Production always starts with opportunity. You can’t compile carries without snaps. You can’t throw for yardage without attempts. You can’t rack up receptions without targets. They’re all pretty basic concepts for trying to predictably prognosticate projections. If you want to figure which players are likely to produce statistically on any given week in CFL daily fantasy contests, it all starts with trying to figure out who is going to have the most opportunities to produce.
Last season I wrote a piece looking at projecting pace and its effects on projection fantasy production. It was more of a basic look at where projections come from. This season has brought up a really interesting blip on the radar though that I’ll dive further into later on. Six games may seem like a pretty small sample size, and it is, but it is a full third of the CFL schedule. We now have a pretty good idea of what different teams offences look like and the kind of opportunities they create.
Through six weeks, Calgary and Toronto have run the most offensive plays per game at 56.7 PPG. They’re followed closely by Winnipeg at 56.4 and Saskatchewan, at a surprising 55.8 PPG. The leaders for the Shameful Snail’ Scepter are Montreal at 50.6 and Hamilton at 50.2 PPG. The rest of the columns represent the current week’s opponents plays allowed on defence, the resulting expected pace, the differential from their average, and the projected run and pass play numbers for the current week based on averages to this point. All matchup data is for week 7 in the CFL, so the Alouettes “matchup” is versus their own defence to maintain correct league averages in the statistics.
If you compare the 2017 numbers to 2016’s pace there’s a few interesting things worth noting. The Eskimos have slowed significantly from their 2016 league leading pace from 57.2 to 55.4 mostly with the move to a heavier run play percentage from 35.6% to 37.5%. On the surface this might not seem like a gargantuan leap, but every opportunity matters. For the Eskimos, it represents a move from being in the top half of the league in run plays last season to being the clear leader in 2017. While most teams have moved to a more pass heavy attack, seeing last seasons most run heavy BC Lions team move from 38.7% to 33.5% this year, Edmonton has trended the other direction. This was most obvious as they stubbornly battered Travon Van into a brick wall versus Hamilton only a couple weeks ago despite the Ti-Cats fielding the worst pass defence in the league. Again, it’s only a couple percentage points, but small changes lead in opportunity can lead to significant changes in production. The team taking most advantage of the advantageous passing rules is the Toronto Argonauts who have seen an 11% increase in passing plays over last season. It’s been a significant uptick in yardage for Ricky Ray, although the passing TDs have yet to show up.
The most interesting number to me though involves the curious case of Captain Jack – Jacques Chapdelaine. The Alouettes have struggled on offence ever since hall of fame quarterback Anthony Calvillo retired. Games filled with a lack of offensive weapons at receiver, and quarterbacks like Rakeem Cato and Vernon Adams don’t get anyone’s juices flowing. It’s not so much who the Alouettes were though, as who they may becoming, that is really worth looking deeply at.
Through the first twelve weeks of 2016 the Alouettes were not good, but ran just a below league average number of plays per game at 49.9 PPG. When the wheels came off though and they hired Jacques Chapdelaine as interim head coach, everything changed. They buckled themselves into the pits of despair and ground out the final six games of the season at an embarrassingly sluggish 44.6 PPG pace. There were pee-wee football teams with 40 minute games that ran more plays than the late 2016 Als. It was dreadful football to watch.
The offseason acquisition of Darian Durant and his talk of Captain Jack’s “Basketball on Turf” offence gave reasons for optimism that maybe there would be interest in trying to score in Montreal again. However, the first four weeks of the season plugged away at a meager 47.5 PPG, much like the late 2016 Alouettes. It seemed as though the additions of Ernest Jackson and Darian Durant would all be for not, on Nik Lewis’ slow march towards being the highest receiving offensive lineman in CFL history. Then July 19 came like an unexpected spark on a dry forest floor, setting the whole of Captain Jack’s mystery ship ablaze. The Als came out that night and ran 62 plays on offence – a full 25% more than average over their past 10 games since Jacques took over as Head Coach. SMALL SAMPLE SIZE! Then they showed up in Winnipeg and ran 53 plays, still well above average for them, and ran a fast paced offence all evening in a shoot-out affair. Anytime I see behavior out of the ordinary like this my internal skeptic writes it off as a blip, but in this case I think what we’re seeing is the evolution of an offence finally starting to show chemistry and establishing a new norm that will create a significant uptick in production versus what we have come to expect from the Alouettes.
This isn’t the first ride for Captain Jack. He was the offensive coordinator for the BC Lions early on this decade during some of their most successful seasons. The 2012 iteration saw Travis Lulay, that Travis Lulay, named the Most Outstanding Player in the CFL that season. They had a dominant offence that year that saw them run between 50-56 plays on winning game scripts. Captain Jack is no stranger to up tempo play, and this was all in an era before the CFL made pass defence illegal as it is now. It’s reasonable to expect that had the 2012 Lions played under 2017 rules they would likely have been even faster paced overall. Jacques Chapdelaine, the man with a French name and a southern drawl, has a track record of up tempo play when he trusts his quarterback and has a running back that can establish consistent yardage. Darian Durant is an unlikely candidate for 2017 MOP, but it’s likely that his production through the rest of the season is more likely to resemble the last two games more than the first four.
Pace matters. Production starts with opportunity. The 2017 Als may be a source of value for a few weeks to come as their production exceeds expectations while they slowly become who Captain Jack hopes they can be.