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CFL Preview - Hamilton (3-3) at Winnipeg (1-5)

From The Sports Network

By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor

DATE & TIME: Thursday, August 16, 8:00 p.m. (et).

GAME NOTES: Two teams trying to bounce back from double-digit defeats hit the field at Canad Inns Stadium on Thursday night, as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers entertain the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Hamilton recently enjoyed a three-game win streak, following consecutive defeats to kick off the 2012 campaign, by beating the likes of Toronto, Montreal and Saskatchewan. However, on August 9, the Tiger-Cats fell back to .500 as they bowed to Calgary at home, 31-20. Despite being 3-3 after six games, the 'Cats enter Week 8 of the season tied with both the Argonauts and Alouettes for first place in the East Division.

As for the Blue Bombers, they are the one team looking up at the other three clubs in the division, having won just once in six tries. The squad squeezed out a 23-22 triumph versus Edmonton on July 26 to snap a four-game slide, but then a week later the team dropped a 36-26 decision to the Als. With the worst record in the league, head coach Paul LaPolice felt it was time to make a major change and that was at quarterback. This week Joey Elliott is being given the start ahead of Alex Brink, even though the latter doesn't feel his play has been the reason for the team's fast fall from grace.

Brink, who was second on the depth chart at the start of the season behind Buck Pierce who was injured early on, has been blind-sided by the switch after throwing for 311 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the loss to Montreal. Brink added a rushing touchdown as well while shaking off three sacks. Slotback Terrence Edwards reeled in eight passes for a game-high 120 yards for the Bombers who are simply trying to find something that works in their favor and earn them a few victories over the last 12 weeks of the regular season.

While the outing against Montreal was certainly one that Brink could be proud of, the fact remains that he has converted just 53.5 percent of his pass attempts and has one more interception (six) than he has TD passes (five).

Elliott, a product of Purdue, has very little starting experience in the CFL, having hit on just 56-of-109 attempts for 715 yards and three touchdowns in three years with Winnipeg. In the last two seasons he has just 21 completed passes and overall his efficiency rating is a disappointing 66.1. Still, the coaching staff believes a change is necessary to give the group some spark.

Even though Hamilton is also coming off a loss, there doesn't seem to be any monumental changes filtering down from the coaching staff to the players on the field. The Tiger-Cats had some trouble getting their offense into gear versus Calgary during Week 7 action, failing to score in the first quarter. However, the squad delivered 20 points over the next two frames before again falling silent in the final period, while giving up 14 points to the visitors. Hamilton didn't do itself any favors by being called for 13 penalties, amounting to 91 yards in lost field position.

Quarterback Henry Burris, facing off against his former team for the first time this season, connected on 21-of-40 passes for 267 yards and a touchdown, but was also picked off once. Running back Chevon Walker showed his versatility yet again as he not only carried the ball 10 times for 68 yards and scored on a 47- yard jaunt, he also caught four passes for another 35 yards and a major as well. Andy Fantuz contributed with six receptions for a game-high 77 yards.

The pass defense for Hamilton played well enough to limit Calgary to just 141 yards through the air, but stopping the run was an entirely different story as the group allowed a whopping 233 yards and three scores, much of the damage being done by Jon Cornish, who rumbled for a career-high 170 yards.

At this stage, the run defense for the Tiger-Cats is one of the weakest in the league, last among all eight clubs in terms of first downs allowed on the ground with 54. Hamilton is giving up 145.2 ypg rushing, by far the highest average in the CFL. As a result of the porous run defense, foes are not as inclined to throw the ball and that's why Hamilton is last in the league in interceptions with a mere three through six games.

Ranked seventh in the league in yards allowed per game overall (417.6), Hamilton is ahead of only one other team, that being Winnipeg which is permitting 419.3 ypg at the moment. The only other squad giving up more than 100 ypg on the ground, the Bombers are slightly over that threshold at 103.7 ypg.

With both of these defenses having their issues, it shouldn't come as a complete surprise that they are at the bottom of the list when it comes to points allowed, Hamilton checking in with 33.0 ppg given up and the Blue Bombers only slightly behind at 33.2 ppg.

As far as the all-time regular-season series is concerned, Winnipeg owns a 57-45 advantage over the Tiger-Cats dating back to 1950. In October of last year the Bombers posted a 33-17 victory at Hamilton to give them three straight regular-season wins over the Tiger-Cats.

The teams are set to meet two more times during the regular season, once in September on Winnipeg's turf and then five weeks later in Hamilton.

Even though LaPolice says the schemes on offense will remain relatively the same with Elliott directing the group, a fresh perspective at quarterback could kick-start Winnipeg enough to get the team rolling. However, it may take some time.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Hamilton 37, Winnipeg 30

08/15 15:12:27 ET

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