Quarterback is the most important position in Canadian professional football and not just for the success of individual CFL teams, but for the overall entertainment value of the league as a whole. This is why the CFL has made a number of rule changes over the years to protect the quarterback as much as possible, and why it should continue to do so.
It’s probably frustrating as a fan when your team’s middle linebacker gets a 15-yard penalty for grazing a quarterback’s helmet, but it’s worth it. Do you know what’s even more frustrating as a fan? Losing your starting quarterback.
Unfortunately, that’s the reality many fans are dealing with this season. Hamilton has already lost a season’s worth of games between their top two quarterbacks, Ottawa has lost two quarterbacks for the season, and Saskatchewan has likely lost their starter for the year as well. The responsibility of protecting quarterbacks can’t be left to the league alone. Teams must work harder to protect their quarterbacks as well.
It starts with general managers. There’s a lack of offensive line depth in the CFL, but GMs can’t simply shrug their shoulders. If it means starting more American offensive linemen, then do it. Start a Canadian field corner and make both linebacker spots Canadian to make it work. Twice this year, Hamilton was forced to play defensive tackle Casey Sayles at guard because they dressed only six offensive linemen. That’s poor roster management.
A coach’s responsibility to protect their quarterback must also be considered in terms of play design, play-calling, and substitutions. It’s irresponsible to have predictable protection schemes, or to leave your quarterback in at the end of a blowout, or to call long-developing passing plays if your offensive line is struggling.
There’s an element of player selfishness involved too. Football players will do anything to protect their teammates, but rarely themselves. Not protecting yourself as a quarterback is selfish. It doesn’t feel like that to the player, but that’s what it is.
Hamilton quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell is being put on the six-game injured list for the second time this season after fracturing his leg. Injuries are a part of football, but this injury was preventable.
The injury happened on the second last play of the game with Hamilton leading Ottawa by four with 13 seconds remaining. The Tiger-Cats had a first down at their own two-yard line. They left Mitchell in the game for a quarterback sneak instead of taking a knee and his leg was fractured when Jovan Santos-Knox dove over the line, landed on it, and pulled Mitchell backwards.
So, why didn’t Hamilton take a knee?
After stopping Ottawa on third down at the Hamilton four-yard-line, cornerback Kenneth George Jr. took a selfish penalty for engaging with the Ottawa bench on his way back to Hamilton’s bench. Without that penalty, the Ticats almost surely would have taken a knee twice to end the game.
So, where do we assign blame?
Why are East Division stadiums allowed to have both benches on the same side of the field? Outside of BC Place, this penalty, and therefore this injury, wouldn’t have happened in a West Division stadium because George wouldn’t have had to walk past Ottawa’s bench. The change would result in fewer fights and fewer flags all around.
The league should also eliminate dives over the line on quarterback sneaks. There is no greater threat to quarterback safety than linebackers flying overtop on a quarterback sneak. I don’t blame Santos-Knox, he didn’t break a rule. But it was this action that fractured Mitchell’s leg.
Kenneth George Jr. didn’t understand the situation and took a selfish penalty. He was playing such a great game, absolutely shutting down Shaq Evans and Jaelon Acklin, but we’re left remembering his penalty because of its consequences.
In terms of the play-calling, Hamilton should have taken a knee at the two-yard line. Head coach Orlondo Steinauer said on the Coach O Show that they were concerned about space, but they took a knee on the last play of the game from the same spot and had room to spare. Also, when you’re taking a knee instead of running a play, there’s a code to stand down, by which the defence generally abides. Santos-Knox certainly wouldn’t have come flying over the pile.
Even if I accept that Hamilton wasn’t comfortable taking a knee at their own two-yard-line and wanted to run an actual play, I can’t accept that Mitchell was the man for the job. Why wasn’t Kai Locksley in there? Hamilton ran Locksley from the quarterback position earlier in the game. And if they absolutely had to leave Mitchell in there, they should have called a quick-hitting running play instead.
The front office
Starting offensive tackles Brandon Kemp and Kendrick Sartor started the season on the practice squad, and the play-side tight end on the play was rookie lineman Dayton Black.
All three of these players executed the quarterback sneak perfectly, however the front office has to share in the blame because the coaches clearly weren’t confident enough in the team’s line to call either a kneel-down or a running play.
The only possible reason to call a sneak in that situation is if you think your offensive line will allow so much penetration that a kneel-down or running play will result in a safety.
Protect the quarterback.