Sometimes the greatest of achievements have the simplest of explanations.
The first time Chris Jones, the defensive co-ordinator of the Toronto Argonauts, spoke to the media at the Grey Cup was after he won the coveted prize, and his secret to winning was revealed.
Sara Orlesky from TSN, the interviewer, correctly identified that the key to the game for the Argonauts was eliminating Jon Cornish as a running threat for the Stampeders. When she asked Jones how this task was accomplished, all he said was, "They have some good run-down tendencies that we identified."
That, in a nutshell, was your 100th Grey Cup.
When Jones said, "They have some good run-down tendencies that we identified," what he meant was that he knew when the Stampeders were going to run the ball. This is as helpful to a defence as an offence understanding your signal for cover zero, when you have no deep safety help. When you are a co-ordinator and you have figured out what your opponent is going to do, half, or at least part of the time, it makes your job infinitely easier.
Jones didn't say what the run tendency was, and it could have been any number of things.
Back when Dave Ritchie and Mike Gorton were running the Bombers defence (2001-2004), we identified a run tendency with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and particularly with quarterback Danny McManus. Depending upon how his feet were staggered in the shotgun snap, we could tell whether he was throwing the ball or handing it off, and it gave us an undeniable advantage.
It could have been as simple as studying the habits of the Stampeders in certain formations, on certain downs. Every time they line up in a particular offensive set, they may run the ball. It could have been the stance of one of the offensive linemen from Calgary that was too heavy and tipped it off, or it could have been as simple as the different way Cornish settled in the backfield when his number was being called.
In Saturday's column, I listed multiple reasons why either team stood a chance to win this centennial Grey Cup. Yet when deciding on who I was going to pick and bet on, I listed Jones's intimate knowledge of the Calgary offence as the deciding factor. Not only was he the defensive co-ordinator in Calgary the past four years, but when I looked at how the Argonauts played the Stampeders twice in the regular season of 2012, it seemed obvious he had long figured out how to make Calgary a one-dimensional team.
As I mentioned in that story, Cornish rushed for 43 and 39 yards the first two times they met in 2012. In the Grey Cup, Cornish managed only 57 yards. While the Argos have a capable defensive line, they are far from spectacular against the run, giving up over 250 yards on the ground against the Bombers earlier this season. It's a lot easier to stop the run, however, when you know it's coming.
It wasn't just that Calgary's offensive line did not play their best game. They simply didn't have enough blockers and were outmanned at the point of attack every time they tried to work the ground.
Whatever key the Argos defence picked up on, as soon as it revealed itself, their entire defence committed to stopping the run. This forced the Stamps to eventually abandon their ground attack and pitted Kevin Glenn in a gunslinging showdown with a quarterback whose arm he could not beat.
Calgary's strength all season long was that they employed a balanced offensive attack. The defences they played could not overcommit to the run or the pass, because if they did and they guessed wrong, the Stamps would exploit this aggressiveness. Jones, due to his familiarity with Dave Dickenson's offence, simply took the guessing out of the equation.
What has to be most disappointing for Calgary fans is that after the two regular-season games, where Jones had obviously figured out their tendencies, they didn't adjust their schemes, didn't examine their own habits, and weren't able to figure out what tendency he had identified.
The best teams I've been on study their own film as much their opponents, so they never become predictable. The fact that this "running tendency" had not changed since August, the last time these two teams met before the Grey Cup, cannot fall on the shoulders of the players.
The Calgary Stampeders lost the 100th Grey Cup primarily because they were out-coached, and had a bad habit that has yet to be fully revealed.
Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays and game days in the Free Press.