CFL Previews - Week 3 - July 11-12
From The Sports Network
By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (2-0) AT MONTREAL ALOUETTES (1-1)
DATE & TIME: Friday, July 11, 7 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: In a surprising turn of events, Winnipeg finds itself tied atop the Western Division standings after two weeks of play, something that would have been unthinkable just a season ago when the club registered a grand total of just three victories in 18 chances.
This time around the Blue Bombers are one of only two teams (the other being Edmonton) that is 2-0 after as many weeks as they prepare to challenge the enigmatic Montreal Alouettes at Percival-Molson Stadium on Friday evening.
Last year at this time the Bombers had split a pair of meetings with Montreal and then didn't pick up their second victory of the campaign until Week 11 with a 25-13 stunner versus Saskatchewan. Ironically, the only other win after that also came against the Als five weeks later on the road, 34-27.
After defeating Toronto in the 2014 opener, rather convincingly (45-21), the Blue Bombers had their hands full against the Ottawa RedBlacks, in the debut of the latter in the CFL on July 3. In fact, Ottawa delivered three touchdowns in the first 15 minutes of action, before being held to just seven points the rest of the way in a 36-28 final.
Quarterback Drew Willy managed to connect on 21-of-33 passes for 307 yards, but while he was able to move the ball up and down the field with regularity, he was sacked five times and threw an interception, while being held out of the end zone. Instead, it was running back Nic Grigsby who did the honors as he logged three majors and 62 yards on 14 rushing attempts.
Providing another boost for the Bombers was Demond Washington, who returned a kickoff 96 yards for a score in the fourth quarter, but even after that Willy attempted a two-point conversion and failed. Tack on a lost fumble for Willy and it ended up being a mixed bag for the signal-caller. For his efforts, Washington was named the CFL's Special Teams Player of the Week.
Perhaps because of their early success, the Bombers are now taking care of their own as they locked up a couple of defenders with contract extensions this week. Linebacker Teague Sherman and defensive tackle Jake Thomas were given some additional job security after Week 2 action, although terms were not disclosed.
Sherman, in his second season with Winnipeg, partially blocked a punt and added two tackles in last week's victory against Ottawa and also reeled in an 11-yard pass on a fake punt in the season-opener versus Toronto.
Now in his third season with the club, Thomas has just 10 stops in 32 career games, but is only now becoming a fixture along the defensive line.
As for the Alouettes, they bounced back from a disappointing 29-8 loss to Calgary in the opener and grabbed a convincing 24-9 victory versus British Columbia on July 4 at home. Montreal jumped all over the Lions with a 20-0 halftime advantage and then cruised to the triumph, thanks in part to defensive end John Bowman, who tied a career-high with four sacks as he was named the CFL's Defensive Player of the Week.
The very first points of the meeting were tallied by Chip Cox, who took a lateral after an interception and returned it 23 yards for the score.
On the offensive side of the ball, quarterback Troy Smith bounced back from a lackluster opener to keep the Als in line for the win. Smith converted 17- of-29 passing for 187 yards and was sacked only once, while Brandon Whitaker ran for a game-high 76 yards on 12 carries, including a 32-yard TD in the first quarter.
Kicker Sean Whyte accounted for 12 points as he hit on three of his five field goal tries. Despite the strong showing, Whyte is still fourth in the league in kicking points after two games with just 13.
While those kicking points certainly come into play from one week to the next, the bigger concern for the Als is the progress of Smith under center. Against Calgary, the former Heisman Trophy winner was sacked four times and intercepted once. Although, after not logging a single rushing attempt versus the Stampeders, Smith did take off six times for 55 yards.
Third in the league in pass attempts with 70, Smith has converted just half of those and has an efficiency rating of 58.1 over two games.
By comparison, Willy is fourth this week with a rating of 108.7 and has connected on 66.7 percent of his throws.
As far as the series between the squads is concerned, taking into account only regular season bouts dating back to 1961, the Als are ahead by a count of 46-38-2, although Winnipeg has won two straight and four of the last five, including a 34-27 final last October in Montreal.
These teams are slated to face off against each other once more in the regular season in Week 9 at Winnipeg.
By getting out of the pocket and running with the ball last week, Smith showed that he is capable of taking the steps necessary to make the Als successful, but for now Winnipeg simply seems to be operating at just the right speed in order to come up with another win this week.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Winnipeg 26, Montreal 21.
OTTAWA REDBLACK (0-1) AT EDMONTON ESKIMOS (2-0)
DATE & TIME: Friday, July 11, 10 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: As one of two teams in the CFL with a record of 2-0 after two weeks of action, the Edmonton Eskimos put their unblemished mark on the line Friday night as they clash with the Ottawa RedBlacks at Commonwealth Stadium.
Tied with Winnipeg for the top spot in the Western Division standings, the Eskimos needed a 15-0 spurt to close out the meeting with Hamilton last week in order to come away with the 28-24 home victory. Kicker Grant Shaw deserves much of the credit for the victory as he knocked through four of his six field goal tries and finished with 16 points all on his own.
Quarterback Mike Reilly, who placed second on the team with 22 rushing yards on just two carries, converted 29-of-40 passing for 253 yards and a score, while being picked off once and sacked two times. Running back Tyler Thomas carried the ball 11 times for 28 yards.
While it has been just two games and the Esks are still undefeated, the fact that they have yet to register a rushing touchdown has to be a concern. The squad is tied with British Columbia for last in the league with a mere 67.5 ypg on the ground, which may have prompted them to go out and sign Noel Devine earlier this week.
Devine, who attended West Virginia like backup quarterback Pat White, had spent two seasons with Montreal but was limited as far as his production coming out of the backfield was concerned. However, Devine did show promise as a kick returner and having someone who can serve in several roles is certainly a bonus in the CFL.
Even though Edmonton could stand more production in the running attack, the good news for the time being is that the team ranks first in the league in terms of turnovers, sporting a plus-seven in that department. No other club has more than a plus-one after two games.
The newest team added to the CFL, Ottawa didn't hit the field until Week 2 and did so rather convincingly as it scored 21 points in the first quarter at Winnipeg, only to end up with a 36-28 setback in the end. Running back Chevon Walker accounted for two touchdowns, one rushing and the other receiving, coming up just shy of 100 yards from scrimmage.
Quarterback Henry Burris connected on 17-of-30 passes for 241 yards and two scores, was sacked twice, but also ran for 20 yards on two attempts which moved him into first place on the CFL's all-time rushing yards list for a quarterback. Now in his 15th season, Burris has 5,053 rushing yards which puts him eight ahead of Russ Jackson, the latter coincidentally playing for the Ottawa Roughriders.
This latest incarnation of Ottawa football appeared to be heading towards a potential win in the opener, but the defense became rather lax in the fourth quarter and gave up 16 unanswered points to the Blue Bombers on the road. Clearly the offense for the RedBlacks stalled after an exciting first frame, but it also didn't help that the squad was flagged for 16 penalties, accounting for 120 yards of lost field position.
From the judicial side of the CFL, it was announced on Monday that Ottawa defensive back Jerrell Gavins was being fined for a late and low hit on Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Drew Willy.
Coincidentally, Edmonton defensive lineman Odell Willis was also sent a bill for what was deemed a high hit on Hamilton Tiger-Cat quarterback Zach Collaros last week, leaving little room for where and how a quarterback may be met with contact by a defender.
The Esks were also dealt blows to the depth chart when it was announced that both Thaddeus Coleman and Don Oramasionwu would miss playing time due to injuries suffered against Hamilton. Coleman will be out indefinitely after suffering a dislocated elbow, while Oramasionwu will miss the rest of the season with a ruptured patellar tendon in his left knee.
The other meeting scheduled between the teams for later this season has Edmonton paying a visit to the RedBlacks during Week 8 action on August 15.
Ottawa showed that it has the talent and ability to put points on the board in the opener, but the RedBlacks have to keep up the pressure and maintain consistency if they want to come out on the winning side this week.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Edmonton 29, Ottawa 18.
CALGARY STAMPEDERS (1-0) AT TORONTO ARGONAUTS (1-1)
DATE & TIME: Saturday, July 12, 6:30 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: After sitting idle last week, the Calgary Stampeders are back this weekend, as they visit the Toronto Argonauts at Rogers Centre.
On the road for the first time in 2014, the Stamps enjoyed some time off after sticking it to Montreal in the season opener back on June 28 in a 29-8 final at home. Calgary is seeking to move to 2-0 and keep pace with fellow Western Division members, Winnipeg and Edmonton, which already have two victories to their credit.
In the opener, quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell showed quite a bit of poise in the pocket as he moved to 4-0 as a starter in his CFL career. Mitchell clearly out-dueled Montreal's Troy Smith as the former Walter Payton Award winner from Eastern Washington converted 16-of-25 passes for 313 yards and a pair of scores, although he was heavily aided statistically from a 102-yard major to Maurice Price.
Running back Jon Cornish took some serious hits from the Montreal defense in that first go-around, but still managed to post a game-high 67 yards and a score on 14 carries.
The reigning Most Outstanding Player in the CFL and the top Canadian in the league the last two seasons, Cornish finished with a league-leading 2,157 yards from scrimmage a year ago and was second in combined yards with that same number. The punishing back also paced the CFL in majors with 14 in 2013, all but two of those coming on the ground.
However, news on Cornish as of Tuesday had him questionable for this contest, as he missed his second day of practice following concussion protocol testing after taking a hard hit from Montreal's Kyries Hebert in the opener.
Mitchell may have gotten away with a big play and the fact that there is very little tape on him to this point in his CFL career, but Cornish is clearly someone that the Toronto defense will have to keep an eye on coming out of the backfield this weekend.
Under the direction of Kevin Glenn last season, Calgary was the top-scoring team in the league with 30.5 ppg, but a good bit of that had to do with the performance of Cornish, so at least that piece of the puzzle is still intact for 2014.
As for the Argonauts, their first outing of the new season wasn't as positive as they succumbed to an aggressive Winnipeg group, 45-21. With a couple extra days to prepare for Saskatchewan in Week 2 action, Toronto got it all together and ripped apart the Roughriders at home by a final of 48-15 over the weekend.
Ricky Ray had another outstanding day under center as he converted 29-of-37 passes for 407 yards and three touchdowns, one of those scores going to Chad Owens finished with 159 yards on 11 receptions and 89 yards on six punt returns. Ray, who has completed just under 75 percent of his passes in two games and has an efficiency rating of 124.9, was named the CFL Offensive Player of the Week.
As part of an offensive barrage that generated a massive 568 yards, Toronto running back Curtis Steele also played a key role in the easy victory for the hosts as he ran for 59 yards and scored twice on eight carries.
On the defensive side of the ball, while Toronto did surrender a hefty 447 yards, outside of permitting a pair of majors in the third period, the squad played well. It certainly didn't hurt that a portion of the 23 points scored by the Argos in the fourth quarter came courtesy of a 108-yard interception return for a touchdown by Antwaun Molden in the final minutes.
Unfortunately, not all the news was good for the Argos during their victory, as Andre Durie, who caught five passes for 77 yards, suffered a major injury. On Monday it was confirmed that the slot back, who was named the Canadian Player of the Week, had a broken clavicle and would be out for the next six weeks.
Durie appeared in all 18 games a season ago and put up career numbers with 986 yards and three touchdowns on 92 receptions, and another 107 yards on 16 rushing attempts. With Durie on the sidelines for close to two months, expect to see Ray seeking out Owens, Spencer Watt and John Chiles even more moving forward.
Despite being the target of every defense he lines up against, Owens again leads the league in combined yards with 419 and is third in yards from scrimmage (237).
Taking into consideration only regular season matchups dating back to 1961, the series between the squads is currently knotted at 42-42-1. Toronto, which won the most recent encounter in September by a score of 33-27 on the road, has taken six of the last seven meetings.
These teams played twice last season, with each winning on the road. The Argos have a road trip to Calgary scheduled for Sept. 13 during Week 12 action this year.
The loss of Durie will certainly hurt the Argos for the time being, but Ray is not the type of player to let a setback prevent him from putting his team in a position to win. However, if the Toronto defense is a bit too lax once more, Mitchell should be able to expose just enough cracks in the unit.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Calgary 27, Toronto 25.
BRITISH COLUMBIA LIONS (0-2) AT SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS (1-1)
DATE & TIME: Saturday, July 12, 9:30 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: Still seeking their first win of the 2014 season, the British Columbia Lions face off against the Saskatchewan Roughriders Saturday night at Mosaic Stadium.
Last season the Lions won five of their first seven games on the schedule, but this time around it has been a struggle to get on track. In the opener, BC was at least competitive in a 27-20 setback versus Edmonton at home, but that wasn't the case last week as the Lions were steam rolled by Montreal, 24-9.
The Lions generated just 268 yards of offense against Montreal and even when the visitors were able to get the ball into the end zone late in the fourth quarter, the two-point conversion try was broken up. John Beck completed two of his five attempts in relief of Kevin Glenn who hit on 13-of-25 for 159 yards. The starting signal-caller tossed a pair of interceptions and was sacked five times along the way as well.
Glenn may have the third-most passing yards after two games in the league with 410, but a more glaring stat shows him with six picks on a mere 53 attempts, resulting in an efficiency rating of only 48.5. It is still very early in the schedule, but when you consider Glenn tossed only seven INTs all of last season, he is clearly off to a bad start.
If a mounting interception total were not enough for Glenn, one of those tossed in Week 2 was eventually returned for a touchdown after defensive tackle Scott Paxson made the pick and tossed a lateral to Chip Cox for a Montreal TD.
After just two games, BC is last in the league in turnovers with a minus-six in that department. The Riders are one of the other two clubs (Hamilton) with a negative number in turnovers (minus-one) heading into play this week.
If the Lions being winless after two games was hard to imagine, consider how the Roughriders are feeling following their meeting with Toronto at Rogers Centre on Saturday. Saskatchewan's offense was nowhere to be found through the first 30 minutes of action, trailing 17-1 at the break, before coming up with a pair of TDs in the third quarter to make things interesting.
Unfortunately, after closing the gap, the Riders let their guard down and allowed Toronto to rip off 23 straight points to close out the meeting and capture the 48-15 decision. The 48 points allowed by Saskatchewan were the most since the franchise gave up 51 in a three-point, overtime loss to Montreal in the 2010 opener.
The Roughriders were able to generate 447 yards on offense versus Toronto, but most of those were rather hollow and it didn't help that the defense surrendered 568 yards to the Argonauts.
Playing without receiver Chris Getzlaf, the offense sputtered as Darian Durant tried to find a new favorite target. Before exiting late in the meeting, Durant converted 17-of-29 passes for 295 yards and two scores, but he was also picked off twice and sacked four times.
Anthony Allen, who caught seven passes for 50 yards and a major, accounted for a game-high 66 yards rushing on nine carries, but it wasn't nearly enough to offset the lackluster performance of the Saskatchewan defense.
Allen leads the league in rushing with 224 yards on 36 carries, but when the Riders are forced to play catch-up, as they were against Toronto, there are fewer opportunities for Allen to get his hands on the ball in the backfield.
Off the field this week, the Riders made a move with their roster by sending defensive back Dwight Anderson to Toronto in exchange for a conditional draft pick in 2015. Anderson, now in his eighth CFL campaign, has 19 career interceptions, four of which have been returned for touchdowns.
In another roster move, Saskatchewan reportedly added running back Jerome Messam to the practice squad. Just three years removed from being named the Most Outstanding Canadian in 2011 when he ran for 1,057 yards and six touchdowns for Edmonton, Messam was released by Montreal following their first preseason game of 2014.
A potential dual threat, Messam ran for 565 yards and two majors a year ago in just 13 games for the Alouettes, accounting for 317 yards on 31 receptions as well.
With regards to a series history that dates back to 1954 and figures in only regular season battles, Saskatchewan is ahead of the Lions by a 94-83-4 margin, thanks to consecutive victories. The schedule shows BC hosting the Riders in late August for their only other meeting during the 2014 regular season.
At some point Glenn is going to level out with his passing, perhaps gamble less and opt for shorter connections, but for the time being, the Roughriders still have the advantage and the incentive to come back from an awful showing last week.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Saskatchewan 28, British Columbia 21.
2014 Sports Network Predictions: 2-2. Last Week's Results: 4-4.
07/09 11:01:09 ET