Offensive production continues to decrease in the CFL.
Touchdowns are few and far between these days and seldom do we see the sorts of long gains that used to be the norm in the CFL only a few seasons ago.
Heading into Week 5 of this season, scoring has decreased slightly from last season – from 46.6 points a game to 46.25 – but it’s down considerably from the average of 53.8 in 2005.
So what gives?
A popular theory is that defences are better.
But a former star CFL quarterback thinks it’s simply a case of teams being stuck with subpar QBs.
The ex-player has been visiting Canada and watching CFL games on television and from seats in the stands in recent weeks. He offered observations to me on the agreement that I don’t identify him.
On the Montreal Alouettes’ Anthony Calvillo: "He is probably the best in the league, and he’s old, slow and pretty well finished.
On the B.C. Lions’ Dave Dickenson: “He’s injury-prone, he’ll be gun shy from now on even if he returns to the lineup, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s done. You don’t want to be risking your life if you have a history of concussions like he does.”
On the Calgary Stampeders’ Henry Burris: “He’s okay, but just okay. When he’s at home, he seems to be a different quarterback than when he’s on the road.”
On the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ Kerry Joseph: “Here’s a guy who probably isn’t even a real quarterback. He’s strong and he can run, but his running ability is declining as he gets older. This guy is really a safety playing quarterback.”
On the Edmonton Eskimos’ Ricky Ray: “He can throw but he’s got no one to throw to except for (Jason) Tucker and he also has a line that breaks down in front of him way too much..”
On the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Kevin Glenn: “He has no mobility, doesn’t read defences very well and probably has reached his potential.”
On the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ Jason Maas: “He has a serious problem with his confidence. He has no confidence in his teammates or himself.”
On the Toronto Argonauts’ quarterbacks: “Damon Allen is too old now and should be coaching or something like that. Mike McMahon has a lot to learn about the CFL. Michael Bishop has more raw talent than any quarterback in the CFL or maybe even in all of football. The only problem with him may be his level of intelligence. I don’t know if he’s smart enough to play well in the CFL. I guess we’ll see if he can finally make it after he comes back (from a wrist injury in a month).”
• Did you know that Bishop is a first cousin of comedian/actor Jamie Foxx?
He never misses Foxx’s television show. I didn’t know Foxx had a television show.
• One of the weirder statements from a CFL general manager – and, believe me, there have been many weird statements from CFL general managers during the years – came this week from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ Marcel Desjardins.
Dejardins suggested that the CFL should consider hiring U.S. officials. He said the talent pool isn’t deep enough in Canada to produce all the on-field personnel for the CFL.
But CFL officiating chief George Black correctly reminded The Hamilton Spectator that U.S. officials were clueless when they were asked to officiate CFL games in the past.
"When we had American officials during the period of expansion into the United States, their heads were spinning because of the unlimited motion, the size of the field and the kicking game,” Black said.
Really, Desjardins ought to be ashamed of himself. The Ticats are 0-4 because they are a wretched team that he is responsible for, not because there’s anything wrong with the CFL’s Canadian officials.
• Corey Jenkins is making quite an impression in the CFL.
At 30, Jenkins is launching a new career as a linebacker with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and has played some first-rate football.
He used to be a college quarterback. He also played baseball. In fact, he was the Boston Red Sox’ No. 1 draft pick in 1995. He was 19 at the time. He played outfield for 3 ½ seaons in the Bosox’ farm system before being traded to the Chicago White Sox organization. It was after the Sox demoted him to Class A ball for the 1999 season that Jenkins began to think about becoming a professional football player. He played sporadically in the NFL before joining the Bombers before this season. He has stood out.
Yet he told The Winnipeg Sun: “I think I've got a lot of work to do, still. I get compliments on what I'm doing, linebacker-wise. But I hadn't played football in two years before this year. I sat out for two years and I'm still feeling rusty. The rust is starting to work itself off, so I think once all is said and done, I think the city of Winnipeg, the team and the coaches will be happy with what I'm doing."
One of Jenkins’ best baseball pals, incidentally, is St. Louis Cardinals shortstop David Eckstein, MVP in the World Series last year. Jenkins and Eckstein were roommates for six months last decade.
• Jenkins’ teammate, Winnipeg linebacker Barrin Simpson, was chosen the CFL’s top defensive player last week and is psyched for his game this week, when he’ll face Hamilton running back Jesse Lumsden, who was named the CFL's offensive player of the week.
Lumsden rushed for 158 yards on 11 carries against the unbeaten Lions last week and finished the game with 226 yards in total offence.
"The key is putting the pads on him, get out there and hit him," said Simpson, who recorded eight tackles and forced a fumble during Winnipeg's victory in Montreal
"We've got to be sound defensively, making sure we don't give up any big plays because of something we messed up. We've got to make them earn it and that's always a challenge for the defensive front and for the linebackers to go out there and stop the run. That's what I get paid to do. I love playing the run game."
• In Saskatchewan, the Roughriders have demoted Andy Fantuz to a backup slotback after he dropped several passes in a starting role last week in Edmonton.
The Eskimos won that game 21-20 after being down 20-1 at halftime.
It was one of the worst gag acts in the CFL in years, and Fantuz has been singled out as a scapegoat.
If the Roughriders struggle early this week in their rematch against Edmonton, however, look for Marcus Crandell to replace Kerry Joseph at quarterback.
• Best game of the week, for sure, is on Saturday night, when the Lions visit the Stampeders.
The Stamps, as bad as they are on the road, are terrific at home. They’ve smartened up, too, using their top two offensive threats – running back Joffrey Reynolds and receiver Jeremaine Copeland – often and wisely.
Both Reynolds and Copeland provided the Stamps with more than 100 yards of offence in their rout against the Toronto Argonauts.
• Every week this season, I make my traditional picks against the spread at the bottom of this column. I went 3-1 last week and am 10-6 on the season.
THURSDAY—Montreal at Toronto:
The Argonauts are favoured by 3.5 points. Tough call here. Both teams are banged up, but the Alouettes have had a full week of rest while the Argonauts have had only four full days to recover from their embarrassment in Calgary. TAKE MONTREAL PLUS THE 3.5 POINTS.
THURSDAY—Hamilton at Winnipeg:
The Blue Bombers are favoured by 9.5 points. The Bombers are slowly becoming the class team of the CFL East. The Pussy-Cats, well, suck. TAKE THE BOMBERS MINUS THE 9.5 POINTS.
FRIDAY—Edmonton at Saskatchewan:
The Roughriders are favoured by five points. It may be tempting to take the Esks after their second-half comeback over the Riders in Edmonton last week, but I’ll resist the temptation. The Riders are the superior team, despite their gag act last week. TAKE THE ROUGHRIDERS MINUS THE FIVE POINTS.
SATURDAY—B.C. at Calgary:
The Stampeders are favoured by 2.5 points. In what should be the best game of the CFL's first half, the Stamps may just be catching the unbeaten Lions at the right time. Dave Dickenson (concussion) is still out and backup Buck Pierce is banged up himself and will be only a play away from leaving the game, which would leave the Lions seriously troubled at quarterback. And, remember, the Stamps are superb at home. TAKE CALGARY MINUS THE 2.5 POINTS.