Lions continue strong start to season
Rookies Rourke and Ford making case for Canadian QBS
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I’ve long thought that it makes little sense for a head coach in the CFL to have an additional title, whether that be an offensive, defensive, or special-teams co-ordinator, or even a role in management.
The basis of my argument is a team is asking too much of its head coach to oversee all departments while also running his own, whether that be in-game or out. We’re seeing the difference it can make through four weeks of the 2022 season.
There are five CFL head coaches that wear more than one hat: Toronto’s Ryan Dinwiddie (HC, OC); Ottawa’s Paul LaPolice (HC/OC); Hamilton’s Orlondo Steinauer, who is also president of football operations; and Edmonton’s Chris Jones, a triple-threat with the Elks, with Jones also the general manager and DC. These teams are a combined 3-15 through four weeks.
There’s a sixth, kind of, in B.C.’s Rick Campbell, who is also a co-GM as well as head coach. Campbell shares that job, meaning he doesn’t take on the full load of responsibilities. This year, Campbell dropped his role as a DC, a job he’s had the past two seasons, promoting Ryan Phillips. The Lions are 3-0 in 2022, following two miserable years.
The other three coaches are Winnipeg’s Mike O’Shea, Calgary’s Dave Dickenson and Saskatchewan’s Craig Dickenson. These clubs are 10-1 so far this season and have been considered the top teams in the CFL for years now.
We’ll see how the rest of the season plays out, but given these results, I can’t help but think there’s something to overburdening your head coach. As they often say: the proof is in the pudding.
With that, let’s get into the latest instalment of CFL Rundown, looking back on the week that was in the three-down loop, with news, notes and analysis from a busy Week 4.
1) The Lions continued their strong season, improving to 3-0 with a 34-31 win over the Redblacks, who dropped to 0-3 with the loss. While a close affair, it’s not exactly a good look for Ottawa coming off the bye and B.C. having to travel across the country on a short week.
2) Lions QB Nathan Rourke, the leading candidate for league MOP, looked more human this week, throwing two interceptions that led to 14 points for the Redblacks. He eclipsed the 300-yard passing mark for a third straight game, while passing for two TDs, and led the Lions in rushing with five carries for 87 yards, including a 50-yard rushing TD.
3) Oh, and the Canadian pivot was named the top performer for the month of June. Given Rourke’s dominance this season, doesn’t the top CFL brass look pretty dumb spending all winter trying to lower the number of Canadians in the league.
4) The Redblacks are in trouble. That was their 16th loss at home in the last 18 games. LaPolice was already on the hot seat after a rough ‘21 season and he’ll need to figure things out soon. He wasn’t hired by GM Shawn Burke, meaning he wasn’t “his guy,” and there are already rumblings he’s not afraid to make a change. I still think it’s premature, as the entire East Division is a mess, but another loss will only add to the pressure for a change.
5) After four weeks, the East is 1-11 against the West. Woof.
6) The Elks (1-3) finally earned a win this season, beating the Tiger-Cats (0-4), the other worst team in the CFL, by a hair, 29-25. Hamilton QB Dane Evans continues his season full of turnovers, with the most recent a fumble with fewer than two minutes remaining that was scooped up and returned for the game-winning score. Edmonton hadn’t led in the game until that point.
7) Evans now has 12 turnovers on the season, including a league-high eight interceptions. But I’d argue the worst part of his game has been his body language. He looks like he’s dying out there, and if you ask any QB in the league, they’ll tell you how important it is, no matter how much you’re reeling inside, to not let it show on the field.
8) Tre Ford got the start over Nick Arbuckle for the Elks, making him the first QB from a Canadian university (Waterloo) to start and win a game since Greg Vavra in 1985. Ford didn’t have a spectacular stat line – 15-for-26 passing for 159 yards, a touchdown and an interception, as well as 61 rushing yards on six carries — and the Elks averaged just five yards a play.
9) Jones said the decision to start Ford over Arbuckle was the result of the duo having a near identical grading in practice. It’s hard to believe anything Chris Jones says, but after an 0-3 start, I can see wanting a change. What I can’t see is Ford being good enough to win a Grey Cup and isn’t that the point?
10) A week after bullying the Saskatchewan Roughriders, it was the Montreal Alouettes turn, as they were pushed around in the rematch, 41-20, at Mosaic Stadium Saturday night. It not only cost them two points, but it also cost head coach Khari Jones and DC Baron Miles their jobs. Both were fired Wednesday afternoon, with GM Danny Maciocia taking over for Jones and Noel Thorpe in for Miles.
11) It’s long been understood that Jones, who wasn’t under contract for next year, needed a strong start to the season. They lost their first two games by a combined four points, falling to the Calgary Stampeders on a last-second field goal, and then losing to the Toronto Argonauts after kicker David Cote botched a 21-yarder with zeroes on the clock. Given how well-respected Jones was in that locker room, it will be interesting to see how things evolve under new leadership.
12) Montreal was actually leading, 13-11, at halftime before the Jamal Morrow show took over. The Riders running back finished with 16 carries for 103 yards and a TD, with 87 yards coming in the second half. He also ran and caught a pair of successful two-point converts. No surprise he was also named a top performer of the month.
13) Expect Morrow to be even better as the season rolls on. Saskatchewan traded for Mario Alford from Montreal to be a kick returner, freeing up Morrow to focus solely on offence.
14) Monday marked the much-anticipated reunion between Andrew Harris, now with the Argonauts, and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He almost got his redemption, too, had kicker Boris Bede not miffed on a one-point convert to tie the game with 25 seconds remaining. The final: 23-22 for Winnipeg, with the back-to-back champs now 4-0.
15) Harris was his vintage self, racking up 111 rushing yards on 22 carries, while adding one catch for 13 yards. I couldn’t help but feel the Bombers made a massive mistake by letting him go this winter, as Harris, despite turning 35, clearly still has some gas left in the tank. I pondered whether the Bombers, if their running game can’t get going, might try to trade for him. Among a few obstacles is the fact while Toronto might be 1-2, they’re still tied for top spot in the East and I don’t see them falling out of playoff contention this year in the lowly East.
16) The most embarrassing moment this weekend had to be veteran receiver Brandon Banks losing his cool on the Argos’ sidelines, getting into it with several teammates after he fumbled a pass on the one-yard line. It got so bad that GM Michael Clemons had to leave his private box to calm Banks down. I’d be willing to give the outburst a pass, but this isn’t the first time Banks has pulled these kinds of antics over his career.
17) The Bombers were dealt a major blow with the loss of weakside linebacker Kyrie Wilson, who suffered an Achilles injury. The early reviews are not great, with Wilson expected to miss notable time, maybe even the entire season. Wilson is such a big piece of the Bombers defensive puzzle and was having his best year yet. The search for a replacement is already underway.
18) Bombers DB Winston Rose needed that game, and he admitted as much afterwards, saying the monkey was finally off his back. After a tough start to the year battling injuries and inconsistency, Rose morphed into his former all-star self, returning an interception for a TD and also forcing the Banks fumble.
19) I was curious why the game was being played Monday and figured it was to take advantage of the U.S. holiday in trying to gain more American viewers, which it kind of was. It turns out the main reason is Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, the owners of the Argos, give the CFL nine total dates for nine home games, and Monday was one of them. That’s how much sway MLSE has over the CFL.
20) This week the CFL and CFLPA unveiled a fan code of conduct policy, which has been written into the new CBA and stems from the incident in last year’s East final that saw members of the Argonauts climb into the stands and engage physically with fans. All the rules are obvious, and I’m not sure formalizing them in the CBA does anything meaningful.
21) Also announced was Toronto linebacker Chris Edwards, who exchanged punches with a Ticats fan, having his six-game suspension reduced to three games after settling with an arbitrator. While I’m sure the fan deserved it, there needs to be a strong message sent that you can’t fight fans, and I’m not sure three games achieves that.
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.