Grey Cup: What to watch
The practices are over, the long film sessions complete. All that's left to do now is play the game.
The 2009 CFL season will come to an end Sunday when the Montreal Alouettes square off against the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the 97th Grey Cup at Calgary's McMahon Stadium (6:30 p.m. ET).
The showdown features the best two teams in the CFL this season. Montreal finished atop the East Division standings with a league-best 15-3 record while Saskatchewan took first in the West Division for the first time since 1976 with a 10-7-1 mark.
There's no shortage of things worth watching out for in the game, but none more intriguing than the play of the two quarterbacks, for much in Canadian football is decided by the man who lines up under centre.
Anthony Calvillo, 37, gets the start for Montreal and is looking to cap an impressive season in style. Calvillo, in his 16th CFL season, was named the league's outstanding player for the second straight year and third time overall. He finished third overall in passing with 4,639 yards but completed 72 per cent of his passes and had just six interceptions in 550 pass attempts.
Calvillo's experience alone creates a huge challenge for a defence because, frankly, there's precious little Calvillo hasn't seen during his stellar CFL career. With a solid supporting cast around him, Calvillo is a master not only of finding the open receiver, but also spreading the wealth.
Montreal had three 1,000-yard receivers this season and the presence of tailback Avon Cobourne gives Calvillo a rugged running back who's also capable of being a solid part of the passing game. Calvillo also anchored an offence that led the CFL in scoring (33.3 points per game), passing (288.4 yards), touchdowns (50) and passing TDs (33).
Reputation at stake
Calvillo was magnificent in leading Montreal to the Grey Cup, throwing five touchdown passes in the club's lopsided 56-18 dismantling of the B.C. Lions in the East Division final last weekend.
Montreal is appearing in its seventh Grey Cup since 2000 — all with Calvillo at quarterback — but is after just its second victory. While there's no doubting Calvillo's stature as a future Canadian Football Hall of Fame member, another loss in the big game could tarnish his lustre.
In fact, Calvillo enters Sunday's game with the same number of Grey Cup rings as his counterpart, Saskatchewan's Darian Durant. However, Durant earned his as the Riders' No. 3 quarterback when they beat Winnipeg in 2007.
Durant is completing his first full season as Saskatchewan's starter and has shown the promise of becoming one of the CFL's top quarterbacks. After being platooned with Steven Jyles earlier this season, Durant has firmly secured the No. 1 job and it was his two second-half touchdown passes that powered the Riders to a 27-17 victory in the West Division final.
Durant finished fourth overall in passing this season with 4,348 yards, had 24 TD strikes — second only to Calvillo, who had 26 — and also rushed for 501 yards, averaging over eight yards per carry.
But if there was a knock against Durant, it was his 21 interceptions, the most by a CFL starter this season. And there's the matter of his experience: 23 regular-season starts and only one in the post-season.
Here's a list of some of the things worth looking out for:
ALOUETTES DEFENCE: Montreal's unit was the CFL's best this year, leading in 21 of the league's 25 defensive categories. A defence's top priority against an inexperienced quarterback is to pressure him into making mistakes. Now, the Alouettes must account for Durant's mobility, but their defence was second overall in total sacks so they know how to get to the passer. It will be interesting to see what various methods the Alouettes use to try and confuse Durant and force him to make bad throws.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Montreal's kick-return games are anchored by the speedy Larry Taylor, who was named the league's top special-teams player. A big part of Montreal's offensive success is field position, and this is where Taylor comes in. He led the CFL with 788 punt-return yards and two TDs and was third in kickoff returns. He also returned a missed field goal for a TD against Winnipeg. Saskatchewan counters with veteran Jason Armstead, who has proven to be a nice addition this season.
HALF-TIME SHOW: The show features a three-song set by Blue Rodeo. What songs the band will play aren't known but the set was selected fans who voted via an online poll.
ALS' PASSING GAME: Calvillo's veteran savvy is a big reason for Montreal's passing success, but so too is his knack for spreading the ball around. A veteran receiving corps is anchored by Kerry Watkins (81 catches, 1,243 yards, eight TDs), Jamel Richardson (85 catches, 1,055 yards, nine TDs) and Ben Cahoon (89 catches, 1,031 yards, two TDs). The Riders counter with a secondary featuring veterans Omarr Morgan and Eddie Davis, who both still have plenty left in the tank. Calvillo will get his passing yards but it will be up to Morgan, Davis and Saskatchewan's secondary to keep the big plays down to a minimum.
RUN GAME: Montreal tailback Avon Cobourne's success is a testament to his ability, given he lines up in a pass-first offence. But the dynamo rushed for 1,214 yards and averaged more than five yards a carry. Cobourne had plenty of success against the Riders this season, running for 247 yards combined in helping the Alouettes sweep the series 2-0. Saskatchewan's defence was ranked seventh against the run this year, allowing 123.8 yards per game.
RIDERS PRESSURE: Montreal's penchant for passing would seem to work right into the hands of the Saskatchewan Roughriders defence, most notably ends John Chick and Stevie Baggs. Baggs finished tied for first in CFL sacks with 12, with Chick registering 11 en route to being named the league's top defensive player. Both players are tenacious pass rushers and create difficulties for opposing offences because there aren't enough blockers to double-team both. Calvillo is a terrific passer but not overly mobile, meaning Baggs and Chick will have an idea of where he is on passing downs.
RIDERS PASS GAME: Saskatchewan will be minus its leading receiver as Weston Dressler continues to recover from a broken leg and sprained ankle. But the Riders' Canadian receiving corps of Andy Fantuz, Rob Bagg and Chris Getzlaff has been sensational down the stretch. The Riders will put a lot of pressure on Montreal's secondary because they are expected to move Fantuz all over the field to try and create mismatches for him. The Alouettes play both man and zone defences so there are potential advantages there for Fantuz to exploit.
OFFICIALS: Football officials loathe attention because it usually means they've made a controversial call. But this year's crew will feature four officials making their first Grey Cup appearance. So the players won't be the only ones with butterflies leading up to the opening kickoff.