A night of many regrets & 12 other thoughts on the Elks losing to Calgary

Photo: Larry MacDougal/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

They’re a better team than the 2021 version…

Still, I hope Edmonton puts up a strong performance next week against the also-winless Ticats because I’m about to go a calendar year between writing about meaningful Elks wins. I don’t really think they’ll get to Labour Day with a zero in the win column, but I am beyond ready to practice describing a successful team.

Anyways, the “winning in Calgary” streak ended at one, as Edmonton drops to 0-3 on the season with a 30-23 loss. It was three points tighter than the loss to Saskatchewan last week, although with mirroring last-minute field goal pushes, it’s hard to think of it as scoreboard progress.

Here are some thoughts on the game:

What decided it

I expect most will point to the Nick Arbuckle interception with a 17-13 lead as the turning point. True, for the third straight game, Arbuckle has forced an unwise throw and been punished. Of the three, this one came at the most unpleasant time with just over a quarter to play.

Quarterbacks coach Jarious Jackson commented early in the week that Arbuckle is a super-smart quarterback but he can sometimes overthink things and has even been hurt by knowing where the defence should be rather than trusting his eyes. Thus, the goal has been to “relax, play ball, and play what he sees.”

I’m curious how directly that applies to the play in question. Cameron Judge stayed between quarterback and receiver while moving towards the sideline — is that an unexpected movement? It was the opposite of the old ‘seeing ghosts’ phenomenon, where it was as if Arbuckle’s eyes refused to register a body in the way.

There were no other receivers close to where he was looking but with good protection and plenty of room, Arbuckle’s best choice looked to be stepping forward and either keeping an eye out for someone else to become available or at worst scrambling for a few yards. The result would indicate a persistent psychological problem of trying to do too much, obviously manifesting in taking chances he shouldn’t.

It’s worth noting that this was, by my count, only Arbuckle’s 14th career CFL start. Less than a full season.

What decided it pt. II

More than the interception, I’m concerned with the lacklustre defensive response over the last 16 minutes. Edmonton immediately gave up a touchdown — literally on the first play following the turnover  — and allowed two more lengthy Stampeders’ scoring drives.

The offence did a few good things down the stretch. On the first post-turnover play, it looked like Arbuckle may have called an audible against a blitz with a swing pass to James Wilder Jr., which earned 17 yards. But then they went with a four-yard run, an offside, an incomplete pass under pressure, and the drive stalled.

Calgary marched 54 yards in about three and a half minutes and added a field goal.

Next drive, Edmonton went 32 yards, including a third and four conversion via pass interference, but they got stuck and decided on a 46-yard field goal to make it 23-20 rather than another third-down gamble. That’s a difficult call, but I suspect the argument is stronger towards going for it on third-and-six because you need to account for the chance Calgary scores again.

That’s what they did, taking four more minutes off the clock with a 70-yard touchdown drive and establishing a ten-point lead.

Five straight completions allowed Edmonton to kick one more long field goal — the rare first-down field goal! — but they were still down seven points and could not recover a pretty decent onside kick attempt, ending the game.

What decided it pt. III

So what was the source of the issues? I identified both teams’ pass rushes and deep balls, which are naturally related.

It didn’t seem like Edmonton got any pressure whatsoever on Bo Levi Mitchell and indeed they collected zero sacks. I got the impression that most plays sent either six or three rushers, which either led to mild pressure and Mitchell finding an open target or not getting pressure at all. The Stamps’ quarterback finished with a 75-percent completion rate and a turnover-free 321 yards.

Sacks are known to be, in general, as much a quarterback’s responsibility as the offensive line. To my knowledge, pocket maneuverability has always been one of Mitchell’s strengths. Conversely, there were two critical moments where Edmonton took a sack to crush promising drives — similar to last week.

The above video is the first and more damaging of the two, where the Elks got pushed back from about a 40-yard field goal attempt into a punt single with a 13-10 lead. You can see that tackle Tony Washington and Wilder got their wires crossed, though what isn’t shown is Arbuckle pointing to his receivers, specifically Kai Locksley, to correct an alignment issue on the left side. That took up until about three seconds left on the play clock, which wouldn’t have helped with pre-snap reads and likely resulted in two bad kinds of ‘rush.’ I find it hard to fault the quarterback there.

The second was on a first down at the Calgary 42-yard line and ultimately led to a long field goal. I’m getting in the habit of going back through games on tape and I spent a lot of time rewatching that play. With a four-man rush, Arbuckle faked a hand-off and stepped up into the pocket but couldn’t further step into a release because of a Stampeder breaking through the front. That pause resulted in being hit by Shawn Lemon, coming from behind and forcing a fumble.

Washington and centre David Beard did their jobs well, while the other three linemen combined to allow two defenders to get to the quarterback. With four receivers running deeper routes and the play thus being slower, it didn’t seem like Arbuckle could have done much different, though I don’t have a standard to compare it to.

Overall, Calgary seemed to get a fair bit out of four-man pressure while Edmonton’s mix of looks failed to have much effect. Specifically, their three-man rush seemed to get torched. You would be excused for not being able to name an Elks defensive lineman with Jake Ceresna out.

What decided it pt. III and a half

Two Reggie Begelton catches on a quick late-second quarter scoring drive aside, it was Malik Henry who the Elks could not cover. He had receptions of 29, 28, 42, and 46 yards, all of those in the second half for a final state line of six catches for 173 yards and a touchdown. I’m pretty sure every single green and gold defensive back got burned by him.

On targets at or beyond 20 yards downfield, I count a one for six success rate for Edmonton, with the hit being a strike to Derel Walker before that second sack. You can add one success for Kenny Lawler channelling his inner Greg Ellingson and drawing a pass interference flag in the endzone on a 38-yard target.

The most notable miss was tremendously painful, when a pass sailed less than a foot beyond Mike Jones’s outstretched fingers on a play that would have been a jog-in touchdown to regain the lead two plays after Calgary pushed it to 23-17. TSN’s Duane Forde remarked that it seemed Jones lost track of the ball briefly with a minor misjudgement, which would be a point in favour of Arbuckle’s accuracy, but it regrettably doesn’t change the result.

Edmonton needed one of those plays to keep up in the fourth quarter, be it a sack or a long completion or both, but they never got it.

A summative Arbuckle assessment

20-of-31 for 225 yards, a touchdown strike to Manny Arceneaux, and an interception was the final stat line for Edmonton’s quarterback. He knows where his players are and regularly delivers an accurate ball, naturally declining with depth. The opening possession, for instance, was a swift and blemish-free touchdown drive. And, for the vast majority of games, he has been great at putting the ball in spots where either his guy can get it or no one can — see Lawler’s touchdown last week as one nice example.

A common complaint is that Arbuckle needs to be better at “taking what the defence gives him”. I don’t quite agree with that for a couple of reasons. For one, there was a lack of check-down options on a few occasions — that is to say, all the receivers were quite deep and Arbuckle had no realistic ‘bail out’.

While I agree that some of the choices of when to take shots haven’t looked ideal, they need to keep attempting some version of them if they want to score points. I’m more inclined to worry about receivers not being able to generate separation or the throws being slightly off than I am about Arbuckle’s passing decisions, turnovers notwithstanding.

I’m also trying not to draw too strong conclusions while we’re early in the season. I will definitely be following the stats on deep-ball success closely and determine whether Arbuckle is failing to notice open receivers. If he isn’t, that may suggest scheme tweaks are needed to help guys get free.

Overall, Arbuckle’s showing against Calgary was consistent with most of his play through three games. I give it a B- grade — widely competent, but not dynamic enough to call ‘good’.

The net yards total being in Calgary’s favour by a margin of 435 to 272 despite a similar number of plays sums up the game fairly well. The Saskatchewan game was close but that’s two out of three games being outgained by a full two yards per play — 7.6 to 5.3 on Saturday and 8.1 to 5.9 against the Lions.

The Elks need some offensive juice, whether that’s a player addition or merely fine-tuning the big play connections.

Cloudy skies, the stars are hidden

The receiver duo of Walker and Lawler should have been able to do a lot more against a depleted Calgary secondary that allowed Dane Evans to throw for 245 yards in a half and 425 yards total. Walker caught three of five targets for 41 yards while Lawler only hauled in three of nine for 21 yards, with one slightly tricky but still clear drop. Being the most frequent deep target means Lawler’s line isn’t as bad as it looks at first glance, but that doesn’t make anyone feel much better about it.

A moment of excitement

Coach Chris Jones chose to attempt a two-point conversion on the Elks’ opening touchdown drive. It failed, unfortunately — that will happen roughly 40 to 45 percent of the time — and regrettably, he chose not to try again on their second major.

I understand a run should be able to earn three yards but given Edmonton’s run game struggles, it would not have been my first choice of play call. Still, full marks for following the math: more often than not, a two-point try will convert and be better than the single.

Wilder, by the way, finished with 11 carries for 45 yards, leaving him with a very tame 4.4 yards per carry average through three games.

Positives

– Sergio Castillo was a strong three for three on field goals, hitting from 46, 46, and 47 yards, plus one convert. Yes, the kicker continues to be the only constant among the rare Elks’ highlights.

– Matt Mengel averaged 51.8 yards per punt. A punt single isn’t great, but he has a strong leg and excellent hang time.

– Ka’Deem Carey earned 91 yards but it took him 19 carries to do so. Good on the Elks’ run defence for doing a better job of hitting and sticking the running back, rather than pushing him or letting him push them for a few extra yards after contact.

– Edmonton only took six penalties for 20 yards. Calgary had six for 82 yards.

– I apologize to Emmanuel Arceneaux and commend him for a seven-catch, 99-yard and a touchdown performance. He led the team in offensive impact and it wasn’t close. I still miss Jalen Tolliver and think the Elks need better receiver depth, but Manny can have a place in my starting lineup.

Next

The Elks visit Hamilton on Friday, in a battle of the two 0-3 teams. Depending on the RedBlacks’ result against the volcano-hot Lions, Edmonton might be tied with first place in the East if they win — three cheers for the crossover

Mike Ludwig enjoys math, chess, and football, all of which are kind of related. He lives in Edmonton and does not endorse Rod Black's metaphors. Follow him on twitter at @CityOfChamps14.