The Calgary Stampeders’ swarming, dominant, defenders say that timing will be everything come Grey Cup Sunday when they try to disrupt the up-tempo, quick-strike offence of QB Trevor Harris and the Ottawa Redblacks.
But they know it won’t be easy.
“It’s so frustrating for a D-line when you know they’re getting the ball out within under two seconds sometimes. The ball is coming out quick,” Calgary defensive end Ja’Gared Davis said. “You just gotta get ’em into second and long where (Harris) has to hold the ball a little bit (longer).
“The game is always won and lost in the trenches. Best to come out and just dictate the pace and style and physicality of the game.”
The defence allowed just 5.8 yards per play while sacking the opposing QB 45 times, both best in the league.
They were also No. 1 in offensive TDs allowed (just 27) and offensive points allowed (17.8 per game).
They shut down Winnipeg’s high octane offence in a gritty 22-14 win in the West Division final.
But on Sunday at Commonwealth Stadium, they will have to contend with Harris and a receiving corps peaking at the top of their game.
Harris threw a CFL-record six TD passes against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the East Division final. He led the CFL with an 70.1 completion percentage and took it even higher (90.6) against Hamilton, shredding the defence, going 29 for 32, while throwing passes to 10 different receivers.
Calgary defensive tackle Micah Johnson said the solution begins with Harris.
“Just try to play solid on first downs. I think they’re a rhythm offence and we’re going to do our best to get them off rhythm, get them off kilter, try to get to Harris as much as we can,” said Johnson, who led the team with 14 sacks in the regular season.
Ottawa had three receivers in the top nine in the CFL this year. Brad Sinopoli was third, with a league-high 116 catches for 1,376 yards and four TDs. Greg Ellingson was sixth with (91 catches, 1086 yards, five TDs) and speedster Diontae Spencer was ninth (81 catches, 1007 yards, seven TDs.).
Stamps defensive back Ciante Evans said each receiver brings different skills.
“Sinopoli is their physical guy. He’s going to get in on the run block. He’s their check down guy,” said Evans. “Spencer is going to take you vertical and keep you honest. Ellingson he can do it all – intermediate, go deep. Whenever his name is called he’s a tough cover.”
Stamps defensive back Tre Roberson added: “Sinopoli, he’s a guy that’s going to be playing low. They’re going to try to get the ball to him in the low routes. Diontae Spencer, he’s one of those guys who’s going to take the top off the defence. Ellingson, he’s a pretty good receiver. He can get open and run pretty good routes.”
Stamps linebacker Jamar Wall said the receivers are only half the challenge. The other, he said, is running back William Powell.
“They have a two-headed monster, for sure,” said Wall.
“They have a good passing offence and a running game. Powell is really good, he’s patient at what he does, but he can also hit downhill.”
Powell led the CFL with 251 carries and ranked second with 1,362 yards.
Davis said the challenge in Grey Cup 106 is big, but the key is staying focused.
“Don’t try to do too much. I know it’s a big game,” said Davis.
“Everyone wants to show up and make a big play. Do the small things that will turn into big things later on.”