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CFL Preview - Ottawa (1-2) at Hamilton (0-3)

From The Sports Network

By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor

DATE & TIME: Saturday, July 26, 7 p.m. (ET).

GAME NOTES: Thanks to their very first win in 2014, the Ottawa RedBlacks find themselves atop the East Division standings, as they enter Week 5 action against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at McMaster University's Ron Joyce Stadium on Saturday night.

After losing the first two games on the schedule to Winnipeg and Edmonton, the newest members to the CFL took the field at home versus Toronto last week and squeezed out an 18-17 victory. While that may not sound all that significant, with a mark of 1-2 right now the RedBlacks actually find themselves leading the pack in the division, mostly due to the fact that every other squad in the East (Montreal, Toronto and Hamilton) already has three defeats.

Much of the credit for the Ottawa win goes to kicker Brett Maher who knocked through a clutch 27-yard field goal in the final minute to give the team the victory in its home debut. Not only did Maher connect on the most crucial of kicks in the meeting with Toronto, he actually accounted for all 18 points for Ottawa with successful field goals from 48, 32, 30, 26 and 22 yards out. Needless to say, Maher was an easy choice for the CFL Special Teams Player of the Week.

Maher, who now has nine field goals on the campaign, picked up the slack for an Ottawa offense that struggled to find a rhythm. Quarterback Henry Burris managed to convert 17-of-30 passes for 216 yards, but was sacked five times.

The top target for Burris was Kierrie Johnson who registered six receptions and 91 yards, both of which were game highs. Running back Chevon Walker tried to give the group a boost on the ground, but managed just 60 yards on 12 carries.

Walker, who played with Hamilton the last two seasons, has already eclipsed his entire rushing total from a year ago when he posted 193 yards in limited action.

Defensively, the RedBlacks limited Toronto to a respectable 371 yards, but it also didn't hurt that the Argos crippled themselves time and time again with 12 penalties that amounted to 132 yards of lost field position.

The RedBlacks are now in the middle of the pack when it comes to points allowed, permitting 26.7 ppg, while Hamilton is just in front of them at 23.0 ppg.

As for the Tiger-Cats, losers of the 2013 Grey Cup versus Saskatchewan (45-23), they are still waiting to work their way into the win column here in 2014. The campaign began with another loss to the Roughriders, 31-10, followed by a 28-24 setback to Edmonton and a narrow 10-7 defeat at the hands of the Calgary Stampeders last week on the road.

Last in the league in scoring at just 13.7 ppg, Hamilton is also all alone at the bottom of the division standings, although even a single game could turn the tide for the 'Cats at this early juncture.

Kicker Justin Medlock accounted for all seven of his team's points versus the Stamps, thanks to a pair of field goals and a 91-yard single, but even with a standout performance by the Hamilton defense, it still wasn't enough to get the visitors into the win column for the first time this season.

With starting quarterback Zach Collaros on the sidelines due to injury, it was up to the tandem of Jeremiah Masoli and Dan LeFevour to make something happen and it just wasn't meant to be. Masoli converted nine of his 20 pass attempts for 107 yards and an interception, while LeFevour missed on only two of his 11 throws as he recorded 76 yards and was sacked twice.

Hamilton struggled to produce 254 yards of offense and didn't do itself any favors with 12 penalties for a loss of 90 yards, but Calgary was just as sloppy while being flagged a dozen times as well for 120 yards.

The quarterback play for the Ticats has been dismal through the first three games, even worse than that of Ottawa which is tied for last in the league in passing scores with just two on 89 pass attempts. Hamilton has by far the lowest efficiency rating at the position (57.8 percent), due to the fact that it too has just two aerial majors, coupled with five interceptions on 54.5 percent completions.

Also working against Hamilton in the early going is an excessive number of turnovers, 12 to be exact. Compare that to the six takeaways the program has through three games and the Ticats are easily last in the league in turnover margin at minus-six.

Because they reside in the same division, these two squads will meet up two more times during the regular season, although it will be close to three months before Hamilton again hosts the RedBlacks in Week 17. Two weeks after that Ottawa will serve as the home team.

As difficult as it is for a team to break into a league these days, at least the RedBlacks have been competitive for nearly every minute they have been on the field, which is more than can be said for Hamilton right now. With the rotating door at quarterback it would not be surprising to see the 'Cats come out on the losing end yet again this weekend.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ottawa 27, Hamilton 21

07/23 11:44:35 ET

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