That a clash of minds will meet in the 100th Grey Cup is a great story.
Toronto Argonauts defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones has emerged as one of the great defensive minds in the CFL. Formerly the defensive guru for the Calgary Stampeders and Montreal Alouettes, he has assembled a group of relatively young athletes and duplicated his aggressive, in-your-face style of defence in Toronto.
In only two short years after taking the reins of the Stampeders offence, Dave Dickenson has demonstrated to us why he was given the nickname "The Quiet Professor" as a player. Taming the B.C. Lions in the Western final will be remembered as the day that Dickenson emerged as a respected offensive co-ordinator in the CFL.
The familiarity that these two coaches have with one another, only increases the enjoyment of watching this battle unfold.
Jones runs an aggressive bump-and-run, man-to-man defence. His high-risk, high-reward scheme can only be effective if he has the right players with the right skill sets to pull it off.
The shear size of the Canadian field intimidates most coaches and players from attempting this style of defence. Maybe this is why Jones has had success implementing the defence in Calgary -- and now in Toronto -- with players that have never played in the CFL before. They don't know any better.
In order to compensate for the size of the field, Jones plays with only two true, BIG down lineman. He is a firm believer that speed kills, that it allows you to be wrong and yet still be right because you have the catch up speed to correct your mistakes. Speed on the field allows you to interchange players in creative ways that keeps you from being predictable. It allows a defence to get beat once in a while and rally to the play in order to fight another day.
The average coach does a good job of manipulating X's and O's. What separates Jones as a great coach is his ability to understand what each player is great at and designs defences that capitalize on their strengths.
Argos rely on athleticism
Although the Argonauts defence plays with only three true linebackers, rush ends Ricky Foley and Ronald Flemons are athletic enough that Jones can easily rotate them into coverage. In order to add some speed into pass coverage on second and long, Ejiro Kuale rotates in and can still be effective against the run or pass rush.
At 245 pounds, Robert McCune is the perfect run stopper in the middle of the defence, while Brandon Isaac is, arguably, the best blitzing linebacker in the CFL. And we were all introduced to Marcus Ball's ability to freelance and anticipate the quarterback last week as he intercepted two key Anthony Calvillo passes.
The Argos had their hands full with the Alouettes' tall, physical inside receivers last week. A steady dose of bump-and-run, man-to-man coverage was a tall order for the defence to pull off. In order to mix things up, Jones chose to wall the inside receivers off with linebackers and then, unexpectedly, dropped Ball out and allowed him to read the quarterback in order to make plays on the football. The result? Richardson and Green only had one big play each and Ball found the football twice.
Across the board, the Argo defence is one of the most athletic in the CFL. It will be critical that it brings enough creativity into Sunday's game to get Stampeders quarterback Kevin Glenn guessing.
No longer Cornish-Lewis show
The bottom line is Calgary has yet to find a way to beat the Argos this year, but the Stamps are much different offensively than they were the last time these two teams met in August.
Calgary's offence is no longer the Jon Cornish-Nik Lewis show. The passing attack has evolved to the point that teams can no longer focus on one or two players and have success stalling drives. The emergence of Mo Price has taken the offence to a completely new level. He has been on fire the past few weeks. Over the last six games, he has averaged over 100 yards receiving and, over the past two games, he has averaged 18 yards per catch. Sprinkle in a little Romby Bryant and Maurice McDaniel and you have a very difficult time clamping down on Lewis. The mistake the past two weeks is that teams spent too much time focusing on Lewis.
What will get you beat is not the six-yard catch that Lewis may stretch into 12, it is the 68-yard touchdown that will kill you everytime. Over the past two games, Bryant has averaged 29 yards per catch, so if Calgary's offensive line can give Glenn enough time, it has the horses to get vertical on Toronto.
Toronto's defence can't afford to be predictable this week. It will be very interesting to see what kind of wrinkle Chris Jones brings into the biggest game of the year.
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