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Stampeders’ razor-thin margin for error impacting season

Jake Maier Jake Maier - The Canadian Press

The 2023 Calgary Stampeders have been a case study on the razor-thin margin for error in professional football. 

Going into their Week 16 matchup versus the Montreal Alouettes on Saturday afternoon (2 pm MT/4 pm ET) at McMahon Stadium, the Stamps (4-9, fourth in the West Division) have been in six games decided by four points or fewer, tied for second-most in the league. They are 2-4 in those contests.

The Stampeders dropped a one-point nailbiter to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers where Dru Brown started at quarterback in place of an injured Zach Collaros. Then they lost an early-season overtime heartbreaker to the Saskatchewan Roughriders that ended with a Jake Maier endzone interception. And in another home game, they lost an extra-time contest to the Ottawa Redblacks where they gave up a four-point lead in the dying minutes. 

Had a handful of plays gone differently for Calgary over the past several weeks, there’s a strong possibility their streak of 18 consecutive playoff births (the longest active playoff streak in North American pro sports) would not be in question. While head coach Dave Dickenson has constantly applauded his team’s effort and compete level this season, he conceded that being close ultimately does not cut it and that the group hasn’t quite gelled yet. 

“Most losing teams say they’re close,” Dickenson said. 

“If you really are getting trashed on every week, there’s probably more issues. We’re talking professional football. Everybody’s got a chance, every week, especially in the CFL…we need to make two or three more plays and we need to limit a couple, in my opinion, selfish penalties or things that have cost us.”

Maier has overcome early season growing pains and improved in recent games as Calgary’s No. 1 quarterback. He started the season with seven consecutive games with an interception, a stretch where he threw 11 picks. Since then, he has thrown just two interceptions in his past six games.

Dickenson said that they’ve worked with the 26-year-old on some mechanical adjustments. This year, he’s second in the league with 3,310 passing yards, trailing only Collaros. 

“We identified some things we want him to get better at,” Dickenson said.

“I think he’s doing it…for him, it was just quickening up his feet a little bit, trying not to necessarily sit on that back foot for too long, predict the throw a little more and then, if it’s not clean, just find a completion or even get something with your legs. He’s moving the pocket extremely well the last three or four games. He’s completing big plays down the field but he’s also making the simple throws.”

The Stamps’ woes can also be explained by their horrible injury luck. Currently, they have 17 players on the six-game injured list alone, a group that includes receivers Malik Henry, Jalen Philpot, Cole Tucker and Clark Barnes. Veteran Markeith Ambles, who was on the Stamps’ 2018 Grey Cup championship team before signing in Toronto, had shown well since the team re-signed him earlier in the summer, but the Stamps released him on Friday evening.

In his place, Tre Odoms-Dukes will come back in, starting at slotback after a few weeks on the practice roster. Despite having only played in nine games, Odoms-Dukes remains one of the team’s leaders with 44 receptions and 494 yards. 

“He’s been working,” Dickenson said. 

“He’s been having a good week of practice and I want to reward that. Hopefully he has a good game.” 

Veteran receiver Marken Michel, who spent time in the NFL, agreed, calling Odoms-Dukes a “dog.”

“Playmakers gonna be playmakers,” Michel said.

The Stamps have undergone a leadership transition this year, having moved on from veterans like quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell and linebacker Jameer Thurman, both of whom signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. As a result, the Stamps are a quieter group than many are used to and still finding their voice. That’s not a bad thing though, according to Michel. 

“What do they say, the loudest person in the room is usually the one who is probably the most nervous and probably the most scared?” Michel said.

“We don’t need to make noise. Just go out there and play…being noisy is not going to help us win.”