CFL Previews - Week 2 - July 3-5
From The Sports Network
By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
OTTAWA REDBLACKS (0-0) AT WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (1-0)
DATE & TIME: Thursday, July 3, 8:30 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: The CFL is set to break new ground again on Thursday night, as the Ottawa RedBlacks make their official debut as the newest club in the century- old league when they challenge the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Investors Group Field.
While there is a new name and new ownership group in the city, this is actually the third team to call Ottawa home for CFL action.
Early on, there were the Ottawa Rough Riders more than a century ago and more recently, the Renegades tried to make a go of it, but lasted only a few years before folding in 2005.
Rick Campbell, a two-time Grey Cup winner during his time with the Edmonton Eskimos (2003, 2005), has been appointed the head coach of the RedBlacks, his first shot at being the lead man on the sidelines.
It is expected that Henry Burris will be the man under center for the squad once they officially take the field on July 3. The import from Temple University finished his second season with the Tiger-Cats last year, and in doing so not only paced the entire league in passing yards with 4,925 yards, he also led his squad to the title game against Saskatchewan, where they bowed in a 45-23 defeat.
Burris may be long in the tooth by football standards, this being his 15th campaign, but there is no denying his desire, drive and fearless approach to the game, as he is more than willing to take a chance to make something out of nothing. While he hasn't scored a rushing touchdown since 2011, Burris is one of the most successful ball-carrying quarterbacks in CFL history with more than 5,000 yards and 55 TDs to his credit.
The most notable among the Ottawa wideouts is Paris Jackson, who several years ago was a legitimate threat who registered back-to-back seasons with at least 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns. Unfortunately, his last three years with British Columbia have been rather forgettable, ringing up a mere 27 catches for less than 400 yards and a single major.
The squad will need to lean quite a bit on a player like Marcus Henry, a slot back who is entering his fourth year in the league. In three seasons with Edmonton, Henry averaged almost 14 yards per catch on 95 grabs, but still came away with only three TDs through the air. The RedBlacks will need a spark somewhere down the field, and Henry could be one of the players holding the match.
Although running the ball is rarely the first option, the RedBlacks appear to be coming up short in that department as well. Chevon Walker showed some nifty footwork in his first season back in 2012 with Hamilton, putting up 656 yards and four TDs, but he delivered a mere fraction of that last season. At this point he might be the best option for Ottawa, although it would be nice to see former Boise State running back DJ Harper get back on his feet after a pair of ACL injuries in college.
For a team that was bringing in a new starter at quarterback after posting a league-worst three victories in 2013, the Blue Bombers figured to have their hands full when they opened the new campaign against Toronto last week, but that wasn't the case at all.
However, before the Argonauts could realize what hit them, Winnipeg was up by a score of 24-0 in the second quarter, en route to a lopsided 45-21 final. The offensive onslaught represented the highest-scoring effort by the Bombers since a 2010 meeting with British Columbia in Week 15 when the squad captured a 47-35 win in overtime.
Quarterback Drew Willy, now in his third season in the league and first with the Bombers, threw for a career-high 308 yards as he converted 19-of-27 pass attempts, leading to four majors for the hosts. For his efforts, Willy was named the league's offensive player of the week. Aaron Kelly did a heap of damage in the first few minutes of the meeting, posting a pair of receiving touchdowns, en route to five receptions for 100 yards.
Giving the Bombers some much-needed punch on the ground was Arizona product Nic Grigsby, who erupted for 122 yards on 21 carries in his CFL debut.
A year ago, Winnipeg was last in the CFL in scoring with a mere 20.1 ppg, generating a league-low 281.4 ypg which made the Bombers the only club to come in under 320 ypg. The team tossed a total of only 13 touchdowns, less than half that of the closest opponent (Montreal, 27). Perhaps last year's efforts had something to do with the Bombers being ranked only seventh in the Week 1 Power Rankings.
In recent news off the field for the Blue Bombers, the team suspended defensive back Korey Banks after the 11-year veteran asked for his release. The club did not satisfy the request and instead put Banks on the suspended list, indefinitely.
A two-time Grey Cup winner Banks, who spent the last eight seasons with British Columbia, has 442 tackles and 37 interceptions in 163 career games.
Despite the distractions after their impressive win last week, the Blue Bombers have to be considered the favorite as they open up play at home against a club that is waiting to record its first piece of history.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Winnipeg 28, Ottawa 14
BRITISH COLUMBIA LIONS (0-1) AT MONTREAL ALOUETTES (0-1)
DATE & TIME: Friday, July 4, 7 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: A couple of teams coming off disappointing efforts in their respective season openers get together at Percival-Molson Stadium on Friday night, as the Montreal Alouettes entertain the British Columbia Lions.
The Als figured to have some struggles early on with the change in quarterback, but no one could have foreseen their awful effort against Calgary in the opener.
Troy Smith did little with his opportunity to make Montreal fans forget all about Anthony Calvillo. In fact, it would not be surprising if Calvillo was besieged by requests to reconsider his retirement after the lackluster performance by the new starting quarterback for the Als in their 29-8 setback at Calgary last weekend.
Smith was largely ineffective as he completed just 18-of-41 passes for 154 yards, was sacked four times and tossed an interception. Many of his throws sailed over the heads of receivers, and at no time did Smith make an effort to show off his running ability, perhaps the latter was in an effort to keep him from getting injured in the very first game of the season.
Running back Brandon Whitaker was credited with 59 yards on 12 carries, while Steven Lumbala scored a one-yard touchdown on his only carry of the contest, one that came at the end of the meeting following a defensive penalty.
The debut of former NFL superstar receiver Chad Johnson was uneventful as he caught just two passes for 20 yards, but he wasn't the only Montreal player guilty of having little influence on the outcome. As a group, the Alouettes generated a mere 175 yards of offense and while they were far from an offensive juggernaut a season ago, they did manage to put up 322.5 ypg.
Charged with 12 penalties, for a loss of 120 yards, didn't help matters for the Als, but that was just one aspect of the game that needs to be cleaned up moving forward.
Defensively, Montreal surrendered 425 yards and did little to capitalize on the fact that Calgary was hit with a dozen penalties for 129 yards.
While the Alouettes were completely blown out of the water, British Columbia's meeting against visiting Edmonton immediately afterward on Saturday evening started off well enough, before spiraling out of control, en route to a 27-20 defeat.
Kevin Glenn tossed a couple of first-quarter touchdowns for the Lions in that clash, but after that he was barely heard from as the club registered just two field goals by Paul McCallum the rest of the way.
BC ran only 65 plays partly because Glenn was picked off four times and suffered four sacks as he completed 18-of-28 passes. The pressure on the signal-caller was never ending, as his four picks were more than half of his entire 2013 total of just seven.
Andrew Harris, who ran for 37 yards on 11 attempts, also caught six balls for 102 yards in an effort to keep the Lions in the mix against Edmonton. Then again, Harris did fumble on the final offensive play of the game.
On a more positive note, the Lions did manage to limit the Eskimos to less than 300 yards of offense, but even that went by the wayside in the loss.
The squads split their two regular-season matchups from last year as the home team came up big. First, the Als slipped by BC during Week 9 action by a score of 39-38, as Sean Whyte knocked through the game-winning field goal in the waning moments in order to offset five field goals by his counterpart, McCallum. Three weeks later, British Columbia returned the favor with a resounding 36-14 decision, as Travis Lulay threw one TD and ran for another in order to offset a trio of interceptions.
As far as the series record is concerned, BC is ahead by a count of 35-32-1 when taking into consideration only regular-season meetings dating back to 1961. The Lions have won two of the last three encounters, including a 36-14 decision at home back in September of 2013.
These teams will meet once more during the regular season a little over two weeks from now in Vancouver.
Eventually Smith will find his groove and some measure of success for the Als, but for the time being the Lions have more than enough tools and talent to hand Montreal its second straight setback.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: British Columbia 27, Montreal 22
HAMILTON TIGER-CATS (0-1) AT EDMONTON ESKIMOS (1-0)
DATE & TIME: Friday, July 4, 10 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: After winning a total of just four times all of last season, the Edmonton Eskimos shoot for half that number in just the second week of the 2014 campaign as they host the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Commonwealth Stadium on Friday night.
Edmonton, which won just once through the first 10 games of 2013, got off on the right foot this time around thanks to a convincing 27-20 victory versus British Columbia at BC Place last weekend.
Mike Reilly threw for 229 yards and three touchdowns for the Eskimos and new head coach Chris Jones. The quarterback converted 22-of-35 pass attempts and was intercepted once. Receiver Adarius Bowman finished with nine catches for 105 yards, one of his best performances in years. Calvin McCarty and Fred Stamps also registered majors in the outing.
Edmonton scored points in every quarter, yet the squad generated a mere 295 yards of total offense on 84 snaps, partly due to the fact that the Eskimos had to deal with 13 penalties for a loss of 93 yards on the evening.
Defensively, Edmonton held the Lions to just 283 yards on 65 plays, all without the services of J.C. Sherritt who remained on the injured list. The linebacker, who missed several games last season, set the CFL single-season record for tackles two years ago with 130.
Sherritt should be back on the active roster this week, but that does not guarantee that he will see game action.
While the Esks were setting in motion the start of what will hopefully be a successful season, Hamilton was being beaten up by Saskatchewan in a rematch of last year's Grey Cup.
In November of last year, the Roughriders dominated the Tiger-Cats at Mosaic Stadium by a score of 45-23, and Sunday night saw a similar performance from both sides as Hamilton took it on the chin once more in a 31-10 rain-soaked final.
In 2013, the 'Cats had the luxury of riding the arm of Henry Burris, the league's top passer with close to 5,000 yards, but he has since been moved a couple of times and now plays for the newest team to the league, the Ottawa RedBlacks. Now they are relying on free agent Zach Collaros to provide some stability at the position, something that was not found in the opener.
Granted, the poor weather conditions may have had something to do with the lackluster play of Collaros, as he completed 19-of-33 passes for 159 yards and a score, but considering the protection he was given along the offensive line, you really can't put all the blame on him. Although, being sacked a mystifying 10 times does indicate that perhaps Collaros was holding onto the ball a bit too long.
Unfortunately, it appears the sack issue may be a continuing trend from last season when Hamilton was last in the league with 65 allowed, second-most on that list was Edmonton with 60.
Producing only 201 yards of total offense in the opener, there were times when the Tiger-Cats could not get out of their own way. The squad fumbled the ball four times, losing possession twice, and was flagged for an incredible 17 penalties for a loss of 148 yards.
Sam Giguere stepped up and posted a game-high six receptions (a career high) for 46 yards, while Luke Tasker reeled in a four-yard scoring pass for the program midway through the final period.
One bright spot for the Hamilton defense was rookie tackle Bryan Hall who made three tackles, registered one sack and forced a fumble during the setback.
Dating back to 1961 and taking into consideration only regular-season meetings between these two clubs, Edmonton is ahead by a count of 54-30-1, winning two of the last three and four of the last six matchups overall. However, Hamilton is the one that came out on top in the most recent encounter last August, when kicker Grant Shaw delivered a 45-yard single as time expired in a 30-29 road triumph.
The teams are also set to meet in Hamilton during Week 13 play this season.
If Sherritt is back in the lineup and the defense for the Eskimos watched enough film on how to get after Collaros, this could be another very long night for the new starting quarterback for Hamilton.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Edmonton 27, Hamilton 24
SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS (1-0) AT TORONTO ARGONAUTS (0-1)
DATE & TIME: Saturday, July 5, 3 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: As was the case in the Grey Cup last year, the Saskatchewan Roughriders had their way with Hamilton in the season opener last weekend, and now the team is tasked with taking on the Toronto Argonauts this Saturday afternoon at Rogers Centre.
Last November the Roughriders barely got their hands dirty as they mangled Hamilton in the title game, 45-23, and on Sunday night the reigning champs experienced similar success in the rematch as they cruised to a 31-10 home win.
There were many aspects of the game in which Saskatchewan excelled, but the most notable area was with its pressure on quarterback Zach Collaros. Under heavy rain, Collaros had limited time to gain his footing and find open receivers, but to be sacked 10 times is still incredible. Leading the way for the Riders was defensive end Ricky Foley, who made a total of six tackles, three of those on Collaros in the backfield.
Last season, Saskatchewan ranked third in the league in sacks with 57, so they are already off to a tremendous start in that department. It should also be noted that Hamilton was the weakest club in the league in terms of holding off would-be sackers, allowing 65 takedowns of signal-callers.
For his efforts, Foley was named the Defensive and Canadian Player of the Week for Week 1. Because of the constant hitting under less than ideal conditions, the Tiger-Cats fumbled four times and lost possession twice.
On the offensive side of the ball for the Riders, quarterback Darian Durant orchestrated a decent effort, converting 15-of-22 passes for 136 yards and a couple of touchdowns, but the real story was new running back Anthony Allen.
Saskatchewan figured to have a huge hole to fill in the backfield with the departure of Kory Sheets, the league's second-leading rusher a year ago (1,598 yards), as he made the move back to the NFL to join the Oakland Raiders, but Allen seems to have turned more than a few heads with his hard-nosed play coming out of the gate.
Allen carried the ball 27 times for a game-high 158 yards, dwarfing the efforts of the entire Tiger-Cats rushing attack which managed to produce a mere 42 net yards. Allen, who crossed the goal line on a one-yard run in the second quarter, also caught a two-yard pass for a major earlier in the meeting.
While the Roughriders were again whipping up on Hamilton, the Argonauts were the ones taking a beating at the hands of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the season opener last Thursday night, 45-21.
On paper, Toronto should have easily handled the hosts, but that's why they actually play the game. Ricky Ray, the quarterback with the top efficiency rating in the league a year ago, threw touchdown passes to Jason Barnes and Jeremiah Johnson in the second and third quarters, respectively, but that was only after the hosts lit up the scoreboard with 24 unanswered points to begin the meeting.
Ray completed 27-of-38 passes for 283 yards, with Chad Owens being his favorite target with eight catches for 78 yards. Owens also pitched in with three punt returns for another 85 yards, one of those stretching for 83 yards and a major in the fourth quarter. Owens, who is always a threat to break a big play, was named the Special Teams Player of the Week for the seventh time in his career.
Even though the Argos came out on the losing end in the first game of the season, the team's management is keenly aware of the value that Owens brings to the field each and every week, which is why the mighty sprite was signed to a contract extension through the 2015 campaign.
Not limited to keeping only the skill players happy, Toronto also extended center Jeff Keeping it was announced on Monday. While he certainly doesn't get the same amount of press as Owens, Keeping has still made a name for himself after he was not only named an East Division All-Star, but won the Leo Dandurand Memorial Trophy as the East Division's Outstanding Offensive Lineman following the 2013 campaign.
Unfortunately, the Toronto defense had no answers for the Blue Bombers, a team that last season won a total of just three times. Bombers quarterback Drew Willy threw for a career-high 308 yards and four touchdowns while being named the CFL Offensive Player of the Week. Winnipeg generated 459 yards of offense, and kept the Toronto defense on the field for more than 36 minutes.
Toronto trails in the all-time series between these two clubs, 46-37-1, when speaking of regular-season meetings dating back to 1961. However, the Argos have won two of the last three meetings, including a 31-29 final in Regina last September.
If the Saskatchewan defense is anywhere near as punishing this week as it was in the opening game, Ray and Owens better be on the lookout for hits coming from all sides.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Saskatchewan 28, Toronto 25
2014 Sports Network Predictions: 2-2. Last Week's Results: 2-2.
07/02 12:48:57 ET