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CFL Previews - Week 10 - August 30-September 2From The Sports Network
By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
HAMILTON TIGER-CATS (4-4) AT BRITISH COLUMBIA LIONS (5-3)
DATE & TIME: Friday, August 30, 10:00 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: The first of back-to-back meetings between the British Columbia Lions and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats finds the clubs clashing at BC Place on Friday night.
After starting out the 2013 campaign with just one win in five chances, the Tiger-Cats appear to have turned the corner thanks to three straight victories, the latest coming against Winnipeg last weekend at home, 37-14. The triumph was the second in as many weeks for the 'Cats versus Winnipeg, and the third overall for the squad in the series just this season.
Hamilton, now second in the East Division standings, trailing only Toronto, with an even 4-4 mark, jumped out to a 24-0 advantage midway through the second quarter and never looked back While the Tiger-Cats were generating a healthy 464 yards of offense, the defense was clamping down on the Blue Bombers and limiting the visitors to a mere 235 yards on 70 snaps.
Part of the scoring burst in the first half for the Ticats involved Onrea Jones and quarterback Dan LeFevour hooking up for a trick play that resulted in a 29-yard TD reception. Starter Henry Burris converted 23-of-35 passes for 318 yards and a major as well, although he was intercepted twice and sacked two times along the way.
C.J. Gable caught a touchdown pass and also ran the ball into the end zone from four yards out for Hamilton, while another unexpected major came courtesy of Dee Webb who returned an interception 34 yards for a score in the second frame.
Kicker Luca Congi knocked through three of his four field goal chances and also reached 1,000 points for his career during the onslaught.
As for the Lions, they figured to have the inside track on another win when they matched up against a bruised and battered Montreal club on the road on Aug. 22, but they hadn't planned on facing a backup quarterback who had nothing to lose.
Without Anthony Calvillo at quarterback due to injury, the Alouettes appeared to be easy targets for a BC squad that was coming off back-to-back wins against Winnipeg and Calgary, but the Lions could not have imagined losing to a complete unknown in a 39-38 final that had Hollywood ending written all over it.
British Columbia scored 12 unanswered points in the first quarter and was up 15-0 early in the second before Montreal's Tanner Marsh, the backup to Josh Neiswander, began to make his move. Obviously, without much scouting available on Marsh, the Lions were at a disadvantage, yet still managed to intercept the youngster four times.
However, Marsh was still allowed to throw for a whopping 329 yards on just 14 completions, shaking off three sacks as he tossed one TD and also heaved a late pass down deep into BC territory which set up the game-winning field goal at the gun.
Travis Lulay, who figured to be the centerpiece of the meeting, tried to keep pace as he converted 15-of-28 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns, but he was also sacked five times by an aggressive Montreal defense. Kicker Paul McCallum, who helped keep one drive alive with a fake punt, made good on all five of his field goal attempts, while Tim Brown returned a missed field goal 123 yards for a score to help buoy the Lions.
Defensively, two of the five total interceptions registered by BC went to Korey Banks, his first two of the season, giving him 37 for his career. Heading into the contest, the Lions had just four interceptions the entire campaign.
Now third in the West Division standings, trailing both Saskatchewan and Calgary, the Lions are now tied for the most interceptions in the league and have the most return yards on those picks with 121.
Unfortunately, Lulay has given many of those turnovers right back to the opposition with his eight thrown interceptions, tied for the most in the league with Edmonton's Mike Reilly. Lulay is in the middle of the pack when it comes to efficiency rating (92.8), and he is 103 yards shy of 2,000 passing on the campaign.
Further up the list for passing yards is Burris who is first among all CFL quarterbacks with his 2,454 yards on 65.2 percent completions. The signal- caller is tied for fourth in passing scores with 12, three each going to Greg Ellingson and Gable. Almost out of nowhere, Gable is second in the league in total touchdowns with seven.
As well as Burris has played this season, this meeting will be a true test of his abilities as BC owns the toughest pass defense in the league after nine games, allowing just 1,710 total yards through the air. The squad has permitted opponents to complete a league-low 61.3 percent of pass attempts as well.
In terms of the all-time series between the clubs, BC owns a 48-32-3 edge in games played during the regular season, stretching back to 1961. The Lions have taken two straight and three of the last five, including a 37-17 rout in the most recent contest played last October.
The Lions won both meetings between the teams last season, posting a 39-36 triumph in Week 2 at home, and then making an even more pronounced statement towards the end of the campaign with a 37-17 victory on the road.
As much damage as Burris can inflict on foes, the fact remains that BC was embarrassed last week and needs to get back on track. After plenty of prep time and knowing who will be coming at them, the Lions should have the upper hand in this matchup.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: British Columbia 30, Hamilton 24.
WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (1-7) AT SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS (7-1)
DATE & TIME: Sunday, September 1, 4:00 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: A battle pitting the best of the West Division against the worst of the East has the Saskatchewan Roughriders entertaining the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in a Sunday afternoon matchup at Mosaic Stadium.
Not only are the Roughriders the top team in the division with a record of 7-1, that mark also means the club has the best overall point total (14) in the league after eight games. Outside of a 42-27 loss at Calgary on Aug. 9, Saskatchewan has been perfect. However, the Riders have played it a bit too close for comfort in recent weeks, defeating Montreal and Edmonton by just three points apiece.
Last weekend, the Riders allowed a last-place Edmonton squad to push them to the brink, but an 18-yard touchdown run by Kory Sheets in the fourth quarter put them ahead to stay in a 30-27 final. Sheets, named the CFL Offensive Player of the Week yet again, finished the contest with 139 yards and two touchdowns on 24 attempts.
Also carrying a good portion of the load for the Riders was quarterback Darian Durant who missed on just six of his 30 passes, resulting in 334 yards. Kicker Chris Milo knocked through all five of his field goal chances and finished with 17 points overall for the visitors.
As for the Blue Bombers, very little has gone right for them here in 2013. The team has just one win in eight tries, defeating a sub-standard Montreal group in the second week of the season, 19-11. Since then, Winnipeg has sputtered out of control with six consecutive defeats.
The most recent setback for the Bombers came last weekend in a 37-14 decision versus Hamilton, just eight days after going down to the Ticats in a 37-18 outing as well. Winnipeg fielded three different quarterbacks who combined to hit 18-of-32 passes for just 141 yards and a pair of interceptions. Buck Pierce accounted for 92 of those yards.
Running back Chad Simpson rolled up a game-high 75 rushing yards, but 44 of those came on a single attempt that finished up in the end zone in the fourth quarter once the game was long out of reach. As a whole, the offense registered just 11 first downs and compiled a mere 235 yards, compared to 464 yards for the Tiger-Cats.
Off the field on Tuesday, the Bombers made some moves as they released both receiver Isaac Anderson and kicker Justin Palardy. Palardy signed on with Winnipeg back in 2010 after being released by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, but the addition of Sandro DeAngelis made Palardy expendable.
Last week, the Bombers signed former NFL receiver Mike Sims-Walker, the 79th pick in the 2007 draft. Sims-Walker was a standout performer at Central Florida where he registered 184 catches for 2,561 yards in 46 games. With the Jacksonville Jaguars, the wideout caught 122 balls for 1,648 yards and 14 scores over the course of three seasons before moving on to the St. Louis Rams.
Whether Sims-Walker makes an impact for the Bombers remains to be seen, but what is clear is that Winnipeg has the weakest passing attack in the league right now with just 1,712 passing yards and five touchdowns, against 12 interceptions. Inconsistency at the position has been the biggest problem, that and the fact that Pierce has three times as many interceptions (six) as he does TD passes (two).
Winnipeg does have one of the better running backs in the CFL in Simpson, what with his 552 yards and six touchdowns on 99 carries, but he still doesn't come close to the standard that Sheets is putting up these days for the Roughriders.
Second in the league in combined yards with 1,202, Sheets has done the bulk of his damage carrying the ball out of the backfield, unlike Toronto's Chad Owens (1,587 combined yards) who is a ball carrier, pass receiver and kick returner. Sheets is easily the top producer from the line of scrimmage with 1,202 yards, and he remains in the hunt to set a new league record for rushing yards in a season, now that he has 1,058 yards through eight games.
Making the road much smoother for Sheets is Durant who has been masterful in the pocket. The signal-caller has completed better than two-thirds of his pass attempts for close to 1,900 yards and a league-high 17 touchdowns. But, more importantly, Durant has yet to be intercepted in 201 attempts and because of that Saskatchewan is first in the CFL in turnover margin with a plus-14.
At the other end of the miscue spectrum is Winnipeg which is suffering with a minus-18 in that department and remains the only team still without having forced a turnover on downs.
In regular-season matchups dating back to 1936, the advantage in the all-time series lies with Winnipeg which is 113-87-3 versus the Riders. However, Saskatchewan has won four in a row and nine of the last 10 meetings, the most recent of those being a narrow 25-24 final last September.
The teams will complete their home-and-home series on Sept. 8 in Winnipeg.
Montreal showed last week that miracles can happen, but there would have to be a complete breakdown on both sides of the ball for the Roughriders, combined with record-setting efforts by Winnipeg to get the Blue Bombers into the win column this time around.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Saskatchewan 38, Winnipeg 21.
EDMONTON ESKIMOS (1-7) AT CALGARY STAMPEDERS (6-2)
DATE & TIME: Monday, September 2, 5:00 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: The Edmonton Eskimos and Calgary Stampeders get familiar with each other as they play the first of two games, in a span of just four days, on Monday afternoon at McMahon Stadium.
These two West Division programs, which will again meet up on Friday in Edmonton, couldn't be more different after eight games here in 2013. The Stampeders have dropped just two decisions, putting them in second place in the standings behind Saskatchewan, while the Eskimos are suffering from a six- game slide since their first and only win of the campaign versus Hamilton back in early July.
However, Edmonton did show some signs of life last Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium when it went down to the wire versus the Roughriders in what became a 30-27 setback at home. The outcome spoiled the efforts of quarterback Mike Reilly who converted 19-of-29 pass attempts for 303 yards and three touchdowns, although he was sacked three times and tossed a couple of interceptions along the way.
Reilly also generated a team-best 76 yards on the ground as he carried the ball eight times.
Receiver Fred Stamps had a strong game as well for the Esks, reeling in eight ball for 111 yards and two scores.
While Edmonton was suffering yet another defeat, dropping it even further behind in the standings, the Riders remained close to the top of the division with a 35-14 romp over Toronto on the road in Week 9 action. The victory also served to snap what had been a six-game losing streak for Calgary at Rogers Centre.
Quarterback Kevin Glenn hit on 14-of-20 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns for the visitors, while backup signal-caller Bo Levi Mitchell completed four of his six pass attempts and also ran for a score in the lopsided decision that saw Toronto QB Ricky Ray exit with an injury.
Marquay McDaniel caught seven passes for 106 yards and a score, while the other notable performance involved kicker Rene Paredes who made three of his four field goal attempts, which means his CFL record of consecutive field goal conversions was snapped at 39 in a row. Nevertheless, before the run could end for Paredes, he also passed former NFL kicker Gary Anderson for pro football's all-time consecutive field goals mark in the regular season and playoffs combined with a staggering 47 straight.
The impressive win for Calgary took place without several key defensive players who were suffering from injury, as well as receiver Nik Lewis who suffered a broken leg and ankle tendon damage against British Columbia in the middle of the month.
With Lewis unavailable, the next best option to move the ball further down the field is now McDaniel who has reeled in 36 passes for 419 yards and three touchdowns on the season.
Also out of action last week for Calgary was star running back Jon Cornish who was dealing with a thigh bruise. The CFL's Canadian player of the month for June/July, Cornish is second in the league in rushing with 749 yards, leading to eight touchdowns, while averaging a shade under seven yards per carry. His return to the lineup this week would certainly take some of the pressure off Glenn and the passing attack for Calgary.
On the subject of passing the ball, Reilly is actually second in the league in total passing yardage with 2,031 for Edmonton, resulting in 12 touchdowns, but it is his eight interceptions that take away from his overall performance. As a whole, the Eskimos are averaging only 23.5 ppg, second-fewest in the league, while Calgary is at the other end of the chart with 32.6 ppg, just fractions of a point behind Saskatchewan.
For a team that is just 1-7 at the moment, there are very few positives that can be taken away from the performance of the Esks, but one bright spot involves their ability to hold onto the football as they lead the CFL in fewest lost fumbles with three. Unfortunately, Edmonton is still minus-four in the turnover department, compared to Calgary which has a plus-13 thanks to a league-high 22 takeaways.
While Edmonton may own a 123-86-3 advantage in the all-time series between the clubs, taking into consideration only regular-season matchups dating back to 1949, the Eskimos have been landing in the loss column quite a bit against Calgary of late. The Stamps won the most recent meeting in November by a score of 30-27, giving them five straight victories and 11 and in the last 13 versus Edmonton.
The teams will play each other later this week in Edmonton, and then at the same site on Oct. 18 as well.
While anything is possible these days in the CFL, expecting to see the Eskimos take down a superior division rival, on the road no less, would be a minor miracle right now with the Stamps continuing to chase Saskatchewan in the standings.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Calgary 33, Edmonton 21.
MONTREAL ALOUETTES (3-5) AT TORONTO ARGONAUTS (5-3)
DATE & TIME: Tuesday, September 3, 7:30 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: While it is still far too early to tell, could there be a changing of the guard in Montreal when it comes to the quarterback?
Last week he was the backup to the backup of the injured Anthony Calvillo, and now Tanner Marsh finds himself as the potential starter as the Alouettes take on the Toronto Argonauts at Rogers Centre on Tuesday night.
Montreal has struggled all season long, winning just two games through the first seven outings, with injuries being a huge issue, particularly of late. Key offensive threats like Noel Devine and Jamel Richardson are officially out of action, and Calvillo continues to deal with a head injury he suffered a number of weeks ago. Newly appointed head coach Jim Popp hasn't ruled out Calvillo for the upcoming game against the Argos, but the legendary signal- caller might be better off taking as much time as he needs at this point in his career.
Last week Popp, who has taken over for the dismissed Dan Hawkins, named Josh Neiswander as his starting quarterback after the youngster stepped in for Calvillo against Saskatchewan in a 24-21 setback in Week 8 action. Neiswander wasn't around for long though against British Columbia last week as he completed just one of his three pass attempts for three yards, was sacked once and threw an interception.
Marsh was brought in to finish out the meeting, one that saw the Als trailing by double digits in the first quarter, and the Arkansas Tech product ended up experiencing enough highs and lows to last an entire season. The 23-year old completed only 14-of-32 passes, but somehow piled up 329 yards and a major through the air. Marsh accounted for a game-high 71 rushing yards and scored once on nine carries, but was also sacked three times and had four passes picked off, yet his late Hail Mary put kicker Sean Whyte in position to knock through the game-winning 14-yard field goal as time expired in the thrilling 39-38 final.
Adding to the stunning upset was the play of Arland Bruce III who ended up with seven catches for 167 yards, both game highs. The enigmatic slotback, who had been a member of the Lions before signing with Montreal in January, had just 22 receptions for 262 yards before the outburst. Bruce now has 11,187 career receiving yards which places him in the Top-10 all-time in the CFL.
While the Als and Marsh were completing their improbable come-from-behind win, Toronto was taking a major beating from Calgary in a 35-14 setback on Aug. 23. The lopsided defeat snapped a four-game win streak for the Argonauts, but still the team is holding on to first place in the East Division over Hamilton by two points and Montreal by four.
In a rematch of the 100th Grey Cup, Toronto quarterback Ricky Ray started and completed five of his six pass attempts for 56 yards and a score, but he was driven to the turf and suffered an injury early on that kept him out the rest of the game. The TD pass for Ray went to Jason Barnes, marking the slotback's fourth straight game with a major.
Backup Zack Collaros stepped in for Ray and hit 16-of-26 passes for 221 yards, was picked off once and sacked four times. The only other points scored by Toronto came on a two-yard TD run by Curtis Steele in the second frame.
Chad Owens finished with six receptions for 76 yards and added another 108 yards on five kickoff returns, but was otherwise a non-factor in the losing cause.
Nevertheless, Owens is still second in the league in receiving yards with 648, stemming from a CFL-best 58 catches, and is easily tops in combined yards with 1,587 after eight games.
Unfortunately, the real question for the Argos is whether or not Ray can make his way back onto the field for this week. He may be just fifth in the league in passing yards with 1,824 at this point in the campaign, but Ray is by far the most efficient QB in the CFL with a rating of 134.0. Ray's near-perfect play has him connecting on a staggering 78.3 percent of his attempts for 15 touchdowns and he has yet to toss even a single interception in 189 chances.
In addition to the injuries piling up for the Als, they are also having to deal with one of the weakest defenses in the league, ranked second-to-last with 29.9 ppg allowed. Of particular concern for the squad has to be a league- high 30 turnovers, resulting in a turnover margin of minus-nine, which is second only to Winnipeg for the worst number after eight games of action.
Toronto won the first meeting of the season back on Aug. 8 by a 38-13 final, jumping out to a 31-0 advantage in the second quarter before cruising to the road win. In that meeting, Ray completed all but three of his 18 pass attempts, leading to three majors, while Owens delivered an electrifying 118- yard missed field goal return for a touchdown.
Coincidentally, that meeting also featured the CFL debut of Marsh who connected on both of his passes for 33 yards and was sacked once in relief of Calvillo.
Despite the setback last month, the Als still lead the all-time series by a count of 108-84-3, taking into account only regular-season matchups dating back to 1946.
With questions remaining about the availability of Ray, perhaps an over-the- top blowout win is not in the cards for Toronto. But even with Collaros at the helm, the Argos still have the advantage against an ailing Montreal squad.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Toronto 35, Montreal 20.
2013 Sports Network Predictions: 22-10; Last Week's Predictions: 2-2.
08/28 12:23:22 ET
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