare the Eskimos are not, at his juncture, ready to face.
Incidentally, on top of everything else, The Eskimos are just 1-3 in overtime games this season.
Weird Canadian News Story of the Week. As we’ve seen in past editions of View From The South, Canada does play host to some weird criminals, like mannequin thieves and beer-swiping goalies. So add the wave of “Elevator Shaft Vandalism” currently haunting Halifax. Reportedly, several tall buildings in the Nova Scotia city have reported objects hurled down elevator shafts, probably at least in part to the gleefully chaotic sounds of hurling one of those plastic “Wet Floor” signs 20 floors or so downward.
No one has been injured (or has even eye-witnessed) the incidents and no suspects have been found. My money’s on performance art as the culprit.
As for next week’s CFL games, an otherwise mostly clear playoff picture will get weird if all four underdogs win; the slate starts with…
Toronto Argonauts at Ottawa RedBlacks. Toronto’s success in 2016 appears to hinge on two factors: turnovers and playing as the visiting team. As for the former, it’s this simple: The Argos are 5-2 this season in games in which they get more than one turnover, 0-5 otherwise. (The Argos are also the last team to pick off a Matt Nichols pass – back in week six.) Regarding the latter, Toronto is 3-2 away, 2-5 at home. I don’t know how they does it, but they does it. The South says Ottawa turns it over twice; Argonauts win.
Canadians in the NFL. Tell you what: The most visible Canadian in the NFL last weekend was easily Jon Ryan. With his Seattle Seahawks able to do nothing on offense against the Los Angeles Rams, the punter from Regina was called upon seven times and amasses some 309 total yards. Here’s one guy hoping he doesn’t have to work so much on Sunday.
Worth looking out for this week: DL Christian Covington, a rookie standout for the Houston Texans last season, who should see his first action against the New England Patriots this weekend, as he’s listed as a full participant in practices going into the game.
BC Lions at Edmonton Eskimos. The schedule from hell (after this, it’s at Winnipeg, t Montreal, bye, at BC, at Hamilton, vs Toronto) begins with the BC Lions enjoying an extra day off advantage. Also at play in this game: the mismatch of the week, i.e. BC’s front eight on D versus that (running out of adjectives here) unimpressive Edmonton offensive line. BC Lions win by 2-3 touchdowns.
My Favorite Fantasy Players (This Week). Larry Dean! Micah Johnson! Matt Black! Three defensive studs whose double-digit performances saved my bacon in the Rouge, White & Blue’s CFL USA Fantaseh league! Fantasy with defensive players rules, and playing only CFL DFS is for wusses! This week.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Calgary Stampeders. If anyone can beat Calgary right now, it’s … nah. I tried that line last week, but I don’t believe anyone short of Tecmo Bo Jackson’s digital Raiders could beat these Stampeders right now. And with the two least turnover-prone teams going head-to-head – the Bombers are a ridiculous +25 in turnover differential – you’d probably figure this one for a scientific, ball-control lover’s game. Which means it’s probably a regression-to-the-mean slogfest. Nevertheless, The South says Stampeders win.
Homer Simpson’s Least Favorite Fantasy Player (This Week). Flanders, of course!
Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Saskatchewan Roughriders. Almost as hard to believe as the Roughriders winning two in a row (home or no) is the Ticats’ slide since the return of Zach Collaros (Don’t tell me about a win over Montreal last week; everyone beats Montreal this season). For this one, the South suspects a similar result to that Ticats-Alouettes game, with a deceptively close score based on freak plays and garbage-time scoring. And the Ticats win.
Next week: All four underdogs win. Things get weird.