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Inside the CFL: Winners, losers and trends

Ted Michaels, CFL Editor

Hamilton, ON (Sports Network) - Hard to believe we've just completed the first third of the CFL season.

Here's one observer's take on the power rankings of the league, and some possible storylines to follow in the next few weeks.

Number one: Winnipeg Blue Bombers (5-1)

The Bombers answered a few more questions Friday night when they beat the previously-unbeaten Edmonton Eskimos, 28-16, in Winnipeg.

Buck Pierce completed 20-of-27 passes for 242 yards with two touchdowns and also ran for a third score, a 48-yarder -- the longest of his CFL career. The TD run also surprised some, because the New Mexico State grad showed speed that many thought he didn't have.

The Blue Bomber defense has given themselves a nickname, and t-shirts to go with it: Swaggerville. I'm sure that name may be rubbing people at the CFL office and other teams the wrong way.

Winnipeg's defense forced five Eskimo turnovers and sacked Edmonton quarterback Ricky Ray four times.

The Bombers had four wins in all of 2010, and the last time they started a season at 5-1 was back in 1987. And the Blue Bomber teams of that era remind me of the current crop, at least in the all-decibel department.

They're brash, they're bold, they're good... and right now, they're the best.

Number two: Edmonton Eskimos (5-1)

For the first five weeks of the season, Edmonton GM Eric Tillman and head coach Kavis Reed said it was a long season, and the team at some point would have to fight its way through adversity.

Prophetic words.

The Eskimos were outhit, outhustled and outplayed in the 28-16 loss to Winnipeg.

Ricky Ray completed 17-of-28 passes for 226 yards with one touchdown, but had three interceptions. After the game, the Eskimos announced that wide receiver Fred Stamps underwent emergency abdominal surgery early Saturday at a Winnipeg hospital.

Stamps was injured early in the game but finished it.

"Fred was experiencing significant discomfort after the game. He was taken to hospital for tests which determined that there was some internal bleeding and surgery was required," said Tillman.

"The surgery was successful and Fred will remain in hospital for a few more days. Our medical staff is projecting that he'll be sidelined 4-to-6 weeks.

Stamps, who had three catches for 41 yards on the night, leads all CFL receivers with 33 receptions for 619 yards and 5 touchdowns this year.

This week the Eskimos have to go into Montreal on a short week, and without their number one weapon.

It'll be interesting to see how they respond.

Number three: Montreal Alouettes (4-2)

Two weeks ago, after the Alouettes were beaten 34-26 in Hamilton, which was their second loss in a row. Quarterback Anthony Calvillo, in essence, said the Als had become spoiled with all their success over the past few years.

Turns out he was right.

The Als went into Toronto and beat the Argos 36-23, with Calvillo completing 30-of-36 passes for 349 yards and one touchdown.

Montreal also reestablished a running game with Brandon Whitaker carrying 19 times for 150 yards. Whitaker has now carried 73 times for 393 yards.

While the gap between the Als and the rest of the league may be closing, the defending champs are showing they won't give up the crown without a fight.

Don't count them out yet.

Number four: Calgary Stampeders (4-2)

The Stampeders were 0-2 at home heading into last weekend's game against Hamilton.

After falling behind 20-13 at the half, the Stamps outscored Hamilton 19-0 in the second half and got that elusive first home win, 32-20.

Henry Burris, who was booed by the Stamps faithful in Calgary's previous home game, completed 27-of-39 for 341 yards and a touchdown.

Defensively, Calgary, which for years was called arrogant by fans of other teams, may be starting to get its mojo back.

After the victory, the Stamps were heard to holler... "This is Shutter Island! Winnipeg calls itself Swaggerville? Well, we're Shutter Island. Because we shut people DOWN."

Whether that will be the case remains to be seen.

But the victory showed that Calgary is starting to play the way that many expected.

And the Stamps have their provincial rivals, the Eskimos, squarely in their sights.

This will get interesting.

Number five: Hamilton Tiger-Cats (3-3)

When the Tiger-Cats won their third straight game two weeks ago, beating the defending Grey Cup champion Alouettes 34-26, many pundits across the country thought the Tiger-Cats had served notice that they were ready to step into the upper echelon of the league's best teams.

Not so fast.

The Tiger-Cats took a major step backward, losing 32-20 to the Stampeders.

After taking a 20-13 lead into the dressing room, the Tiger-Cats were thoroughly outplayed in the second half, getting outscored 19-0.

This week the Tiger-Cats host the Argos in what has TRAP GAME written all over it.

The Tiger-Cats head into the bye week after this game. The danger of the players thinking ahead to the week off, and not focusing on the game, is real.

Don't be surprised if the Tiger-Cats lose the game to their arch-rivals, who, with a loss, would fall six points behind Hamilton.

Even with a victory, the Tiger-Cats won't move up from the number five spot, because beating the Argos is not like beating Montreal.

Number six: BC Lions (1-5)

The Lions finally got their first win of the year on Friday, beating the hapless Saskatchewan Roughriders 24-11.

BC was led by Geroy Simon, who at the age of 35, continues to show he's still one of the premiere receivers in the league. Simon caught seven passes for 137 yards and a 63 yard touchdown, in which he showed he still has speed, pulling away from Roughrider defenders.

The Lions are saying the right things about the acquisition of Arland Bruce from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. For example, "he'll be able to mentor the young receivers, he'll be able to compliment Simon, etc."

But, sources say that Bruce wasn't hurt in Hamilton as he kept insisting and he was starting to cause major problems in the Tiger-Cat locker room.

BC has already added Jerome Dennis, Khreem Smith, Tad Kornegay and J.R. Ruffin to their lineup since the start of the season. If Bruce can fit in, the Lions can possibly salvage their season.

If he can't, it could get ugly in BC.

Number seven: Toronto Argonauts (1-5)

After the Argos were beaten 36-23 by Montreal last week, head coach and GM Jim Barker fired defensive coordinator Chip Garber and replaced him with defensive backs coach Orlondo Steinauer.

Barker said he made the move because he wasn't seeing progress from his defense.

"I was hoping we'd progress, and be doing some things differently," he told the media after the announcement was made. "As the season has progressed, I've felt there are certain areas where we've digressed. I see us moving forward on offense, but it will take time."

Time is something Barker doesn't have.

The Argo offense is currently ranked dead last in the CFL in average yards passing per game, and only Saskatchewan is ranked lower in average offensive yards per game.

That offense is led by Cleo Lemon, who has thrown for just 1,042 yards this season, over 800 yards behind the league leader, Calvillo.

It might be a question of how much longer Barker will stick with Lemon, who in his second year, still hasn't developed into a CFL-style quarterback.

If the Argos don't beat Hamilton this Saturday, then two question arise. How bad will the crowd be when the Argos host Saskatchewan on August 18 and how long before owner David Braley loses either patience or interest?

Number 8: Saskatchewan Roughriders (1-5)

Use any cliche you want... horrid, putrid, inept... they all fit this year's edition of the Roughriders.

After Saskatchewan suffered a 24-11 loss to the BC Lions, Riders offensive coordinator Doug Berry issued a mea culpa, telling the Regina Leader-Post, "I don't know what percentages you put on anything, but I have to take responsibility for the way we're performing. I am, by far, not happy with it, either. I'm going to do what I can to try to get this thing going."

The Riders offense has scored an anemic 112 points after six weeks, by far the worst in the CFL.

Some observers have privately told Inside the CFL that perhaps Greg Marshall is not head coach material.

And maybe it doesn't mean anything, but why is vice president of football operations Ken Miller, who was the head coach for the last three seasons, standing on the sidelines, just behind Marshall?

Is he seeing for himself why the team is so bad, or is he preparing to get his old job back?

Notes:

Wonder how Winnipeg fans feel about the TSN series, "The Extra Yard," featuring the Toronto Argonauts?

Last week's show didn't exactly put the city of Winnipeg in a positive light.

As the Argos huddled up after a practice, in preparation for their game in Winnipeg, running back Jeff Johnson yelled out, "we only need to do one thing when we go to that [expletive]."

Barker added "there's no other reason to go to Winnipeg, but to kick their [expletive]."

And, when the episode showed the start of the game, the graphic said Canad Stadium (not Canad Inns) Stadium.

Ted Michaels is the host of the Fifth Quarter, on AM 900 CHML.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Ted Michaels at ted@900chml.com.

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