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Season on the Brink: Poise

Posted by Richard Hechter in A Season on the Brink on October 10, 2012 — No Comments

Poise.

Today, with hints of optimism still lingering in Bomber fans collective psyche, there are a lot of words that are being used to describe Joey Elliot and his play on Monday.  Some people are calling it brilliant. Others are referring to it as pleasantly surprising.  Select individuals, quite frankly, are speechless as they wrote Elliot off completely.

For me, the appropriate descriptive word that emerges from critically watching the Thanksgiving game is poised. Let me explain through two examples how Elliot exemplified his mental state of balance and equilibrium.

The first example was an incomplete pass. Yes, you read that correctly. Late in the third quarter, the concavity of the offensive line collapsed in front of him. In realizing this, and taking a look downfield only to see good defensive coverage and a Montreal rush end aggressively pursuing him, Elliot threw the ball out of bounds (see the images below). On the official score sheet, this is recorded as an incomplete pass. Elliot held his cognitive balance, realized the best play was an incomplete pass, and calmly threw the ball away.  This, readers, was an act of poise.

Figure 1: The pocket collapse, and Elliot scrambles out of danger to see what other options are available.

Figure 2: With a Alouette rush-end mere meters away, Elliot wisely elects to throw the ball out of bounds.

Inexperienced quarterbacks, especially those seeking to catch the positive attention of coaches and management tend to force the ball into bad situations when pressure mounts either by a broken play or an unexpected blitz. It is not that they want to throw into double coverage, or hold on to the ball too long – but rather that the quarterback wants to make things happen.  This is nature of their job, and fans (more than coaches perhaps) appreciate this ‘I need to make things happen’ attribute. Unfortunately, the result of these ill advised passes or out of pocket scrambles usually end poorly.

The second play of note occurred with 9:08 remaining in the 4rth quarter. Unlike the above scenario however, it was not the result of a broken play or unexpected pressure. This time it was Elliot’s presence of a sharp and focused mind to read what the defense was portraying and adapt to it. I need to be clear here: Jeff Reinbold’s Montreal defence is a well designed package that offers high risk – high reward pressure that is often hidden under complex misdirection and camouflage. In this situation, it appears, one aspect of the defensive play was straight-forward and obvious.

The Bombers had exited the huddle in a run formation, and Simpson, who was a workhorse in the second half, was the intended recipient of the ball. Quietly, Elliot realized the defense was lining up to defend the run in such a way that left the deep corner open. Television commentators suggested the Elliot’s decision here was excellent as he chose to “pull the ball out” and throw it downfield – meaning that he placed it in Simpsons’ arms and promptly took it back out after a change of mind. In watching the play again, I will respectfully disagree with them. Look at the pictures below.

Figure 3: Elliott selling the hand-off.

Figure 4: Elliot pulling it back long before it is anywhere near Simpson.

As shown above, I do not think the ball was ever in Simpsons’ arms, nor do I think Elliot ever intended it to be there. Elliot read the coverage alignment and knew exactly what was going to happen. Simpson was a decoy, and made a key block to make this touchdown pass to Rory Kohlert possible.  Elliot sold the hand-off, and with great awareness bootlegged outside the pocket, turned downfield and threw to the wide-open receiver. Touchdown.

Being a successful quarterback in the modern CFL requires a complex skill-set. Physical attributes notwithstanding, other, and perhaps more personal characteristics are emerging as being equally relevant and important. Confidence, leadership, intelligence, and coachability are part of this group. Poise, I would suggest, is also part of this list. It is Elliott’s poise that should provide Bomber fans hope that his well documented potential to be a bona fide CFL quarterback may be transforming into reality.