After coming back to win in dramatic fashion a week ago, the Calgary Stampeders could have fallen into a trap. Playing a team that is in as much disarray as the Edmonton Elks, the Stampeders had been anointed 9.5-point favourites heading into the first of four matchups against their provincial rivals.
For a good chunk of the first half, the Stampeders found themselves suffering self-inflicted wounds and were trailing at the half to an Elks club that was starting a receiver at safety, and a quarterback at receiver.
As in all of their games so far on the season, the Stampeders turned it on in the second half and came back to win 30-23 to remain undefeated on the season.
Here’s what I saw from the 50th row of Section I.
Some of the old Mitchell magic
Last week in this space, I wrote about the deep ball percentage for Mitchell. On throws where the target was at least 15 yards downfield, Mitchell was just 4-of-12 against the Ticats.
Whether it was picking the right times, his receivers getting more open, or Mitchell once again finding his range after more live action on a healthy shoulder, the two-time Grey Cup champion went six-of-seven on deep balls this week, piling up 321 yards passing with one touchdown and no interceptions.
Not a bad stat line for a guy that wasn’t supposed to play; Mitchell had been questionable all week with an ankle injury.
“Until about (three hours before kickoff), I had Jake starting,” said Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson following the game. “I thought I’d leave it up to (Mitchell) to tell me, and I could see in his eyes that he was fired up to play. We started slow, but he didn’t.”
Dickenson may have been referring to a 35-yard completion that was negated by an offside penalty from Malik Henry and another drive that ended when Henry fumbled the ball, but we’ll save the analysis on the rest of the receiver’s night for later.
Shawn Lemon doesn’t get enough respect. Year in and year out, Lemon is constantly among the league leaders in sacks and often has the same numbers as defensive ends like Willie Jefferson and Jackson Jeffcoat. Yet, when you ask the average CFL fan to start listing elite defensive linemen, almost no one will mention Lemon.
Throughout his career, Lemon has compiled 81 sacks and 26 forced fumbles in 122 career games. Jefferson has played 10 fewer games but has racked up 30 fewer sacks and 11 fewer forced fumbles.
That isn’t to say Jefferson isn’t an elite defensive player, but Lemon deserves far more accolades than he gets. What seems to be his downfall in the eyes of most fans has been his frequent movement between teams, having played for or been on the roster of six of the league’s nine teams.
Against the Elks, the sack artist added two more “Lemon Drops,” a pass knockdown, and a forced fumble to his stat line, including a 17-yard takedown that took the Elks out of field goal range and forced a punt.
“I’m just thankful to have the opportunity to play in Calgary,” Lemon told reporters after the game without needing to remind anyone that he was cut by the Edmonton organization in July of last year.
Malik goes deep
I spoke earlier about Malik Henry and his rough start, but what a difference a half can make.
Henry was the beneficiary of several deep throws in the second half from Mitchell and finished the game with 173 yards receiving and a touchdown.
It was a career night for the pass catcher who said he’d never put up so many yards in a single game in his life and was rewarded with the offensive game ball.
“I really don’t need hot or cold,” Dickenson said about Henry, adding that the coaches challenged the receiver and others at halftime to produce better consistency after the break. “He’s fast and has great playmaker ability. Bo has a lot of faith in him, so it’s great to see.”
Another slow start
I spoke with some Edmonton fans at halftime who expressed to me that while they thought Calgary would eventually be victorious, they were more than happy to accept the 13-10 halftime lead offered by the Stampeders.
That has been the pattern for the Stamps this season, who have not lead at the mid-game break yet.
In the first half of games this season, they have been outscored 66-27 despite being undefeated.
Unlike last week, where Dane Evans picked apart the Stampeders secondary, Dickenson thought the blame lay in the locker room mirrors for this contest.
“It seemed somewhat self inflicted. I personally feel that means you are not quite locked into your game plan,” said Dickenson. “Maybe you are trying too hard?”
The slow start didn’t seem to hurt them though because of another great set of…
For the third straight week, the Stampeders were trailing headed into halftime and for the third straight week, the defence allowed no touchdowns in the second half.
In fact, so far on the season, the Stampeders are outscoring their opponents 66-19 after the break.
Shawn Lemon sent the credit up to the booth and defensive coordinator Brent Monson.
“(Coach Monson) is one of the coordinators in this league that doesn’t get enough credit for the work he puts in. … He made some huge adjustments for us in the second half every game this season, and it’s paid off for us.”
Following the bye week, the Stampeders will see a familiar foe as they will once again take on the Elks, this time at Commonwealth in Edmonton, Thursday July 7th at 7:00 p.m. local time.