Ben’s Breakdown: Tre Ford’s unbelievable play, costly error with Edmonton Elks

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym/RFB Sport Photography

I saw Edmonton Elks’ quarterback Tre Ford play in person last week for the first time since he was selected in the first round of the 2022 CFL Draft. I’m very familiar with Ford from his time at the University of Waterloo, and having coached against him and his twin brother, Tyrell, in a sevens tournament I wish I could forget.

I was impressed by what I saw from Ford against the Toronto Argonauts, but there was also cause for concern. Let’s take a look at the two plays that highlighted these extremes.

Play No. 1 — the high

Down 18-4 with 21 seconds remaining in the first half, Tre Ford scrambled and hit Gavin Cobb for a 16-yard touchdown.

Edmonton lined up with Manny Arceneaux, Kyran Moore, Gavin Cobb, and Dillon Mitchell from inside out to Ford’s right. Kevin Brown stood next to Ford in the backfield with Eugene Lewis isolated on the left. Toronto countered with cover three cut and a beautifully disguised blitz from Adarius Pickett and Wynton McManis.

On the snap, Lewis crossed with Moore five yards deep, Arceneaux ran at the safety to hold him in place, Cobb hooked at the goal line, and Mitchell hooked seven yards downfield.

Ford stared down safety Royce Metchie, gluing him to Arceneaux, then turned and probably expected to find one of either Cobb or Mitchell free, but with no one to threaten the flats, cornerback Jamie Harry was playing well off the line to take away Mitchell, and halfback Tarvarus McFadden was all over Cobb.

The blitz was picked up well initially, but McManis got free on a stunt, and Robbie Smith had a mismatch on Kevin Brown, which made Ford scramble to his left. Shawn Oakman forced him to reverse field, but with an official obstructing his path, Ford had to turn back to his left once again.

Ford’s dipsy-doodle caused Oakman to hesitate, and Ford, who was now 17 yards from the line of scrimmage, was able to transfer the ball to his left hand, fight off an arm tackle from Oakman with his right, step through a diving tackle from McManis, stay in bounds while moving the ball back in his right hand, set his feet, turn his shoulders, and fire a bullet that travelled 50 yards in the air (thank you, grade eight math) to a wide open Gavin Cobb deep in the middle of the end zone.

You might be wondering how Cobb got open. First of all, this play took 12 seconds, which is a long time to keep anyone covered. However, there may have been a bit of luck involved as Cobb actually slipped and fell at McFadden’s feet as he made his cut at the goal line. When Ford turned back to his right, McFadden passed Cobb to Metchie and closed in on Mitchell to allow Harry to come up on Ford. When Ford turned back again, Metchie took off after Arceneaux (who’d scrambled left to help his quarterback) and Cobb quietly set up camp in the back of the end zone.

This was the most impressive offensive play I have seen all season. The effort and ability Ford showed here was unbelievably high. No one else in the CFL could have made this play.

Play No. 2 — the low

Trailing by 10 from Toronto’s 31-yard-line, Ford’s pass to Eugene Lewis was intercepted by Wynton McManis and returned for an 83-yard touchdown.

Edmonton had three receivers to Ford’s right and with Toronto sending Jonathan Jones on a blitz from that side, Ford did what he’s been taught and threw in that direction.

In a vacuum, this was a clever design. It had play action to freeze the linebackers. Cobb, on the inside, had an outside-release seam to turn the defender so he couldn’t pick up Eugene Lewis, the middle receiver, who had a diamond-release slant. Dillon Mitchell had a short hook.

The problem with the play is that we’ve seen the Elks run a variation of it all season, often with an inside hook route off play action. I’ve referred to it a few times on the Argos radio broadcast as “the Edmonton play” when other teams have run it. McManis is a highly coachable linebacker who eats film and knows how quarterbacks are taught. As soon as he saw play action, it’s clear he knew where the ball was going.

“You kind of get a feel for what teams are going to do and what teams kind of like to do at this point in the year,” said McManis postgame. “I trust in my coaching.”

This interception from Ford didn’t concern me as McManis made a great play. What did worry me was what followed as Ford was visibly rattled and he couldn’t shake it.

Before this play, Ford was oozing confidence, and rightfully so. He had completed 15-of-17 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown with seven carries for 47 yards on the ground.

Over the rest of the game, Ford completed only four-of-14 passes for 36 yards and two interceptions, and he didn’t run the ball once.

I believe Ford has the potential to become a CFL star. My concern stems from the fact that a critical mistake seemed to send him into a tailspin from which he couldn’t recover. This isn’t uncommon for young quarterbacks, especially those for whom there’s no guarantee concerning the future.

They carry with them the incompletions, interceptions, and mental errors made earlier in the game, and it’s impossible to play quarterback successfully under those conditions. He must be given assurances from the Edmonton Elks and his development as a quarterback must be met with patience.

Ben Grant is the radio colour analyst for the Toronto Argonauts. He has been coaching high school and semi-pro football for 20 years.