Nobody has belief in anybody & eight other thoughts on the Elks’ blowout loss in the Battle of Alberta

Photo courtesy: Edmonton Elks

999 days without a win at home.

There weren’t a lot of fans in the stands when the score was 0-0. Add in a thunderstorm delay and a breathtaking blowout, and it was barren by the start of the fourth quarter.

49-6 was the final, Stampeders over Elks. Trust the process, we say.

Monkey’s Paw

The Elks’ excitement coming into the Battle of Alberta was quickly tempered when rookie Canadian quarterback Tre Ford took a hit to the back of his right shoulder and was forced to exit the game during his second drive. I promise that is not what I had in mind when I called for more Nick Arbuckle at the helm.

From a pure assessment perspective, it would have been interesting to see more of Ford before his exit to allow a direct quarterback comparison. What he accomplished was one play of brilliance — a moment where he embarrassed Calgary — and nothing else of positive significance in his five offensive plays.

He had one other attempted display of athleticism but linebacker Cameron Judge was keeping a very close eye on him so his scramble only netted a yard.

In came Arbuckle, and it was… interesting. Not good, yet very curious to analyze.

Obviously, Arbuckle wasn’t stepping into the ideal situation. Thinking he’s the backup all week and getting the practice time to match will always make things harder. Even so, he didn’t play up to an ideal level.

I don’t think the offence got off to a good start even with Ford — only one out of five plays was a success via small miracle — but Arbuckle satisfying the masses and checking down, taking what the defence gave him, only resulted in the Elks earning three first-half points.

His very first throw was extremely accurate, away from the defender, though from there onwards in my re-watch I got a consistent impression of receivers being well-covered. Arbuckle seemed to be very conscious of taking care of the football, no doubt a point of emphasis, and his three-of-seven start was mainly due to throwing passes away rather than making inaccurate throws.

We’ll fast forward to the late second quarter where he finally seemed to be settling in. Arbuckle had a string of five completions, including a 15-yard strike to Kai Locksley, only to underthrow Kenny Lawler on a second down deep ball two plays later, allowing Trumaine Washington to undercut it and effectively turn the play into a punt.

The window for the throw was definitely there, in contrast to the pattern of his previous interceptions, so at least the vision and decision were on point. I’ve praised Arbuckle for consistently putting the ball in spots where it was available to his receiver to no one, but that trait was absent on this throw.

Eight total interceptions looks awful, obviously, yet that number drops to four in meaningful moments within 11 points — the rest have been in garbage time. Four in four games is still quite a lot but it’s not devastating, Michael Reilly threw 10 in 10 games in 2015. As we’ve talked about at length, there’s been a pattern of Arbuckle trying to do too much. Even on Thursday, it came at a 14-3 score deficit, so a hint of desperation may have been a factor.

I think it’s important to continue this topic by discussing an overthrow of a wide-open Derel Walker early in the third quarter. A CFL quarterback makes that throw at least nine times out of ten. As noted by TSN’s Dustin Nielson, it seems very likely that the miss was an overcorrection of his previous mistake. Quite honestly, I am increasingly sure that Arbuckle’s biggest issue is psychological. I think the word is not confidence, but comfort. Enough is missing to disrupt routine plays.

Both he and Ford have talked at length about the benefits of constant competition, but I don’t imagine it’s easy on the psyche knowing that Coach Jones wants little to do with you. It creates a nasty paradox where it’s hard to succeed without comfort, but it’s hard to develop comfort without experiencing success.

I was surprised at how good Arbuckle’s fundamentals were upon review, in particular, his progression through reads and eventual checkdowns. I can only think how much different the conversation would be if he hits one of the two deep throws he attempted, or even if one of his short completions had been broken for a big gain by the receiver.

We’ll see the severity of Ford’s injury, but barring a sudden trade for Vernon Adams — and given that the primary reasoning for that would be “Arbuckle throws too many interceptions,” Adams would not be the proper replacement — it may be Arbuckle’s team again for the foreseeable future.

Edmonton did make progress from games one to three, so it’s not all bleak if their passer is allowed some consistency.

Well, actually…

That was mostly written during the thunderstorm. When Chris Jones came out of the delay and saw his defence give up a quick 74-yard touchdown drive, he sent in Kai Locksley at quarterback. Charles Nelson fumbled on the second play and it took four plays for Jones’s defence to allow a 54-yard touchdown drive, capped off with a 28-yard pass to Luther Hakunavanhu in the corner.

The rest of Locksley’s time included: a few short passes, a pair of quarterback runs, a highly interceptable pass that fell incomplete, a second down checkdown that was fumbled and returned for a touchdown, a nice escape and completion, a time-count violation on third down, and a big hit that injured him. That was possibly the Elks’ fourth shoulder injury of the night and, as my dad sitting next to me asked, “is that their sixth or seventh injury?”

Arbuckle had to come back in for one second-down snap just to get pummeled simultaneously by an unblocked rusher and one vaguely blocked rusher up the middle. I feel so unbelievably bad for the guy. Being jerked around like a yo-yo in the hands of a four-year-old has to be tremendously difficult on him mentally. If deep inside he does still feel able to perform, that’s very impressive.

We talk a lot about players needing to be ready for anything and to some extent, it’s their job as professionals to be prepared. But this is on another level — effectively being told by the coach that the fresh-out-of-USports rookie gives them a better chance to win than you, getting a second opportunity due to an injury, being pulled anyways in favour of the third-stringer who’s been playing receiver for four and a half games, then having to go back in because the third-stringer gets hurt with 42-3 on the scoreboard. In summary, you will have to forgive me if I don’t fault Arbuckle for his third-down interception where, with a blitzer in his face, his placement on an out-route was too inside and Tre Roberson, jumped it.

And breathe.

I don’t expect that Arbuckle will be allowed to settle in. Do you know what I would have done? I would have ridden with Arbuckle for as long as his arrows were pointing upward and let the rookie in Ford learn for a while longer. Instead, we’ve ended up in a debacle where nobody has belief in anybody. One way or another there will be a reset and I hope it’s one that treats their starter well. ‘Stability’ is one of many conventions that the Elks are ignoring on their whims.

The stat pack

You don’t need me to tell you that it all sucked. But I can tell you just how bad!

From a halftime average of 9.4 yards per play for Calgary and 4.9 for Edmonton, there was only minor movement to 9.0 and 5.3 as the final numbers. That beats the Elks’ previous allowed high of 8.1 yards per play against the Lions while falling right in line with their own season totals offensively.

Edmonton’s 271 yards includes an incredible seven for Kenny Lawler, who only saw three targets until the very end of the game when he drew a pass interference penalty and was missed on two out-routes. The first of which prompted visible frustration — understandably, given both the score and that he only had four targets last week as well. Derel Walker was the busy one with six catches on seven targets — at least one from three different quarterbacks — but only mustered 33 yards and a disturbingly low average.

I found it interesting that Arbuckle roughly doubled Locksley’s passing yardage — 97 yards to 50 — yet the yards after the catch were very close, just 37 to 30. The receivers evidently helped one more than the other in that respect. The Elks also posted an unsustainably awful 4-for-18 conversion rate on second downs.

Lastly, running back Sherman Badie had a few very nice bursts but frequently had nowhere to go, settling at a tame 10 carries for 38 yards.

Remember when it was tied?

Here’s the thing about the 3-3 score: there’s a solid argument that Edmonton was lucky to stay tied into the second quarter. Calgary’s first drive ended because Ka’Deem Carey had a pass bounce off his hands in the endzone, followed by Bo Levi Mitchell overthrowing an open Kamar Jorden. On their second drive, Mitchell once again overthrew a wide-open man on second down and they were forced to punt from Edmonton’s 52-yard line.

As three sample microcosms of the game: Mike Jones completely whiffed on his block on a first-quarter screen, the second play with Arbuckle in, which almost led to a tipped interception; Calgary converted a second and 14 from their goalline thanks to four tacklers bouncing off of Carey; and Lawler turned upfield for a scramble drill right as Arbuckle was throwing a ball away, resulting in an intentional grounding call. On the last, I don’t believe Ford and his agility could have done any better given every receiver was visibly covered and the rushers had excellent contain angles.

It all went wrong, from start to finish.

‘D’ for disaster

I had confidence coming into the season that three Elks defenders were outright good to great players: Aaron Grymes, Jake Ceresna, and Nafees Lyon. All three are now injured, with Lyon departing in the second quarter.

I would suggest that leaves defensive end Thomas Costigan as the best remaining and while I think highly of him, he remains an unproven commodity. The defence is definitely playing like they’re missing a couple of anchors but even so, it is very, very bad.

The biggest highlight of the night was when Jalen Collins got turned around from a reasonable position and ultimately did nothing to slow down Malik Henry on an 89-yard touchdown. Overall, the unit allowed Mitchell to go 17-of-22 (77 percent) for 279 yards and two touchdowns, and Carey to gain 104 yards on 12 carries (8.7 average) before both were rested in the fourth quarter.

The plain Carey stats don’t drive home how aggravating it was to watch him churn out yards. Forcing a pair of fumbles doesn’t make up for that, nor for Henry adding 150 yards to his 173 from their last meeting.

One positive was netting back-to-back sacks to stop a Stampeders red zone drive in the second quarter. The front had moments of disruption throughout the night but did not produce consistently.

If we’re looking for reasons why things were difficult, the Elks dealt with a bunch of injuries during the game — I believe the final number was indeed six, including the two quarterbacks, none of whom returned — and yes the Stampeders were coming off a bye while the Elks were on a short week coming back from Hamilton. It’s up to you to decide how much weight that should carry, but I think we can agree it’s not 43 points worth.

You could argue the final score was slightly unfair to the defence as the team gave up multiple scores that they weren’t even on the field for, but they were still bad enough to earn the loss.

The special-est teams yet

The ‘biggest disaster of the night’ award won’t go to the special teams, but they are a deserving finalist. The night started by allowing a 60-yard Jalen Philpot kickoff return and another 37-yard kick return later. And of course, there was the missed 47-yard field goal returned 122 yards to pay dirt by Peyton Logan.

I’d say their own returns were not disastrous, but Nelson is making a habit of unwise missed field goal return choices. He got to the six-yard line on a Rene Paredes miss from the 38-yard line, the offence didn’t move, and Jones gave up yet another foolish safety — see the post that I linked to last week and note that Calgary took the ensuing return to midfield.

That’s not to blame for allowing 49 points, but it started the cascade from 3-3 all the way down.

Positives

– Commonwealth Stadium views:

– Matt Mengel punted well. That’s all I’ve got.

Next

As TSN’s Duane Forde quipped at the end, “I picture Edmonton lobbying the league to be moved to the East… where they’d be tied for first.”

Good news: if there is a team in bigger turmoil than the Elks, it’s probably the Alouettes under Danny Maciocia, and Edmonton plays them next Thursday in Montreal. It’s an early-season must-win if they want to stay relevant.

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.