Stampeders emphasizing ball security ahead of clash with undefeated Argos
Ahead of a crucial tilt versus the CFL-leading, defending Grey Cup champion, undefeated (6-0) Toronto Argonauts on Friday evening at McMahon Stadium, the fourth-place (2-5) Calgary Stampeders’ message on offence is simple: If the play isn’t there, don’t be afraid to punt.
Quarterback Jake Maier, in his first full season as the starter after taking over from Bo Levi Mitchell last year, leads the league in passing yards (1,928), but has also thrown a league-high 11 interceptions. That includes back-to-back losses – in Montreal against the Alouettes last Sunday and against the Ottawa Redblacks in a 43-41 overtime defeat July 23 – where the 26-year-old threw picks that were returned for touchdowns, as well as an overtime loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders at home where Maier tossed an interception in the extra session that ended the game.
Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson, who like his protege was once a young Canadian Football League quarterback learning the Canadian game, is emphasizing that Maier should not force throws he doesn’t have to make.
“We reserve the right to punt if it’s not there,” Dickenson said, while praising Maier’s leadership, mobility, and arm.
“If it’s not clean and he feels like he’s broke the pocket, he has the right to run [and] get that four, five, six yards or more…the main thing is to take away that catastrophic play that seems to bite us when we look back at the game.”
“Sometimes, you just have to be willing to punt the ball,” added offensive coordinator Pat DelMonaco.
“I think he’s a playmaker. He wants to make plays, an aggressive-natured person. You’ve got to balance that but also taking the right opportunities. Sometimes it’s okay to punt.”
The Argonauts’ turnover ratio of plus-16 is easily the best in the league, making the emphasis on ball security and willingness to trot league-leading punter Cody Grace out that much more crucial.
“If it’s not there, you don’t have to be superman,” Maier said.
“You don’t have to try and make something [happen] that’s not there. You don’t have to force the ball. You can do it with your legs and live to fight for another opportunity.”
This season, Calgary’s offence has been inconsistent. While Maier leads the league in passing yards and they are second in the league in plays of over 30 yards (14), the Stampeders are second-last in average gain per pass (7.7 yards) and completion percentage. As a unit, the offence spends the least amount of time per game on the field of any team (27:48).
“Every play is just so different,” Maier said.
“When you tell yourself going into a play, ‘I really want this,’ and it’s not there, it’s important that you don’t go for that [play] anyway. You still have to honour that progression. You have to honour what the defence is giving you. Naturally throughout a game, your yards-per-attempt happens naturally within the play calls. You have plays that are meant to get five or six yards and you have plays that are meant to get bigger chunks than that.”
DelMonaco is also trying to ease the pressure and spread responsibilities around. Ultimately, it is not all on Maier when it comes to scoring points and winning games.
“We try to make sure that the load of the offence is spread amongst everyone,” he said.
“That way, we’re clicking as an offensive group. It’s not all on him to have to make all the plays.”
Receiver Tre Odoms-Dukes has had a breakout campaign in Calgary this season, leading the league in targets (62) and being in second in receptions (38). He put the onus on Stamps pass-catchers to help out their young quarterback.
“We’ve got to be more detailed,” he said.
“We’ve got to play with our eyes up. If a defence is giving us something that we’re on or a look that we’re waiting on, we have to take advantage of those opportunities whenever we get the defence that want…it boils down to being detailed and playing fast.”
While Stamps fans aren’t used to seeing their team three games below .500 and in second-last place in the West Division, Odoms-Dukes sees signs that things are turning around and has not lost faith in his pivot.
“We’ve been throwing the ball the last few weeks pretty well,” he said.
“Yeah, Jake has thrown a pick or two here and there, but that just comes with football. He’s a young guy. I’m telling you, he’s going to turn it around, quick…I have faith in him. I believe in him.”