Monday, June 30, 2014

Thoughts on CFL Week 1

The 2014 CFL season kicked off in an exciting fashion for Blue Bomber fans.  On the whole though, a real sloppy week of CFL football to kick things off.

  • Was there a quarterbacking performance better than Drew Willy's (19-27 308 yards 4 TD) in week 1?  With all due respect to Mike Renaud,  no one else was even close in week 1.  We know what to expect from Ricky Ray and Darian Durant over 18 games, but if week 1 in any indication, Drew Willy is primed to join the ranks of CFL elite at the quarterback position very quickly.  The most impressive part of Willy's game was his composure under pressure, moving the ball out quickly and decisively to his targets.  His moderate happiness with both his own and team performance bodes well.  The guy isn't satisfied, content nor surprised with his play.  That is a very good sign.

  • Kevin Glenn threw 4 INT's, but it is too early for BC to panic. Those turnovers were the difference in the 27-20 BC loss.  On the whole, BC played well, Edmonton played average but did not turn the ball over.  The result of this game does not change my view of either team.  BC will be battling for a home playoff game, Edmonton will be fighting to stay out of the league basement.

  • The quality of offensive line play in the Edmonton-BC game was truly horrendous.  Amazingly, Edmonton's offensive line is actually getting better, but Mike Reilly does not help his offensive line by taking his time in reading the defense, and it looks as though he is making most of his decisions after the snap.  They say he won't be running as much, but it sure does not look that way.  Reilly's running remains key to the Eskimos offensive production.

  • Why would you sign a quarterback who has only had success by improvising, using misdirection and moving the pocket and stick him in the pocket on straight drops?  That's the question I'd be asking Kent Austin if I owned the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Zach Collaros does not have the arm to run the kind of offence Hamilton showed in Regina.  They need to be a little more creative.

  • That said, the Roughriders defense did a masterful job of not allowing Collaros to escape the pocket by crashing their ends wide and rushing in waves, leading to 10 sacks.

  • Troy Smith, no accuracy, literally no accuracy.  It is not a compliment when people start comparing your upside to Michael Bishop (career 51% completion, 66 TD's to 76 INT's, 71 QB rating).  If I were Ryan Dinwiddie, I'd only run a zone read play between Smith and Whitaker, and four verticals.  Let Smith bomb it down the field 25 times a game at Duron Carter and SJ Green, if you hit 5 of them you'll have more offence than you did in week 1.  Montreal looks to be in big trouble this season with poor communication between the front office and a coach who was hired by the owner over the wishes of the general manager.  This season has disaster written all over it for the Alouettes, and the play on the field in week 1 did nothing to change that course.

  • Bo Levi Mitchell was inconsistent in his first start as a #1, but he settled down and ended up with 313 yards and 2 TD's. Calgary's offence looks to be a little more reliant on the big play with BLM at QB than it has been in recent years, something to watch going forward.

  • Kyries Hebert's flying jab (video) on Jon Cornish was about the only exciting moment of the Montreal-Calgary game, for the wrong reasons.  It is hard to get suspended in pro football, fines usually being the highest form of discipline, but Hebert deserves a suspension.  Swinging your forearm/fist at another player's jaw is not a football play, not even a vicious football play which Hebert is renowned for, it's just a straight up assault.

Our players of the week:

Offense- Drew Willy WPG
Defense- Ricky Foley SASK
Canadian- Ricky Foley SASK
Special Teams- Branden Smith TOR

Some notes specific to the Bombers 45-21 win over the Argos:

  • The Blue Bomber defense had a great night.  Ricky Ray was off balance.  Much like Anthony Calvillo in his recently concluded career, Ray relies heavily on reading the defense pre-snap, basically knowing where he's throwing the ball before he even touches it.  The Bomber D gave the Argos so many different looks both before and after the snap that Ray could not assume anything.  They also pressured him a dozen times pre-garbage time.

  • Some interesting things the Bomber D did include:
    • Showing up to 8 players on the line of scrimmage and rushing any number between 2 and all 8 of them.  The Bombers rushed 2 once, and 8 once each.  The vast majority of their blitzes were 5 or 6, with the odd 7 man blitz tossed in.
    • Another factor was who was rushing the quarterback and from where.  There was a lot of variety.  All the DL save for Jake Thomas lined up in each gap on the line at various times.  Ejiro Kuale played about 6 different positions and was a big factor in the pass rush.  Louie Richardson played both inside and outside.  Pretty much everyone who set foot on the field defensively rushed the QB at some point other than the corners.
    • When Ricky Ray changed the play, the Bombers D changed their look entirely.  Linebackers traded places, DL shifted into different gaps, Bryant Turner dropped into a LB spot.  All sorts of things happened, and that ability for Ray to know what the defense was going to do was completely taken away.  Toronto counteracted this a little with swing passes to Owens and Durie.  At that point it comes down to tackling and rallying to the ball, which the Bombers did well for the most part.

  • In terms of blitzing (pass rushing more than 4 players), the Bombers blitzed on approximately 30% of Argo passing downs, the Argos blitzed on approximately 20% of Bomber passing downs.

  • Those blitzing numbers are relatively high for a Tim Burke defense.  After the Bombers first drive, the Argos were pretty consistent blitzers.  When they did blitz, it was almost always one or both of Jamie Robinson (SAM/HB) or Shea Emry (MAC) coming as the extra guys.  Burke keeps it simple for his players.

  • Drew Willy handled the blitz quite easily, as did the Bombers offensive line.  The key for the offensive line is to protect their inside gaps and only allow the extra guys to come off the edge if they can't be accounted for.  They did that perfectly.  With the inside gaps sealed up, the QB has to react calmly, move the ball out quickly and decisively, which Willy did, rendering the Argo blitz mostly ineffective.  The 48 yard pass to Watson in the 2nd quarter is a perfect illustration of Willy vs the blitz.

  • Nic Grigsby struggled with picking up the blitz from the tailback position, mostly reading where he needed to be to pick it up and getting there.  When he locked onto a block he finished his blocks.  Grigsby's day running the ball was consistent.  He does not get any yards after contact, but he can make people miss in the open field and hit some big runs.  He could have hit a huge run by breaking one arm tackle on a perfectly set draw play.  Nice game, but I'd still slot him behind Paris Cotton.

  • Chris Randle, Demond Washington and Maurice Leggett were standouts in the secondary.  Randle is a shutdown corner, the Argos got nothing on him, and when Ray finally hit Chiles who got a step inside Randle, Randle ripped the ball out of his grasp before he could complete the catch.  Leggett has taken well to the safety spot in this system.  He made a couple huge pass breakups in the endzone, and a huge hit on Jason Barnes that will make the middle of the field a less desirable place.  One play that showed just how calm and collected Leggett is at safety was one of the swing passes to Owens.  Leggett initially took a poor angle, but rather than simply going as fast as he could and whiffing, he adjusted and made the tackle.  Gave up a couple more yards than if he took the best angle initially, but didn't let Owens bust a big play by trying to overcompensate.  Incredibly smart play for a guy playing safety in his first Canadian Football game.

  • Teague Sherman has a regular role on defense, and he shined.  Extremely disruptive as a blitzer, and becoming a strip specialist.  His ability to play significant snaps on defense will help Jake Thomas stay fresh and allow the Bombers to roll out 4 import DL or have Wild and Kuale on the field at the same time.

  • The Bomber offence is simple in design.  For the most part they ran 3x2 or 2x3 (3 receivers on one side, 2 on the other) formations with Grigsby either set in the gap between guard and tackle or in an I-formation behind Willy in the pistol.  There was the odd formation with a bunch, usually with tight end, a fair amount of double tight end sets and empty backfields with Grigsby motioning out pre-snap too.

  • The offensive line as a whole had a good night.  As I said earlier, there were few major breakdowns and they looked like they had played together for a long time, not a crew with a first-time centre and new right side.  Compared to the line play in week 1 across the league, the Bombers were well above average.  It is a lot easier playing OL for a QB like Drew Willy than QB's like Hall and Goltz.  In particular, Dan Knapp and Chris Greaves stood out in run blocking.  The Bombers ran a lot of designed plays with Knapp pulling from right to left, leading Grigsby.  Greaves did a very good job of sealing his gap to open inside lanes for Grigsby the handful of times the run game ventured between the tackles.  Most of Grigsby's yards were on runs off tackle.

  • On the whole, the Blue Bombers impressed me as a calm, cool and collected group.  It is easy to see where that is coming from because that is the demeanor of their head coach.  The attitude isn't "why did you do that" (Woods letting the ball bounce into the endzone, then taking it out :() or "why did we let that happen" it is "what happened, how can we do it better next time and let's get it right next time."  There were a few points in the game where it kind of felt like the inevitable Argo comeback was coming, but the Bombers made a big play, a stop or drove the field to respond each time the Argos poked their head out and smacked them back down into the ground. Bring on the REDBLACKS!

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