Defence dominates as Calgary tames Lions and nine other thoughts

Photo courtesy: Paul Yates/B.C. Lions

The Calgary Stampeders went into BC Place on Saturday night with a clear mission. They had to win against a team ahead of them in the standings for the first time this season after going winless in a collective five attempts against the B.C. Lions and Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

After losing in overtime a week ago — and having their star weakside linebacker suspended following a post-game altercation — the Stampeders could have seen any possibility of a home playoff game disappear without a victory in Vancouver.

The team responded with what might have been their most complete effort of the season, winning the game 25-11 and clinching a playoff berth for the 17th consecutive year.

Here’s what I saw from my Calgary living room:

Trickery afoot

The Calgary Stampeders wasted no time in opening up the seldom used sections of the playbook, as they executed a surprise onside kick to open the game. Rene Paredes struck the ball perfectly and Nick Statz would deflect it out of bounds to give Calgary the ball to start the game.

Not two plays later, the Stamps ran Reggie Begelton on a jet sweep on a short-yardage play that went for 19 yards and showed they were willing to get creativetoo come away with the win.

Ultimately, the drive would end with a Rene Paredes field goal attempt that went just wide/ The result may not have been there, but the tone was certainly set.

Sack attack strikes again, and again, and again

The Stampeders came into this game looking up only at the Saskatchewan Roughriders for the total number of sacks this season but ended up on top of the list after taking Lions QB Vernon Adams Jr. to the turf five times. When you add that to the four sacks from last week and the two times they dropped Nathan Rourke in their meeting earlier this year, the Stampeders have gotten to the Lions’ QBs a total of eleven times in three games.

Contrast that with the rest of the Lions’ season thus far where they have allowed 14 sacks in their 10 other games combined and you have to give a lot of credit to the Stampeders’ front four.

If not for Adams’ incredible ability to stay on his feet, that Calgary number is likely even higher and Adams was on the run for a good portion of the night.

There were also a few occasions where Adams had significant time in the pocket, but those were magnified by how often he had to scramble to keep the play alive.

Maier stays clean

Jake Maier continued to take what he was given this week, and kept himself and the offence under control.

They were able to move the ball very effectively throughout the contest, collecting 438 yards total. For his part, Maier was very efficient as he threw for 294 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions, on 27-of-33 attempts.

Maier did so with an extra National receiver in the lineup as Richard Sindani was moved into the slotback role, a ratio move necessitated by the Cameron Judge suspension. All of the Canadian ended up being involved in the attack, as the quarterback found eight different pass catchers.

Malik Henry was the primary target collecting nine of ten targets for 88 yards, leaving him just three shy of breaking the 1,000-yard mark on the season.

The next four highest yardage totals belonged to National targets as Richie Sindani, Luther Hakunavanhu, Jalen Philpot and Colton Hunchak caught a combined 10 passes for a total of 180 yards.

The best may have belonged to Philpot as he juked a Lions’ defender on the sideline before falling just short of the goal-line on a 54-yard catch-and-run play.

Maier said after the game that the team still has work to do.

“The only thing I think we’ve got to get better offensively tonight is just finishing drives, and not getting in our own way,” he noted. “Play better in the second half, score in the red zone and we’ve done those things at a pretty high level the last part of the season here, but tonight just wasn’t our night.”

Defensive backfield shines

Calgary has gone through the gauntlet this season in the defensive backfield, as they’ve had the same six defensive starters in consecutive games only three times in 14 games and never more than twice in a row.

In that time, the Stampeders have started twelve different players; none have started every game.

The most consistent presence in the backfield has been Brad Muhammad, who has started 13 of 14 games at halfback but still only has 18 total games played in his CFL career. After that, we have Jonathan Moxey who has started 12 games split over three different positions this season.

Dionte Ruffin has split nine games between cornerback and halfback, while Titus Wall also got nine games in at safety and SAM before going to the six-game injured list.

Kobe Williams has split time at halfback and SAM linebacker for seven starts, Trumaine Washington has eight, and all others have six or fewer.

When reviewing this week’s depth chart, excluding the halfback spot that has belonged to Muhammad, the other five positions have all seen at least three and as many as five different starters as this season has progressed.

All of that is to add some context to a team that was allowing a league-worst 296-yard average heading into this game.

That same team collectively held Lions quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. to just 151 yards on 12-of-24 passing attempts. Given the collective talent the Lions have at receiver, that is no small feat!

Antonio Pipkin would gain 66 yards through the air in garbage time completing 4-of-6 passes. He also threw for the Lions’ lone touchdown in the waning moments, but by then the Stampeders were sitting on a comfortable lead.

Something to note is that Javien Elliot made his first start for Calgary coming off of the injured list and the four-year NFL veteran did not look out of place at all. Calgary’s coaching staff had been very excited to see what Elliot could offer.

If the Stamps’ backfield can get healthier between now and the playoffs, all this mixing and matching may finally pay off.

Overall dominance

Now that I’ve told you that the defensive line had a great night and that the Stampeders’ secondary had their best game of the year, some of these stats may not be as huge of a shock as they might have been earlier in this article.

The Lions had their first eight possessions end in punts.

The Lions did not cross the Calgary 50-yard line until late in the third quarter, and only got there because of a sequence of Calgary penalties that had the Stamps punting from their own goal-line and the ball was returned to the Calgary 46-yard line.

That would provide a field goal after the drive stalled outside the red zone. That drive also accounted for all three snaps that Vernon Adams Jr. would take inside the Calgary 50.

While Adams was in the game, B.C.’s offence never went more than 28 yards on any drive and generated just three points, after starting that drive in field goal range.

Antonio Pipkin would drive over 60 yards for a touchdown with less than two minutes on the clock, but at that point, it was more about getting out of the game healthy.

Down goes Dennis

Derek Dennis has had an interesting CFL career, to say the least. After breaking into the league with Calgary, he went to Saskatchewan, where to say things went badly would be an understatement.

After another tour of duty with the Stampeders, Dennis would head to Edmonton to play for the Elks, and a preseason fallout with management prompted a year-long sit-out from the former Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman.

Cue a third Calgary contract, and Dennis was well on his way to another nomination for that award on the team that is leading the league in yards rushing per game and has given up half as many sacks as any other team, with just 12 surrendered in 14 games.

The Stampeders may have to figure out how to finish the season without Dennis, however, as he was injured in the first quarter and was carted off with a splint wrapped around his lower leg. Any kind of fracture would likely take Dennis off the roster until at least the playoffs.

Bryce Bell stepped into the role for the night, although it remains to be seen who will take the starting reps next week against Toronto.

Logan runs faster than I have run out of superlatives

Peyton Logan may have put an all-time great run together to seal this game with a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

From the 19-yard line, Logan was handed the ball and made no less than seven Lions miss on his way to the score.

Juking on the sideline to get away from the first wave before running through another defender, Logan continued to shimmy and shake his way into the endzone. Instead of trying to further describe the indescribable, I encourage you to watch instead:

There aren’t many players that are a legitimate threat to score any time they get the ball, but Peyton Logan is one of them.

Ka’Deem Careys the mail 

Ka’Deem Carey leads the league in rushing yards despite having missed three games due to injury and has now accumulated 857 yards on the ground through 11 starts.

Carey is averaging almost 78 rushing yards per game in a season where no other current starter is averaging more than 60 yards per game. Only Andrew Harris was higher than that benchmark at 61.3 yards per game. Carey is doing it while posting the highest average yards per carry among running backs with more than 50 carries, at 6.7 yards as well.

There is always talk about whether expensive running backs are worth the investment, and Carey is proving to be worth every dollar.

In this game, the Stampeders were consistently and constantly in second-and-short situations after handing the ball to Carey on first down. Carey would finish with 84 yards on just 12 carries.

As playoff football approaches, Carey may become even more valuable.

Clinched

The Stampeders and Lions have both clinched playoff spots this weekend by virtue of the Redblacks and Ticats each collecting their tenth loss of the season, which means the worst either team can do now is end up in the crossover berth.

It’s far more likely that the teams will meet in the West Semi-Final, but the picture is now  a little murkier as to where that game will take place.

Calgary remains a half-game behind B.C. in the standings and has already lost the season series, so they will need to pass the Lions outright to get the home date.

Calgary likely need to win out against Toronto, Hamilton and a home-and-home with Saskatchewan to get to 13 wins.

B.C. has Ottawa, Edmonton, Toronto and a home-and-home with Winnipeg to finish out their season. Two of those games seem like automatic wins given their opponents’ records and so the Stampeders may become Bomber fans in the last few weeks of the year.

Next Saturday, the Stampeders begin their must-win portion of the calendar by hosting the Argos at McMahon.

Ryan Ballantine is a lifelong Stamps fan and host of the Horsemen Radio Podcast. He has been covering the team since 2008.