Here are 10 things that struck our CFL columnist as the league heads to the halfway point:1. Riders Rock (bottom)
Saskatchewan started the season 3-0, shocking the heck out of everyone and embarrassing your correspondent, who said they'd only win four of 18.
Since then, the bottom has fallen out
and the Riders are last in the West headed for the Labour Day weekend, also known around here as the actual start of the regular season.
Strangely, this has hardly been a plunge - more like a slow, circular counter-clockwise circle down the first-half drain - losing a couple of big shootouts, blowing a couple of big leads, suffering mental meltdowns.
Yet, the Riders don't take many penalties, don't turn the ball over much, can run with newcomer Kory Sheets, are OK in the passing game, and have average defensive stats.
The key seems to be that when they do make errors of commission and/or omission, they always come at the worst possible time. How do you fix something like that?
Yonder bald spot on the back of Gainer the Gopher's head is from scratching it in confusion.2. Me and Wally, we're sort of like this
When Wally Buono hired his protege, defensive coordinator Mike Benevides, to take over the head coaching reigns with the Grey Cup champs out on the Left Coast, many observers (who, me?) thought they were getting a cookie cutter version of Ol' Brillo.
Not quite, as we'd like to point out this B.C. club has started the year 6-2
, as opposed to Mr. Buono's recent struggles out of the gate (1-7 to start 2010, finished 7-3, and 1-6 in 2011, finished 10-1 and took home the chalice).
This is a big deal for the rest of the league because while recent Lions teams have had to treat each game in the second half as though it were sudden death, this year's group can concentrate on keeping up the good work and fixing things that need it.
Take that offence. Please.
Defensively, Rich Stubler (who started his career almost 40 years back) has improved a bit on the unit coached by his new boss.
Isn't there anything like Wally in Mikey? Sure. He doesn't try long field goals, either. 3. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Psychology
Is Jon Cornish using his University of Kansas psychology degree on his offensive line?
So far, the Calgary runner has chocked up totals of 86, 39, 36, 39, -1, 170, 43 and 159 yards for a decent, but still disappointing, total of 571. After that -1 he publically blamed his linemen, the message being block better for me and I'll do better. And they did. And he did.
Perfect reverse psychology
But then there was this quote after the 159 yarder in Week 8: "Our offensive line was that good. I knew the whole time they were that good. They were playing like they are the best line in the CFL right now. It makes my job easy."
Now, I didn't take Pysch 101 at U of T when I was there in the 1920s, but I can read between those lines: "I'm always the same way [good] and as long as you do your job, everything will be fine. Just like I told you."
I've sat across a table and chatted one-on-one with Cornish, and he seems like a nice, highly intelligent young man. But someone is going to have to explain the nuances of speech to him before one of the fat guys comes along and tries it himself.
Unless he's doing it on purpose, see.4. We don't need no stinkin' quarterback when we have a wall
Chatting once with DB Byron Parker (then in Toronto, now on the Left Coast), he was shaking his head at the way pundits spent so much time looking at myriads of stats when rating defences.
"Forget the numbers, man," he said. "Just look at the scoreboard."
Exactly. Yes, Edmonton doesn't have much of an offence, and Steven Jyles (bless his hard-working heart) is never going to be Warren Moon, but things are OK with the Eskimos because they have a defence that respects the scoreboard.
You can't find a defensive stat this group leads in (actually they are in the bottom half in most), but they are hanging in there with B.C. for least points allowed.
They're doing it by forcing opposing offences to exhaust themselves piling up yardage to get into scoring range before the Esks either A) pick the ball off, or B) sack the QB for a big loss, taking them out of field goal range.
Yes, a dangerous way to live and it could fall apart any moment. Works fine right now, though.5. It's the Chris Williams show and we're all invited along for the ride
I know we're not supposed to quote Chris "Boomer" Berman if we're to maintain our journalistic integrity ('cause it's a cliche, see, and we don't do cliches), but the ESPN host is such a big CFL fan let's go for it once.
When the Cats' Chris Williams fields a kick, you just know He-Could-Go-All-The-Way ... and he has gone, five times so far, tying the CFL single-season mark with 10 games to go.
That he's doing all this at just 5-feet-9 and 155 pounds is even cooler. Seriously, you have to see this guy in the dressing room with his pads off to appreciate how skinny he really is. Ballet dancers are jealous.
Earlier this year he actually threw up (on the field, on national TV) in exhaustion, or excitement, or something.
Special teams coordinators all across the LEAGUE know exactly how that feels.6. Cats don't fetch, roll over, bring in the newspaper ... or tackle
The Tiger-Cats can't tackle. That's not meant to be a personal criticism, or a condemnation of their attitude, or a shot at their manliness.
They just can't tackle.
Oh, there are exceptions. Renauld Williams can tackle. Jamall Johnson can tackle. I'm pretty sure TC Cat and Pigskin Pete can pull a guy down when necessary.
But for the rest, they just flail away and hope for the best - thus the last place stats in most of the defensive categories.
Yakking with a scout after a game early in the season (Hey, I'm using my best lines here), I asked what he thought of this year's black and gold. "Still can't tackle in the backfield," he said.
Unfortunately for Cats' fans, this two-hand touch doesn't fit the basics of the pro game. The one called tackle football.7. Murphy lives in Manitoba, but he doesn't know Joe Mack's address
Paul LaPolice is fired
for the club's 2-6 start, even though he was given a three-year extension in the off-season, and Murphy's Law has prevailed.
The new stadium nightmare meant the first four games were on the road. The starting running back went down in training camp. The starting quarterback went down early. The starting defensive backfield was decimated by injury.
Joe Mack, the GM who thought it a fine idea to let half the defence go and didn't replace them too well, and who thinks having a bunch of young guys is a great idea, even though they're prone to taking dumb penalties, still has a job.
Though, as Kirk Penton, of the Winnipeg Sun, points out, the coach always goes first and Mack is now on the clock.
Since the Bombers last won the Grey Cup in 1990 they've been through Darryl Rogers, Urban Bowman, Cal Murphy, Jeff Reinebold, Dave Ritchie, Jim Daley, Doug Berry, Mike Kelly, LaPolice and now have handed off to Tim Burke.
Every time it was their fault, apparently.8. Argo offence made easy
Why is it taking so long for the Toronto Argonauts to learn their new offence? Because it's hard, that's why.
Scott Milanovich brought this scheme with him from Montreal when he took over as head coach. For a nice explanation of how it works, we present our Greg Frers
And here's a simple rule you can follow at home. On the snap to QB Ricky Ray, count "One steamboat, two steamboats, three steamboats ..."
If the ball is released before you are finished steamboats, things are going well for the Boatmen. If not, they are in big trouble because Ray does not scramble around like some young pup straight out of an option offence.
Try it. It works.9. Apparently, you don't need 2 shoulders to be a QB, but 2 ankles would be nice
Chatter, chatter went the chatterers this past week over Anthony Calvillo's attempted trip on Edmonton's Rod Williams after an interception. Cost him around $500 in a teeny fine
, and who cares.
What was surprising was he tried it in the first place because the 40-year-old is usually so even keeled, so solid, that if he had been the Titanic, the ice berg would have sunk. So AC may become a grumpy old man after all.
Why he didn't try to tackle Williams, of course, is that the QB has been playing most of the first half of the season with one good shoulder, though fortunately it's the one he throws with. And that makes the fact he's the leading pivot in the league so amazing.
A point of advice, however. Two shoulders might not be needed, but a pair of good ankles are, and shattering one by sticking it in front of a guy isn't a good idea.
Next time you throw a pick, unless it's late in the Grey Cup game, just get the heck out of the way Anthony, and let the young guys work it out.10. Nobody knows nuthin'
The worst prognosticator in the CFL (me) has had an alright year so far - an event so unprecedented I think that knock on the door is WADA coming to drug test.
Nobody with an ounce of sense actually bets on the league because nothing ever goes the way it's supposed to, but overall the pre-season picks are still on track for maybe six right and two wrong.
And then there's Hamilton. Season after season I pick the Tiger-Cats to win the East. And they don't. Can't understand how a team that looks so good on paper can struggle like this: A paltry 3-5 with a porous defence.
I grew up an Argonaut fan for gosh sakes. Bled Double Blue. You'd think I'd know better.
Still, can you imagine how they feel in the Hammer? Maybe there's a big second half coming to save them and me.
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