Stampeders suffer death by a thousand cuts in loss to Lions (& seven other thoughts)

Photo courtesy: Jeff Vinnick/B.C. Lions

When you are a team rebounding from a bad season and playing against a Grey Cup favourite, you must be perfect.

As good as the Stampeders were in front of a sold-out crowd at BC Place, they were far from perfect. The result was a 26-17 loss to the B.C. Lions that dropped them to 1-1 on the year.

Here’s what I saw from my cozy Calgary living room.

Jake is just fine 

Coming into this season, the question about Jake Maier was whether he could rebound from a lousy season and return to the form that allowed him to supplant Bo Levi Mitchell in 2022.

It may be a small sample size just two games into the season but the pivot looks much more comfortable than last year. He put together another solid stat line on Saturday, throwing for 339 yards on 26-of-33 attempts with a pair of touchdowns and one interception.

There were a few errant throws, some behind the receiver, but there were also a few that he threw away under extreme pressure, which would have raised his completion percentage. One would even be tempted to forgive the interception, which went off Dedrick Mills’ hands before being collected a few yards behind him by a diving Ben Hladik.

Maier threw completions to nine different receivers, and five of them had a catch that went for more than 20 yards. All in all, it was an encouraging performance for Stamps fans who were left shaking their heads far too often last year.

Tough day on both sides of the line

It is a worn-out idiom, to be sure, but there is truth to the saying, “The game is won in the trenches.”

Defensively, the Stamps were held without a sack, mainly due to the evasiveness of Vernon Adams Jr., who escaped pressure on countless occasions. B.C.’s offensive line was chewed up by Toronto last week, surrendering six sacks, but gave Adams just enough time to make some huge plays when Calgary sent the house.

The Stamps’ defenders may have come hungry and looking to feast but were left at the end of the buffet line, wondering where all the food had gone.

On the flip side, the Stampeders’ offensive line allowed the Lions to take Jake Maier down on four occasions after allowing just a single sack to Hamilton.

When it came to Calgary’s rushing attack, it was equally anemic. Running backs Dedrick Mills and B.J. Emmons ran the ball a combined 15 times for a total of just 50 yards, with 10 of those being gathered on the last play from scrimmage, making them relatively meaningless.

Several times, the Stampeders’ backs were either tackled for a minimal gain or found themselves at or behind the line of scrimmage when getting off the turf. That certainly isn’t the model that has led to so much success over the years.

YAC all over the place

Jake Maier went over 300 yards in the game but his receivers helped him substantially, collecting 157 total yards after the catch.

This is another positive sign from a Calgary offence that struggled to find the open man last season. With the changes to the coaching staff cutting off one of the three heads from the monster that struggled to make the right play calls by committee, Stampeders receivers are open and Maier is putting the ball in their hands.

Surprisingly, it was Dedrick Mills with the highest YAC total of 62 yards as part of a 99-yard receiving day for the running back. However, he also had a fumble in B.C. territory after collecting a late second-down conversion that proved critical to the result.

Remember Reggie?

Prior to kickoff, the TSN broadcast put up a graphic showing that Reggie Begelton has the fourth-highest yardage total among active players in the CFL.

Then the Stampeders went out and forgot he was there, giving him zero targets in the first half.

In the second half, Begelton reminded everyone why he should be targeted more often, making a superhuman catch for a six-yard touchdown. He would make another highlight reel catch on a second-and-15 play to keep the Stampeders’ slim hopes alive in the fourth quarter, but was otherwise not involved in the offensive game plan.

It may have been a result of tight coverage on their best receiver, but you have to think he deserves more than two looks a game.

Block Party

Converts are rarely blocked in today’s football, let alone twice in one game.

That’s precisely what the Stampeders achieved against the Lions, perhaps adding even more proof that it wasn’t a lack of penetration by the defensive line that was the problem all night, it was just that Vernon Adams Jr. is that hard to tackle.

The blocks added some late-game drama as Sean Whyte lined up to kick a long field goal with 38 seconds on the clock to try to put the game out of reach. If the Stamps had gotten through a third time, they’d have had the ball at midfield. Who knows what could have happened then?

Risky Dicky goes for it

Conservative game planning has long been the Stampeders’ calling card, focusing on ball security on offence and flipping the field through great punting with better cover teams.

Against the Lions though, head coach Dave Dickenson elected to go for it on third down twice at or around the midfield stripe.

The first time, they were successful but the play was negated by a penalty. The second time, they failed to convert as a ball was thrown towards Clark Barnes, who may not have gotten the six yards needed even if he did catch it.

Regardless of the results, it does show a more aggressive style of decision-making from the Stampeders’ coaching staff, and I hope it continues. More teams need to throw caution to the wind and go for it at that spot on the field.

That said, I wonder why the Stampeders passed on a long field goal try at the end of the first half. It would have been a 53-yard attempt, which is no gimme, but kicker Rene Paredes has already shown he’s good from at least that distance once this season.

Bye Bye Bye

The Stampeders head into their first bye week with one win and one loss and a murderer’s row of opponents coming out of it. They’ll face the four-time West Division champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers twice, the reigning Grey Cup champion Montreal Alouettes, and these same B.C. Lions over the next four games.

Tighten up the mistakes and this team could be better than the 1-5 record the oddsmakers are likely to project. Fail to do that and you will have to scrape and claw your way up the standings to chase a playoff berth once again.

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