From The Sports Network
By Greg Xenakes, CFL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
EDMONTON ESKIMOS (7-11) AT TORONTO ARGONAUTS (9-9)
DATE & TIME: Sunday, Nov. 11, 1 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: Regardless of who finally gets the nod as the starting quarterback, the entire Edmonton Eskimos squad still gets a shot at taking down the Toronto Argonauts in the 2012 East Division Semifinals at Rogers Centre on Sunday afternoon.
One of the big stories coming out of Edmonton early this week is the dilemma that head coach Kavis Reed has in choosing a starting quarterback. Coach Reed has both Kerry Joseph and Matt Nichols vying for the position as the team tries to ready itself for a potential playoff run that could end in the 100th Grey Cup later this month.
The main goal for coach Reed is to get the offense off to a strong start instead of having to play catch-up against a Toronto team which has the potential to put up points when that offense is operating at full speed. Coach Reed acknowledges that, even though one of the quarterbacks will be the first to take the field with the offense, he fully expects to use both which could cause the Toronto defense some issues.
Although it doesn't much factor into the action on the field at this point in the season, the Eskimos were subject of another major story heading into the final weekend of the regular season as club president and CEO Len Rhodes announced that general manager Eric Tillman had been relieved of his duties. Most agree that at this point in the season a general manager's job is to be looking forward towards the following season as he forges designs on an updated roster and for the time being he doesn't have much involvement with the current state of affairs, but still the action caused a ripple in the team's preparations for this game nonetheless.
In the case of the Argonauts, they might have a slight advantage at the quarterback position, not so much because Ricky Ray has been dominant the last few weeks of the regular season, but because he is going up against his former team and might have some insights on how to exploit potential weaknesses.
Ray, who sat out the final game of the regular season after the Argos were assured a postseason spot, had some trouble adjusting to his new situation at times but still threw for 4,059 yards to notch his seventh 4,000-yard campaign in his 10 seasons in the CFL. Against his former mates, Ray combined to hit 52-of-77 passes for 549 yards and a pair of majors this year, but he also tossed a couple of interceptions in the second meeting as well. Despite his occasional issues, Ray still set the single-season record for completion percentage for the Argos (.686).
Part of the success for Ray this season has been his developing relationship with Chad Owens who used to be primarily a kick returner and special team standout, but this year he was given more responsibilities within the Toronto offense and responded by leading the league in receiving with 94 catches for 1,328 yards, landing in the end zone six times on pass receptions.
But Owens didn't completely abandon his special teams efforts, in fact he also led the league in kickoff returns with 71 for a massive 1,588 yards and was third in punt returns with 77 for an additional 828 yards. In all, adding in his rushing yardage contributions as well, Owens not only registered his third season with at least 3,000 combined yards, the only player in league history to achieve the feat, he also set the new record for combined yards in a season with a staggering 3,863 yards, surpassing the mark previously held by Michael Clemons (3,840) who became the first player to ever have a pair of 3,000-yard campaigns.
Although, keeping tabs on the Flyin' Hawaiian for the Eskimos will be middle linebacker JC Sherritt, so the yards may not be quite as abundant in the postseason. Sherritt, who earned his fourth CFL Defensive Player of the Week Award earlier this week, set a new single-season record for tackles not only for the Esks but the entire league as he recorded a massive 130 stops in 2012. Only one other player in the league managed to reach triple digits in tackles, which means the feat has been very impressive. Surely Sherritt will be keying on Owens and any potentially big plays that the Argos might be cooking up in the huddle.
Even though these two squads play in the same division, it has been more than two months since they last faced off against each other, with Edmonton capturing a 26-17 victory in this same building, Prior to that, the teams kicked off the 2012 campaign back in late June with the Esks squeezing out a 19-15 win. Edmonton has now won five straight regular season meetings and since the start of 2004 the clubs have broken even over the course of 18 games at 9-9.
The winner of this meeting will be back in action next week to challenge the Montreal Alouettes in the East Division Championship round, for the right to move on to the CFL title game back here in Toronto on Nov. 25.
Staying at home during this pressure-filled time is certainly something that works in the favor of the Argos, so should having Ray standing in at quarterback against an opponent that he should know rather intimately.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Toronto 28, Edmonton 24.
SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS (8-10) AT CALGARY STAMPEDERS (12-6)
DATE & TIME: Sunday, Nov. 11, 4:30 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: Despite having an impressive 12-6 record during the regular season, the Calgary Stampeders still find themselves setting up for the first round of the CFL playoffs on Sunday afternoon as they host the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the West Division Semifinals at McMahon Stadium.
The Stamps started off the campaign a bit sluggish with a 2-3 mark through five games, but down the stretch they turned it on by posting four straight wins and five in the last six contests in order to secure the second-best overall record in the league.
But as well as the regular season finished out, there's actually a bit of controversy brewing in Alberta with the announcement on Tuesday that Drew Tate was getting the starting nod at quarterback over Kevin Glenn. Tate was used rather sparingly this season due to a shoulder injury and finished with just 46 completed passes for 570 yards and four touchdowns, but he was also intercepted three times.
For his career, the Iowa product has thrown for a total of 2,515 yards and 19 majors, numbers that are dwarfed by Glenn in this season alone as he ranked fourth in the league in passing yards (4,220) and was also fourth with 25 TDs. Perhaps the fact that Glenn tossed 16 interceptions had something to do with the decision to go with Tate, but still the Roughriders have to be aware that Glenn is lurking on the sidelines and is ready to pounce once Tate makes his first mistake.
Whomever is handling the quarterback duties for the Stampeders, they still have the luxury of having Jon Cornish setting up behind them in the backfield, ready to thrash the Saskatchewan defense when given the chance. Cornish, who was recently named the top Canadian of the month in the CFL, bulled his way to 1,457 rushing yards in order to set a new, single-season rushing record for a Canadian, a mark which had stood for more than half a century.
The league's overall rushing leader, the first Canadian to hold that post in more than two decades, Cornish averaged 5.6 yards per attempt and scored 11 touchdowns on the ground to tie for the league lead with Saskatchewan's Kory Sheets who finished second in the league with 1,277 rushing yards. Cornish was also second in the CFL in yards from scrimmage with 1,795, just 35 yards behind the top performer.
As for the Roughriders, twice this season they had losing streaks of at least four games, the latest run of futility coming in the final month of play heading into the postseason. Just 3-6 on the road in 2012, Saskatchewan is going up against a Calgary squad that has won five in a row at home, which means the odds continue to mount against the Riders.
Last week, with their postseason ticket already punched, the Roughriders elected to hold Darian Durant out versus British Columbia in order to give him some rest and instead gave Drew Willy just his second career start. Willy hit on 8-of-12 passes for 67 yards, was sacked two times and intercepted once by the Lions in what turned into a 17-6 loss. Backup signal-caller JT O'Sullivan wasn't very impressive as he converted just 9-of-14 passes for 83 yards and was sacked once, but the main goal was to get through the game without any major problems.
Honestly, last week's outing was nothing more than a glorified scrimmage for both sides, opting to keep their precious starting quarterbacks out of harm's way as best they could. Saskatchewan finished with a mere 254 yards of total offense and was hit with eight penalties for a loss of 80 yards along the way.
Head coach Corey Chamblin used the "exhibition" game as a tool to evaluate some of his key personnel so that he could make adjustments on the roster and depth chart for the Roughriders moving forward. On a positive note, Saskatchewan is hoping that history might have some influence on the team's efforts in the postseason because in both 1989 and 2007 the club lost the regular-season finale, only to move on and claim the Grey Cup both times.
These two teams met three times during the regular season, with Calgary winning two of those contests. However, the most recent encounter in late September went in favor of the Riders, 30-25, as host Saskatchewan scored 17 points in the third quarter in order to secure the triumph. In that outing Durant threw for a pair of scores and backup signal-caller Willy tallied a TD on the ground for the victors.
The winner of this matchup will then begin to prepare for the West Division Finals against British Columbia next weekend, with the winner of that contest moving on to the 100th Grey Cup in Toronto in a couple of weeks.
As long as the Stampeders are not married to Tate and are willing to bring in Glenn if/when needed, this is a matchup that should go in favor of the hosts.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Calgary 31, Saskatchewan 25.
2012 Sports Network Predictions: 35-37. Last Week's Selections: 0-4.
11/07 12:24:55 ET