The Calgary Stampeders fell to 1-3 on the season on Friday night after a 24-11 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
It was a game that started out with many positives, only to unravel in the final three quarters. Here’s what I saw from my living room.
Maier continues to struggle
Jake Maier and the Calgary offence looked sharp in the first quarter, getting out to a 10-1 lead after 15 minutes, but they would only add a punt single the rest of the way. The quarterback would finish the day with just 14-of-25 for a mere 122 yards passing.
“We played a pretty decent first half,” Maier said after the game, noting that the responsibility landed on him for a poor finish. “We were competitive in the first half and weren’t in the second, and that’s on us offensively.”
Maier was replaced by Tommy Stevens in the late stages of the game in a move that seemed like Dave Dickenson conceding with his team down 14 and less than two minutes to play. Stevens would run for a few yards, before turning the ball over on downs with a pair of incompletions.
Maier hasn’t looked much like the QB whose prorated numbers would have been among the league leaders last season. You have to wonder what could be done by the Stampeders’ coaching staff if he continues to be as ineffective as he has been the last few weeks.
Maier under pressure
Not all the blame can lay on the quarterback’s shoulders all of the time and Dave Dickenson spread it around after the game, saying that the offensive line was not up to standard against an aggressive Bombers’ front.
“We’ve got to find ways to push the ball downfield, but that takes protection as well,” he told the media before responding bluntly when asked if he thought his offensive line held up.
“No. I think they are battling. The reason I say no is because it has to be all twelve. We have to do a better job; the quarterback has to do a better job and the coaches have to do a better job.”
“You can’t tell me that anyone on offence can look in the mirror and tell (themselves) that we played a good game. We are not at our best and we can’t win like that.”
Not marking the marker
Stampeders’ receivers coach Nik Lewis made a career of knowing exactly where the first down marker was and always getting a few inches past it on second down to move the chains. Lewis always knew exactly where he was on the field.
I’m not sure if it is the system failing or the decision-making, but Maier and the Stampeders have gotten into a distressing habit of attempting passes short of the marker on second down. Frequently the receivers were a yard or more short of the sticks when the ball arrived, whether it was caught or not.
Sounds like everyone involved could take a seminar from the guy who did it better than any other in league history.
Mills rumbles in first quarter
Dederick Mills came out hot for the Stampeders, taking his first carry 33 yards to kick off a seven-carry, 74-yard first quarter which included Calgary’s lone touchdown on the day.
Mills would only get seven carries for 23 yards the rest of the way, however, totalling 97 yards on 14 rushes. He had just two carries after the break as the Stampeders completely abandoned the run in the second half.
There is a desire to go pass-heavy when a team is looking for a boost, but completely abandoning the run just does not bear fruit for this team.
Dickenson has frequently blamed abandoning the run for his team’s losses in the past. One has to wonder if that thought will be had when reviewing the game tape from this week.
Can’t score without the ball
The Stampeders’ offensive game plan in the second half will be called into question but when a team does what the Bombers did in the fourth quarter, it may not have mattered.
With 11:48 to go in the game, and the Bombers leading by 10, Calgary punted the ball and Zach Collaros trotted onto the field to begin a drive at his own seven-yard line.
What happened next was a thing of beauty or horror, depending on the logo on your jersey. Winnipeg would drive nearly the length of the field, settling for a field goal after 14 plays and 10:49 of game time. The Bombers were able to chew through nearly a quarter of football in a single drive, which killed any thoughts of a Calgary comeback.
Defence deflates late
The Calgary defence was very effective through the first three quarters, and the final numbers also looked good considering the opponent.
Zach Collaros was held to just 231 passing yards, 68 of which came on a single catch-and-run from Greg McCrae near the end of the first half. He was also sacked three times.
Brady Oliveira was largely held in check until that long fourth-quarter drive, when he collected 54 yards on nine carries. He ended the day with a below-average 73 total yards on 15 rushes.
“We just ran out of gas on defence,” Dickenson admitted.
“It’s a hard one to say you checked any box off. We came out with a good start. We were affecting their quarterback and we were stopping their run but if you can’t do it for sixty minutes, you aren’t checking off any boxes.”
You just can’t make mistakes against Winnipeg
Cody Grace is the best punter in the league and if you disagree, I will fight you. However, he was under pressure a lot on Friday and one of his punts was deflected. While it still travelled 24 yards downfield, it prevented the Bombers from starting in the shadow of their goalposts, which would have been typical for a Grace punt from that spot on the field.
Instead, just two plays later, the Bombers were celebrating a 68-yard touchdown and tying the game at 11.
The player who came through the line did so relatively unmarked and the Bombers took that momentum into halftime as a result.
You just can’t make mistakes against Winnipeg 2: Electric Boogaloo
Winnipeg never turned the ball over in this game, a feat considering Calgary has generated an average of three turnovers per game so far this season.
Jake Maier threw an interception into double coverage that the Bombers’ offence would convert into a touchdown the other way. Maier was targeting returning receiver Marken Michel, but the ball was overthrown and picked off.
Maier has now thrown six interceptions on the season, against just two touchdowns.
You just can’t make mistakes against Winnipeg 3: The Mistakening
The third glaring error also came on special teams, as Rene Paredes missed a long field goal to start the fourth quarter that was returned 102 yards to the Calgary 13-yard line by Greg McCrae.
The Bombers would convert that into a field goal a few plays later, creating a six-point swing that made it a two-score game.
Paredes doesn’t miss often, but they always seem to have drastic consequences. This one was no different.
Welcome back, Reggie!
Reggie Begelton wasn’t targeted often but did manage a game-high 51 yards while catching four of his five targets. The receiver was coming back early from the six-game injured list and certainly didn’t favour his damaged ribs as he occasionally climbed the ladder to make the grab.
“The guy is just built different,” Dickenson said. “He takes care of his body better than most, so hopefully he comes out healthy. We do have a long week coming up though.”
A healthy Begelton will be crucial to any success the Stampeders hope to have.
Michel still shaking off the rust
Marken Michel last played CFL football in 2018 and he may need a little time to adjust back to being on the larger field. Unfortunately, the receiver was offered no such luxury due to the injury situation the Stampeders are facing.
Earlier in the week, Dickenson said that Michel would be playing “because he has to” and with just a single catch on six targets, Michel was probably unhappy with his return to the CFL field.
Given the talent he showed when he arrived in the league, Michel will hopefully be able to return to form in Calgary, and the team will need him to do that sooner rather than later.
I’ve made some noise in this space about Rysen John waiting to catch his first official pass in the league and this week the six-foot-seven mismatch snagged his only official target for five yards while starting in place of Luther Hakunavanhu.
John was also thrown at in the endzone but the ball was certainly not catchable on a third down gamble. A pass interference call on the other side of the field would extend the drive without many eyes focusing on the play.
John does make for an intriguing prospect and he started ahead of first-rounder Cole Tucker, who came out of the lineup this week.
Both John and Tucker grew up playing four-down football, and it is showing in the early going. Clark Barnes, the team’s third-round pick in the 2023 CFL Draft who played the three-down game is a regular part of the offense, making a few nice catches for 23 yards on four targets.
Odoms-Dukes sees a setback
Tre Odoms-Dukes has been a nice surprise so far this season, as he seems to be taking a step forward as an every-down contributor in the passing game.
This game was a tough one though, as he collected only five of the eleven targets sent his way and recorded a pair of drops in the third quarter.
Stamps fans and coaches will be watching Odoms-Dukes closely to see if this is a regression to the mean, as he was inconsistent last season in hauling in the ball.
Allen returns to return
Floyd Allen also made his return to the roster and assumed the role of primary returner for the team in the absence of Peyton Logan, the victim of a hamstring injury.
Allen was impressive in camp but was one of the final cuts before getting the call to come back. He averaged just over 11 yards on punt returns and 22 yards on kickoff returns in this outing.
He also had a nice return nullified by penalty after colliding with his teammate.
Speaking of which…
Was there a bigger bit of “makes sense, I suppose” than when Nick Statz was injured by Floyd Allen on that return?
Given the struggle this league has had with stats all season, you almost expected this unfortunate homophonic incident.
Statz was taken to the medical tent after being clipped under the chin and hopefully will be able to stay in the lineup next week.
Do or die time
The Stampeders now have time to lick their substantial number of wounds before their next game in Saskatchewan on Saturday, July 15. While it may seem early to be in panic mode, the Stampeders need a win to pull even with the Riders in the season series.
A victory in the next game would begin to right the ship against a team that needed a fluke rouge to beat the Elks this week.
With the West Division watching Ottawa and Hamilton failing their way to creating a potential crossover playoff berth, the season series may play a part in the math at the end of the year.