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Friday, August 12, 2022

Danny Austin’s 10 Takeaways from the Stampeders win over the Redblacks

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OTTAWA — Maybe it wasn’t an all-action thrill ride filled with big passes and huge shifts in momentum.

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But the Calgary Stampeders (5-2) needed a win after dropping two in a row to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

And they got it against the Ottawa Redblacks (1-7) in a manner that was somehow emphatic and maybe a little underwhelming at the exact same time.

A 17-3 win is nothing to sneeze at. The Stamps were missing key pieces on offence and didn’t fully look like themselves when they had the ball, but were utterly dominant on defence and had a very strong special teams showing.

It speaks to the heightened expectations that have been placed on this team that a 14-point win was treated as disappointing by some people.

Remember, after seven games last season the Stamps were 2-5. There’s been a massive year-over-year improvement.

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Anyways, here are my 10 takeaways from Friday night’s game:

Titus Wall has been brilliant for the Stampeders this season.

He’s come in and made the SAM position his own, to the point where the Stamps shifted Branden Dozier to safety when he returned from the six-game injured list for Friday’s game.

The SAM position isn’t easy — it’s a defensive backs position, with some linebacker responsibilities baked in — but that hasn’t phased Wall.

On Friday, he had two interceptions. One of them was a pick-six which gave Wall his second touchdown of the season. The guy’s got two touchdowns, 30 tackles and three interceptions, two sacks and two forced fumbles in his first seven professional games? Yeah, that’s special.

Does it make him the frontrunner for the league’s Most Outstanding Rookie award, though? It’s obviously way too early to talk about this stuff in an official capacity, but this is sports, we’re supposed to be having fun here.

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In my mind, it’s going to be hard for Wall to bump Winnipeg Blue Bombers receiver Dalton Schoen out of the frontrunner spot. He’s got 641 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.

I’m not sure there’s anyone else ahead of Wall, though, and there are definitely arguments for him right now. Defence is perennially underrated when it comes to end-of-season awards, and what Wall is doing should not be overlooked.

With Ka’Deem Carey missing Friday’s game because of a hamstring injury, the Stamps subbed in Dedrick Mills.

They didn’t miss a step.

Mills is a lot of fun to watch. If there’s no hole to run through, he seemingly decides that he’ll just make one himself by running through whichever defender is unlucky enough to be standing in his way. He runs violent. It looks painful to tackle him.

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“I don’t think nobody likes tackling me,” Mills said. “I run a little too hard for some people, but that’s part of the game.”

Mills finished the game with 100 rushing yards on 16 carries and added two receptions for 32 yards. That’s an unreal stat-line for a guy playing his first CFL start.

Carey isn’t expected to be out for long. He won’t be losing his starter job any time soon but the emergence of Mills does open up some fun possibilities for the Stamps.

Having two fast, powerful running backs who are able to sub in and out of the lineup? That could be devastating.

You’re not going to get me to badmouth Kamar Jorden.

If you’ve been around the Stampeders for long enough, you’ve seen the work he’s put into his game and into recovering from a devastating knee injury in 2018 that would have ended most men’s careers.

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He is going through a tough stretch. There have been way more dropped passes than you’d expect from a player of his calibre.

On Friday, only two of the 10 passes thrown his way resulted in completions, although not all of those were drops.

“Have to have a talk with KJ, we’ve got to figure something out,” said Stamps QB Bo Levi Mitchell. “I told him 1,000 times I trust him no matter what, but we need to come up with a lot more from those.”

Players have slumps. It’s part of every sport. Jorden is still doing a good job getting open and making himself available. It’s not like he’s forgotten how to catch passes, so a betting man would put his money on Jorden figuring a way out of this.

That’s what the Stamps are expecting.

“He’s just got to keep working. That’s the only way you get through anything,” said Stamps assistant head coach Mark Kilam. “It’s Week 7, the season’s long, and I know there will be games later in the season where he shows up and he’s a big part of what we do.”

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There were a lot of punts on Saturday, and that meant there were a lot of returns for Peyton Logan.

This might not have jumped out on first watch, but it’s worth noting that Logan averaged 13.3 yards on his eight punt returns.

This season, the Montreal Alouettes are leading the CFL with an average of 13.6 yards per punt return, so Logan was averaging slightly less than the best rate in the league this season.

Making it even more impressive is the fact that heading into the game, the Redblacks were allowing the second-fewest yards per punt return (9.1) in the CFL this season, so it’s not as if Logan was putting up numbers against a unit full of scrubs.

Last season, it took a while for the Stampeders to settle on a returner before Malik Henry eventually won the job.

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So far this season, Logan has made the gig his own.

It’s understandable if there were some complaints about the entertainment value of Friday’s game.
There weren’t really many big plays and the offences weren’t exactly firing on all cylinders.

I do think it’s worth cutting the Stamps a little bit of slack in that regard. They were missing their starting centre in Sean McEwen, a valuable receiver in Luther Hakunavanhu, and their starting running back in Carey. Malik Henry wasn’t playing for large stretches of the game, either.

Bryce Bell did a nice job filling in for McEwen. There might have been a few snaps that weren’t perfect but for a guy starting his first game at centre, he equated himself well.

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We’ve already talked about how great Mills did, and while the Canadian receivers didn’t have huge nights, the Stamps received contributions from Richard Sindani, Jalen Philpot and Colton Hunchak.

On defence, Diontae Ruffin did an awfully nice job filling in for the injured Tre Roberson at boundary corner.

So no, Friday’s game wasn’t a back-and-forth thriller for the ages, but the Stamps had to rely on their depth and all things considered, there can’t be many complaints about the way things turned out.

It’s not like Cameron Judge was an unknown quantity when he joined the Stampeders in the off-season. We knew he was good from his time with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

This good, though? I’ll be the first to admit I had no idea.

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Judge’s stats this season are exceptional. He’s got 36 defensive tackles, an interception, two sacks, a forced fumble and a defensive touchdown.

He was a beast yet again on Friday night and while it’s easy to look back on the game and think the Redblacks never had a chance, it’s worth noting that there was a moment where it felt like that could have changed.

The Stamps had just thrown an interception and the Redblacks had the ball on Calgary’s 13-yard line. A touchdown would have changed the complexion of the game, but Judge burst through the Redblacks o-line and sacked QB Caleb Evans, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Shawn Lemon — more on him in a minute.

Big players make big plays in big moments, and that’s exactly what Judge did.

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He was also credited with a huge tackle on a QB sneak earlier in the game that forced a turnover on downs.

I have no idea what the landscape for CFL Most Outstanding Defensive Player looks like right now, but Judge has to be in the mix.

A normal CFL season is 18 games.

That is exactly how many games Lemon has played since he signed with the Stamps at the end of last year’s training camp prior to the COVID-shortened season.

So let’s look at his stats over what is essentially a full regular season schedule.

He has 39 defensive tackles, 12 sacks and four forced fumbles.

That would have had him tied for the third-most in the CFL at the end of the 2018 and ’19 seasons, and he would have led the league with that total in 2017.

There are currently four players with more than the four sacks Lemon has picked up so far in 2022 and only two players have forced more than the two fumbles he’s forced.

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It feels like Lemon is somehow underrated these days and I’m not entirely sure why.

The defensive line as a whole did a very nice job against the Redblacks on Friday night, but I’m choosing to highlight Lemon because he just doesn’t get talked about enough — and, truthfully, there’s a certain symmetry to the whole 18 games thing.

Jameer Thurman called the Stamps defence out for their struggles getting off the field in second-and-long situations against the Bombers last week.

It’s sort of ridiculous to compare stats from games where the Stamps played the league’s best team, in the Bombers, and the league’s worst team, in the Redblacks.

But that’s what we’re going to do here anyways.

The Bombers converted on 58% of their second downs last week. They extended drives and punished the Stamps. The Redblacks, though, only managed to convert on 35%.

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So yes, the numbers tell us there were real improvements.

Next week against the B.C. Lions is going to be a considerably bigger challenge and will tell us a lot more about what lessons the Stamps have learned from their two July losses to the Bombers.

You can only beat what’s in front of you, though, and the Stamps defence did what was asked of them in a major way on Friday.

You’ve got to feel good for Mark Kilam.

The guy should have been granted an opportunity to be a CFL head coach a long time ago, in my opinion, but instead, he’s kept his head down with a smile on his face and continued excelling at whatever responsibilities the Stampeders hand him.

As special teams co-ordinator, he’s consistently led one of the best units in the entire CFL. He was also named the assistant head coach a few years back and earned rave reviews in that role.

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With Dave Dickenson missing Friday’s game because he was in COVID-19 protocols, Kilam was the boss on the sideline.

Yes, it was a group effort, but Kilam was calling the shots.

He was probably in an awkward situation talking about what the win meant to him after the game. It’s not like he could come out and say how great it was that Dickenson was out so that he had this opportunity — and it’s not like he believed that, either, to be clear.

But for one of the most hardworking and respected coaches in Canadian football it was awesome to see him rewarded and get the win.

And since we’re talking about cool accomplishments, we already wrote about it being George ‘Geo’ Hopkins’ 1,000th game working for the Stampeders on Friday.

Not a lot to add, it’s just an amazing milestone and every single person in the Stampeders’ locker room seemed extra-excited to get the win on Hopkins’ big night. Credit to the Redblacks, too, for taking time to acknowledge the feat in-game.

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The Bombers are going to have to drop a couple of games for the Stampeders to have a realistic shot at getting to first place in the West Division — the Bombers have the tie-breaker after beating the Stamps twice.

Second place, though, is very much still in play. That home game in November for the West Semifinal is a big deal.

Beating the B.C. Lions next week is going to be key to that. The Lions aren’t going anywhere. They’re smashing most opponents, although they suffered a humbling blowout defeat to the Bombers a month ago.

The Stampeders will be the Lions’ biggest test since that loss.

Whoever wins will have the easiest road to second place, so Saturday at McMahon Stadium is going to be a big, big game.

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