CFL Preview - Montreal (2-3) at Winnipeg (1-4)
From The Sports Network
By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor
DATE & TIME: Friday, August 3, 8:30 p.m. (et).
GAME NOTES: Having finally picked up their first win of the 2012 campaign, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers try to make it two in a row on Friday night as they host the Montreal Alouettes at Canad Inns Stadium.
The Blue Bombers, a team which matched up against British Columbia in last year's Grey Cup and fell to the Lions in that game at BC Place, were on the road for the first four weeks of this season and failed to catch a break at any of their stops.
Winnipeg dropped the first three outings all by double digits and then closed the gap in Week 4 versus Toronto in a 25-22 setback. Last Thursday night, the Bombers finally got over the hump with a narrow 23-22 final versus Edmonton in front of a favorable crowd for once.
The Bombers trailed by double digits in the second half last week, but they managed to put all the pieces together, particularly on defense as they limited the visitors to just a single in the final quarter to secure the much-needed victory.
In his second start of the season, Alex Brink connected on 26-of-38 passes for 294 yards and a touchdown, shaking off a couple of sacks and two interceptions along the way. Chad Simpson, who caught five balls for 49 yards, led the ground attack for Winnipeg as he produced 73 yards and a major on 14 carries.
While Winnipeg is hoping the tide has turned for the better, the Alouettes are trying to figure out why they've been so inconsistent through five weeks of action.
A 15-yard TD pass from quarterback Anthony Calvillo to Brandon London in the first quarter of Montreal's meeting with Toronto last week put the Als up after 15 minutes of action, but the offense floundered from there en route to a disappointing 23-20 home setback. With the loss, the team's second in as many games, Montreal dipped to 2-3 on the year.
Calvillo converted 25-of-42 pass attempts for 317 yards, but his one interception was thrown in the end zone near the end of the second quarter, an unfortunate turn of events for Montreal as it was closing in on tying the score at the time. The record-setting signal-caller also suffered his lone sack of the game late in the fourth frame, consequently forcing kicker Sean Whyte to attempt a 54-yard field goal which fell short as time expired.
London accounted for 102 yards on five receptions, one catch fewer than Jamel Richardson who rolled up 70 yards in the losing effort.
Gaining some recognition of his own was safety Daryl Townsend who was named the CFL Special Teams Player of the Week after posting a career-best and game- high four tackles on special teams. Townsend, now in his second CFL campaign, has made at least one special teams stop in every game this season.
While the Townsend story is nice, the real focus has to go back on Calvillo and the offense. The quarterback continues to lead the league in passing yards with 1,633 and is second in both passing TDs (11) and efficiency rating (101.1), but there are still times when the offensive line has been pushed a bit too far and exposed the signal-caller more than he would like. The problem is, the Montreal running game has yet to step up and make itself a threat, accounting for just two touchdowns over five games.
Montreal is last in the league in gaining first downs by running the ball, delivering a new set of downs just 20 times to this point. With a mere 317 yards on the ground, the Als are easily last in that department heading into the sixth game of the season, so it is easy to see why opposing defenses are charging so hard at Calvillo in the pocket.
Even though the Bombers have only one more rushing major than Montreal, the team has been much better at mixing up its offensive attack and is in the middle of the pack with its 458 yards over five games. While Winnipeg has lost a versatile quarterback in Buck Pierce to injury, someone who often took off and ran with the ball when he couldn't find a passing outlet, the team has certainly had to modify its attack in order to take some of the pressure off Brink.
Among starting quarterbacks, Brink has the lowest completion percentage (.500) and has twice as many interceptions (6) as passing scores (3), which explains why the offense is trying to add another dimension to its arsenal.
Heading into this season Montreal held a 43-34-2 advantage in the regular- season series versus the Bombers, dating back to 1946, and actually built on that edge with a 41-30 victory at Stade Percival-Molson Stadium on July 6, which means the Als have now taken six of the last eight matchups between the two.
In that first meeting, Calvillo converted all but eight of his 39 pass attempts, leading to 443 yards and three touchdowns for the hosts who controlled the action for the better part of 36 minutes. The score could have easily been even more lopsided, if not for the fact that Montreal was flagged for 13 penalties, costing the squad a total of 160 yards.
Guilty of the most turnovers in the league after five weeks with 19, Winnipeg has only been hurting itself as Brink tries to gain control of the offense and find his comfort zone. That's something Calvillo and the Als shouldn't have to worry about.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Montreal 31, Winnipeg 20
08/01 10:53:28 ET