The Elks escape Hamilton with a win for Canadian QB Tre Ford & 10 other thoughts

Photo: Bob Butrym/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

The Edmonton Elks, somehow, someway, won a game.

That was one of the ugliest victories I’ve seen in a long time. By a score of 29-25, the green and gold escape Hamilton with a 1-3 record and for the moment at least are tied with the Argonauts and Alouettes who lead the East Division.

 

The closing minutes

Facing a 25-22 deficit, Edmonton had a third-and-15 with two minutes remaining. I tweeted: “Punting has to be the play given the Ticats offence. Best chance of gaining field position is the other team doing something stupid. [Upside down smiley-face.]”

Well, guess what? Hamilton decided, yes, our best option is to have Dane Evans run the ball. He fumbled with safety Scott Hutter on the punch-out while the Elks were blessed with a magical fumble recovery and trot-in touchdown to take their first lead of the game.

My next quote: “The bad news is Hamilton has no choice but to throw more than two yards at a time.” It showed well as Hamilton made quick gains of 15, 12, and 18 yards. The Ticats could have had two more big plays had two of their open receivers not run into each other as the ball arrived and later had Bralon Addison been a bit quicker to get his hands up to the ball in the Edmonton red zone.

Finally, the Elks may have Houdini’d the very finish with a second down incompletion that should definitely have been called accidental pass interference — it was clear in the re-watch — followed by Tyler Ternowski slowing down just a bit and being overthrown in the end zone by Evans on third down. Also:

Nafess Lyon was lurking just off-screen, but probably not close enough to break anything up.

Game over, Elks win.

How did the Elks do it?

Being blunt: Evans and his offence had a nightmare performance. His unit was responsible for a massive part of the outcome, clearly more than their fair share.

Their biggest problem, honestly, is not the turnovers that get all the attention — I know the fumble is a special case. Evans had two interceptions that were not great throws but continued a bizarre bad luck trend of tipped balls ending up in the other teams’ hands. When you try to check down for three yards on second and 17 sometimes you are helping create your own luck. And on the other, Lyon gets credit for an expeditious jump to disrupt the play.

The Tiger-Cats biggest problem is fear. It’s very funny to watch Evans when you’re aware of his affinity for short throws. In the first half, he threw 11 passes and five of them were beyond the line of scrimmage — three, four, nine, 14, and 21 yards downfield. Naturally, the 21-yarder was a touchdown, but that means six passes, more than half, were zero or negative yards downfield.

Couple that with him seeming a bit frantic even with decent protection, and it was a long night for the unit. Why they chose to call an incredible number of designed runs for Evans plus repeatedly hand off for negligible gains this week after ignoring it up to now, I can’t answer.

Add the spectacular first half against Calgary to their last drive on Friday and they’ve demonstrated that they can be tremendously effective, but they can’t be consistent. This time it was Edmonton the beneficiary.

On attempts where Hamilton bothered to aim beyond 10 yards, Evans completed 5-of-7 for 101 yards and one touchdown prior to the three-play conclusion of ‘probably a drop, not technically pass interference and the receiver slowed down’. That’s a bad look for the Elks defence that has been given a ton of praise for the performance. Multiple of those completions were more cases of Edmonton sending three rushers and still managing to leave someone wide open.

My utmost respect to Nick Arbuckle for going over to the Ticats bench to try to console an inconsolable Evans after the game. I weep for him knowing that many viewers will think Tre Ford is better solely because he’s 1-0.

Speaking of the new guy

Ford was not any more than okay, but it was enough to clear the lowest bar set by his opposition. He finished 15-of-26, 58 percent, for 156 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He added 61 yards on six rushes as well, most notably including an ice-cold juke of linebacker Simoni Lawrence in space.

He’s fun to watch — no doubt his scrambling and sheer athleticism is highly entertaining. He’s not a high-level passer, nor should he be in his fourth career game and first start. This is obviously not a common scenario in the CFL. One trend I noticed was that he got the ball away quickly against blitzes but it didn’t really matter because most were well off-target.

Ford also took his one sack when it pushed Edmonton to attempt, and miss, their 59-yard field goal, even with time in the pocket and no receiver alignments to correct. Otherwise, he didn’t seem to be under pressure that often and did well to buy himself further time with his mobility.

Ford had a thoroughly mixed bag of a few sharp throws, such as his strike to Kenny Lawler at the goal line for a touchdown and an out route also to Lawler right before halftime, but also multiple uncatchable passes, including one that sailed over the head of an open Mike Jones.

He was slightly imprecise with timing on a few occasions. The interception was a brave attempt — by far his deepest target of the night at about 31 yards — but underthrown, and allowed Kameron Kelly to make an athletic grab. Derel Walker took a lot of heat for ‘not fighting for it’ but it isn’t easy for a receiver to change direction backwards.

There were only two other times where the ball travelled beyond ten yards in the air: 16 yards to Lawler and 15 yards to Walker, both converting second and long a few minutes apart in the late first and early second quarters. Along with the touchdown those are the ones definitely in Ford’s top five plays.

The problem is Edmonton’s offence only produced a pitiful 5.0 yards per play, notably less than the 5.9, 6.3, and 5.4 marks in their first three games. They also only put up 22 offensive points despite starting drives at Hamilton’s 30 and 38-yard lines, which at least combined for 10 points. The highlight was their second drive which travelled 79 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown, but only throwing one pass beyond a single yard downfield during the sequence is concerning.

The game was close for so long because despite Edmonton averaging 4.5 yards per play at halftime, Hamilton matched them perfectly with a 4.4 number of their own in the first half. The Ticats only managed to finish at 4.7.

Across the league, the other averages at 5.0 or less this season were Hamilton in Week 1 (4.4), Saskatchewan in Week 3 (4.8), and Ottawa in Week 4 (4.8). Two of those saw the starting quarterback pulled or rested in a blowout and the third managed 162 yards in a full game. The second-lowest winning number was Winnipeg’s 5.8 in Week 3 against Hamilton and their 5.1, and obviously well above Edmonton’s Friday average.

Ford settled in a bit in the second half, having started just 5-of-12 for 60 yards in the first half. Yet the drive breakdown was curiously equal, with three of six in each half earning 27 or more yards and three of six earning seven yards or fewer. It earned the win this time, but it’s highly unlikely it would have against any other team.

The argument

I’m highly suspicious of any methodology that suggests a rookie quarterback’s passing stats and Arbuckle’s were “almost clones of one another” based on the Elks staff tracking every throw in training camp. That was Chris Jones’s justification for the swap, and I’m very concerned that getting one win will reinforce irresponsible thinking. Change for the sake of change isn’t smart, and needs to be heavily scrutinized to make sure there’s sound reasoning.

Edmonton got an absolute gift from the Ticats, two interceptions deep in Hamilton territory and a fumble return touchdown. Frankly, the losses to Calgary and Saskatchewan were more encouraging performances than this; results are not a greater indicator than process.

I hope Ford has a long and illustrious career, not just in the CFL but in Edmonton. Congratulations to him on earning his first career win and keeping up with Nathan Rourke’s undefeated starting record this season. It is unsound to argue that he gives the Elks a better chance to win than Arbuckle at the present.

With all that said

 

Enjoy the awesome art:

Discipline and the extra special teams

The Elks had some penalty problems, drawing 11 flags and more than doubling Hamilton’s total yards 79 to 31. What was worse was the timing of a couple of them, including jumping offside on third-and-five as the Ticats were attempting a field goal. They got lucky that it only ended up being three points anyways.

Also, a whole lot went wrong with the special teams. In a couple ways that was related to discipline, where a 15-yard penalty during a missed convert resulted in Edmonton kicking off from their own 15-yard line, and a further offside penalty had them kicking from their own ten, incredibly. It was returned for a touchdown.

The Elks’ own return game was poor, and featured no fewer than three penalties to set them back — although on the last of those I was stunned they didn’t benefit from a no yards call.

A question

I didn’t, and still don’t, understand the official ruling after video review on Sergio Castillo’s missed 59-yard field goal. Returner Lawrence Woods picked up the ball distinctly outside of the end zone and somehow the play resulted in a single point for Edmonton and the Ticats scrimmaging at their 50-yard line.

I would have thought the only two possible outcomes were Hamilton starts at their two-yard line, which is where forward progress got to or it was a safety if he was ruled down having gone back in the end zone. Both would have been significantly preferable for the Elks. And if it had clipped the upright it would be a dead ball, so that’s out.

Speaking of safeties

I did not like the early safety concession at all by Jones from their seven-yard line, though after seeing the wind’s effects it at least became arguable or maybe even fair. I would expect Matt Mengel’s leg could net the necessary 35-40 yards to make it worth it, however. They gave up two points just to push Hamilton back maybe 15 yards with the ensuing kickoff. The result was very punishing too, as they drove down and scored a touchdown to earn a total of nine points off the decision.

It was nice that the Ticats did similar later on. See the following for a very thorough mathematical discussion, or simply read the chart:

Bright spots

As usual, we start with the kickers.

– Castillo missed an early convert, seemingly because he didn’t appreciate the strength of the crosswind, but adjusted nicely in the second half with 38 and 32-yard field goals, plus two successful converts. It’s also hard to fault a miss from 59 yards.

– Mengel’s punts twice pinned Hamilton inside their 15-yard line, including one to set up the last two minutes of frenzy.

– On offence, the sole double thumbs up goes to Lawler, who only saw four targets but caught all of them, including the all-important tying touchdown. 43 yards in total for the Elks’ star to lead the team.

– Also good was Edmonton’s ability to find holes in Hamilton’s run defence. Sherman Badie and Ante Milanovic-Litre combined for 66 yards on 10 carries.

– Defensive end Thomas Costigan ran around the recently traded Colin Kelly twice in a row mid-third quarter to shut down a promising Tiger-Cat drive with a sack and a strong pressure.

– I wonder if that’s the most fun Matt Dunigan has ever had on a broadcast, in his role as chief barbecuer?

Accountability check

I can tell you I would not have picked Edmonton had it been after seeing their depth chart — like you can see, I specified Arbuckle over Evans, and that became irrelevant. Still, the only one who deserved a win less than me was the Ticats. 

Next up

The Elks have an early rematch with the Stampeders at Commonwealth Stadium Thursday. It’s a safe bet that Ford will start again coming off a win, but a risky bet that they’ll pull within a game in the West.

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.