Jason Maas has crossed paths with many quarterbacks in his two decades as a player and coach in the Canadian Football League.
None, perhaps, like current Montreal Alouettes starter Vernon Adams Jr.
“He certainly gives you issues,” said Maas, whose Eskimos visit the Alouettes in Sunday’s Eastern Semi-Final. “He can throw it from the pocket, he can read a defence, he can make all the throws.
“He’s dangerous outside of the pocket. He’s dangerous after contact because he can make people miss and break tackles. He’s very elusive.”
The Alouettes’ first playoff game since 2014 will also mark Adams’ first career playoff start. The 26-year-old won 10 of 15 starts this season, leading the Alouettes to a 10-8 record, their highest win total since going 11-7 in 2012.
Maas, who quarterbacked for 12 years in the CFL and is now in his fourth season as head coach of the Eskimos, says Adams’ success this season speaks for itself.
“There’s just a great belief, you can see it,” said Maas. “All the quarterbacks since Anthony Calvillo have a losing record there. With Vernon in the lineup they win games.”
At 5-foot-11, Adams may not fit the exact profile of the position. Yet the former Oregon Duck has been one of the CFL’s most productive quarterbacks this season, leading the league in a number of categories including combined touchdowns (36) and yards per attempt (9.1).
Adams has especially thrived late in football games, leading the CFL in come-from-behind wins (4) and fourth-quarter touchdowns (10). His fourth-quarter quarterback rating of 108.1 ranks fourth among qualified starters.
Particularly daunting for opposing defences, however, is his multi-talented skill-set. Adams is a gifted improviser, a magician when forced to go off script, which means the Eskimos must play sound, team defence and make sure to finish tackles.
“Our D-line needs to be attentive to gap control and setting edges, and when they have an opportunity to hit him hard, they hit him hard,” said Maas. “And when they have an opportunity to wrap him up, they need to wrap him up. You can’t give him second chances.”
“It really just stems from us getting to him on the front line but not losing our discipline,” added third-year defensive end Kwaku Boateng. “We can’t get too exotic, too wild while we’re pass rushing. We need to stay within our lanes and help constrict that pocket, make that pocket horrible for him and really just cause havoc. ”
As elusive as Adams is, he’s equally dangerous as a passer. The Alouettes’ pivot attempted a CFL-high 91 passes of 20-plus yards, operating at 49.5 per cent efficiency. On such attempts, Adams leads all fellow passers with a 13-6 touchdown to interception ratio, and a quarterback rating of 127.8.
In addition, Adams led the CFL with 28 completions of 30-plus yards, while his 11.5-yard average depth of pass was the highest in the league, tied with reigning Most Outstanding Player Bo Levi Mitchell.
“They’re very well-balanced running backs and that’s what makes them so dangerous,” said Boateng. “And then you have [Adams] and he’s able to run and throw that ball too, so as a defensive lineman, on play action, you don’t know whether you’ve got to commit to that run or commit to him. That’s the challenge of playing this team.”
“It’s not just Vernon,” added Maas. “They have a great offence and [Khari Jones] is doing a great job calling it. [Adams] is the ring leader of that and he does a tremendous job. Ultimately it’s a team game and you’ve got to play team defence against a great player.”
In two games against the Eskimos this season, Adams has gone 22 of 32 (69%) for 325 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He won his lone start back on July 20, which was the last time the two teams met.
The Eastern Semi-Final sets the stage for quite the matchup between an offence and defence that both show aggressive tendencies.