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CFL Previews - Week 12 - September 13-15From The Sports Network
By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
HAMILTON TIGER-CATS (5-5) AT CALGARY STAMPEDERS (8-2)
DATE & TIME: Friday, September 13, 9 p.m. (et).
GAME NOTES: Tied with Saskatchewan atop the West Division standings, the Calgary Stampeders turn their attention to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats who come calling on Friday night.
Calgary has rattled off three straight wins and seven victories in the last eight outings since splitting the first two games of the 2013 campaign. The most recent triumph for the Stamps, who now have 16 points to match the Roughriders, was a 22-12 decision over Edmonton on the road last week.
In that contest, the Stampeders scored in every period of play, with the bulk of the points coming from kicker extraordinaire Rene Paredes who nailed all five of his field goals and his lone PAT. Paredes, who recently set the CFL record for consecutive field goal conversions, leads the league in scoring with 122 points.
Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell had his ups and downs for Calgary, hitting on 19- of-26 passes for 175 yards and a score, but he was also picked off once and sacked four times. Giving the squad a significant lift in the ground game was Jon Cornish who gained a game-high 131 yards and just 14 attempts, adding another 46 yards and a major on six receptions as well.
While the Stampeders have been one of the more stable squads in the league this season, playing well for much of the time, the Tiger-Cats have been inconsistent to say the least. An even 5-5 at the moment, Hamilton is rather lucky to be sitting in second place in the East Division, just two points behind leader Toronto heading into Week 12 action.
Last weekend, the 'Cats exploded for 31 points between the second and third quarters, giving themselves a sizeable 34-8 lead over British Columbia heading into the final period of play, and yet Hamilton almost let that advantage disappear before pulling out a 37-29 victory.
Plagued by 11 penalties for a loss of 109 yards, not to mention a pair of interceptions by quarterback Henry Burris and another lost fumble, the Ticats were lucky to come away with the win. Burris finished the outing 25-of-35 for 375 yards and four touchdowns, with receivers Greg Ellingson, C.J. Gable and Andy Fantuz all catching at least six passes for more than 100 yards and a score. It was the first time since 2004 that a trio of receivers all went over the century mark for the Tiger-Cats.
Gable also led the way on the ground for the 'Cats with a game-high 49 net yards on nine attempts, although he was guilty of losing a fumble along the way. The running back has taken some of the heat off Burris this season, having gained 355 yards and scored four touchdowns on the ground, while averaging better than 5.5 yards per attempt, but still Burris is the biggest show in town.
The signal-caller is the first this season to breach the 3,000-yard passing plateau, now with 3,181 yards. The aging Temple University product threw for a career-high 5,367 yards and 43 TDs a season ago and could be on his way to topping his yardage total.
The four aerial majors for Burris were a season high, but at the same time some defenses have begun to figure him out, what with five of his nine picks in 2013 coming in the last three outings.
Nevertheless, Ellingson has been a pleasant surprise for the 'Cats this season, currently leading the team with 48 catches for 743 yards and six TDs. Gable has 19 fewer receptions, but is still second on the unit with four receiving scores.
Over on the other side Glenn, who was a member of the Tiger-Cats just a couple of years ago before being traded for Burris in January 2012, has been dealing with some injury issues this season and did not appear in last week's game. Because of the efforts of Glenn and Mitchell, Calgary has one of the better pass efficiency ratings (111.8) in the league after 10 games, based on the fact that the squad has registered 20 passing touchdowns and only four interceptions.
One of the top Canadians in the league, Cornish continues to give the Stamps a huge boost each and every time he steps onto the field. One of the league's top scorers with eight rushing majors and two more through the air, the running back is now second in the CFL in rushing yards with 940, averaging a hefty 6.8 yards per attempt in order to take some of the pressure off the quarterback position.
In terms of the all-time series between the programs, taking into consideration only regular-season bouts played since 1961, Calgary owns a 53-30 advantage thanks to six wins in the last seven matchups, including a narrow 34-32 win last October at home.
The teams are slated to face each other again two weeks from now in Hamilton.
With Burris, the Tiger-Cats have a gunslinger who is more than capable of carrying an offense. Add to that his incentive to beat up on his former mates and Hamilton actually has a fighting chance on the road this week.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Calgary 31, Hamilton 24
WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (2-8) AT EDMONTON ESKIMOS (1-9)
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 14, 6:30 p.m. (et).
GAME NOTES: A pair of last place teams get together on Saturday evening at Commonwealth Stadium, as the Edmonton Eskimos host the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in a crossover divisional clash.
Edmonton, the only team in the league still winless at home (0-5), has bowed in all six matchups against other squads from the West Division, so perhaps this weekend the Eskimos will take advantage of the situation. A distant fourth in the standings with just a single victory in 10 opportunities this season, Edmonton has dropped eight consecutive outings since registering a 30-20 win over Hamilton back on July 7.
Most recently, the Esks were pitted against Calgary on Sept. 6 and suffered a 22-12 setback at home, the second time in a span of just four days that the two teams battled. Quarterback Mike Reilly tried to keep hope alive for Edmonton last week, but while converting 16-of-26 passes for 194 yards, the signal caller was also sacked seven times. The only major of the meeting came on a one-yard run by John White in the second quarter.
As for the Blue Bombers, they've been only slightly better than Edmonton to this point in the campaign, winning a grand total of two games.
Last in the East Division with just four points, four behind Montreal after 10 games, the Bombers were also riding a lengthy losing streak heading into Week 11 action, yet somehow the team caught lightning in a bottle and slipped by Saskatchewan at home, 25-13.
Just like Reilly, quarterback Justin Goltz was also under a lot of pressure in the pocket for the Bombers, converting a total of just eight pass attempts for 129 yards and an interception. Along the way Goltz was also sacked seven times by the Roughriders.
Winnipeg didn't earn a single first down through the first 30 minutes of action last Sunday versus Saskatchewan, yet the team remained in contention thanks to Will Ford who returned a kickoff 98 yards for a score in the first quarter. For his efforts. Ford was named the CFL Special Teams Player of the Week.
Perhaps sensing that the season was already lost, despite the upset win, Winnipeg made a bold move on Monday, trading away former starter Buck Pierce to the BC Lions in exchange for Canadian receiver Akeem Foster. Winnipeg's acting GM, Kyle Walters, explained the move as an effort to bolster the team's receiving corps after having trouble keeping key performers healthy.
Trading key skills players in the CFL is nothing new, but doing so in the middle of a season might be seen as a bit unorthodox. Pierce, who actually began his career with the Lions out of New Mexico State, is someone who has never really set the league on fire with his passing and too often exposed himself to vicious hits outside of the pocket, which in turn made it tough to keep him healthy from week to week.
Now with Pierce gone, the active quarterbacks on the Winnipeg roster includes Goltz, Max Hall and Jason Boltus.
When you consider the Bombers have the worst passing attack in the league after 10 games, producing a woeful five aerial TDs against 15 interceptions, perhaps trying to wipe the slate clean and play for the future was the only way to go.
While the quarterback position in Winnipeg continues to be a fluid situation, Reilly still has the tag of starter for Edmonton, even though he has a quarterback efficiency rating of 91.2 based on his 60.5 percent accuracy and having thrown a league-high 10 interceptions.
Although he has caught a total of just four passes the last two games, after combining for 14 grabs, 283 yards and three touchdowns in the matchups against Toronto and Saskatchewan in the middle of August, Fred Stamps remains not only the primary target for Reilly and the passing attack, but the leading receiver in the league overall with 765 yards and seven majors stemming from his 40 catches.
Edmonton, which owns a 92-80-3 advantage in the all-time series between the clubs, dating back to 1938 and taking into account only regular-season meetings, will travel to Winnipeg six days after this encounter to complete the home-and-home series.
Winnipeg's willingness to let go of Pierce can be seen in a number of ways, perhaps most obviously being a message to all Bombers players that anyone and everyone is expendable. Hopefully the message gets through and Winnipeg can land in the win column in back-to-back weeks for the first time this season.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Winnipeg 28, Edmonton 20
TORONTO ARGONAUTS (6-4) AT SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS (8-2)
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 14, 9:30 p.m. (et).
GAME NOTES: The Saskatchewan Roughriders try to avoid back-to-back defeats for the first time this season, as they host the Toronto Argonauts on Saturday night at Mosaic Stadium.
It was one thing for the Roughriders to have their three-game win streak snapped during Week 11 action, but for it to happen against a Winnipeg squad that had just one win in the first nine games of the season is almost unheard of. The bottom line is that Saskatchewan provided little protection for Darian Durant on Sunday as the signal caller was sacked a staggering eight times in a 25-13 loss.
Durant finished the outing 15-of-33 for a mere 129 yards and an interception, as the Riders ran into waves of Blue Bombers at every turn. Durant did manage to come up with a game-high 93 yards on eight rushing plays, but that mattered little in the final outcome as the visitors lost a pair of fumbles and generated just 288 yards of total offense.
After having just eight turnovers through the first nine games of the season, Saskatchewan was saddled with six giveaways on Sunday evening alone.
Geroy Simon caught a pass along the sidelines late in the first quarter that gave the Roughrider receiver 1,007 receptions for his career, second-most in CFL history. Simon is now chasing Ben Cahoon who holds the all-time mark with 1,017 catches.
While the Riders, who are now tied with Calgary atop the West Division standings with a record of 8-2, were being stunned by Winnipeg, Toronto got the upper hand versus Montreal on the road in a 37-30 final earlier on Sunday. The Argonauts had just five points at the break and trailed by double figures, but the team turned it around with a 23-point third quarter, eventually pulling off the seven-point road win in order to remain atop the East Division standings with 12 points.
Zach Collaros, subbing for the injured Ricky Ray who will be out for a considerable length of time with a shoulder injury, kicked the Toronto offense into gear as the team ran a total of 94 plays and controlled the action for almost 35 minutes. Collaros not only converted 30-of-43 passes for 336 yards and two touchdowns, while being picked off once and sacked five times, he also led the way with 42 rushing yards and a score on five carries.
Collaros recorded touchdown passes of 54 and five yards to John Chiles and Dontrelle Inman in the third and fourth quarters, respectively, to complete the comeback bid. Making a contribution on defense was Kiante Tripp who returned an interception 54 yards for a score as well. The unit was all over Montreal signal caller Tanner Marsh who tossed three picks and was sacked five times.
Not only were the Argos playing without Ray, the squad was also digging a bit deeper to fill the voids left by both Chad Kackert at running back and Chad Owens everywhere else on the field. All three remain on the injured list as of Tuesday afternoon, although you can never be quite sure if Owens will fight the odds and get back on the field this weekend.
On Monday, the Argos announced a move to provide some more depth at the running back position, acquiring Anthony Woodson in a trade with Winnipeg, sending away offensive lineman Marc Parenteau as both sides also exchanged future draft picks.
Owens continues to lead the league in combined yards, but his absence leaves a huge hole where inspired and gutsy play once was. Without Kackert, the leading ground gainer for the Argos now becomes Collaros who has registered 187 yards and scored three touchdowns, but the team cannot continue to put their starting quarterback in the cross hairs while Ray is sitting out.
While Toronto tries to figure out how to run the ball more effectively moving forward, Saskatchewan hopes to get Kory Sheets back on track after the league's leading rusher (1,214 yards) was held to a season-low 65 yards versus the Bombers. Since putting together six straight games with at least 130 rushing yards to begin the campaign, Sheets has been slowed to 91 yards or less in three of the last four outings.
But really, the key to the Riders offense continues to be Durant who is converting 65.1 percent of his pass attempts and, more importantly, has thrown a league-best 21 TDs and has been picked off only twice.
These two squads clashed during the third week of the season at Rogers Centre, with the Roughriders putting up a 39-28 victory, while scoring at least one touchdown in every quarter. During that encounter Durant threw three TDs for the visitors, while Ray had a pair of aerial majors but was also sacked three times during the setback.
With the victory the first time around, the Riders boosted their advantage in the all-time series, one that takes into account only regular-season bouts dating back to 1961, to 46-36-1.
Toronto may be the top team in the East Division right now, but with how poorly the rest of the teams are performing that really isn't saying too much. Collaros does bring some spunk and energy to the quarterback position, but he is still rough around the edges and a team like Saskatchewan will capitalize on such issues as the season begins to wind down.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Saskatchewan 35, Toronto 27
MONTREAL ALOUETTES (4-6) AT BRITISH COLUMBIA LIONS (6-4)
DATE & TIME: Sunday, September 15, 4:30 p.m. (et).
GAME NOTES: Losers of two of their last three outings, the British Columbia Lions called for reinforcements over the weekend, just after bowing to Hamilton on the road and in advance of their meeting with Montreal at BC Place this coming Sunday.
Despite being hampered by injury again this season, quarterback Buck Pierce is still seen as a valuable commodity in the CFL, which is why the Lions were willing to part with receiver Akeem Foster in exchange for the one-time BC signal caller on Sunday.
Pierce, who came over from the Blue Bombers, had been having a rough time this season in Winnipeg with just two passing touchdowns and six interceptions. Winnipeg's passing attack ranks last in the league with an efficiency rating of only 64.0, the squad having issued three times as many interceptions (15) as passing majors (five).
The addition of Pierce should be seen as an insurance policy and a source of mentoring for Travis Lulay who continues to be the leader of the BC offense, even though the team took another step backward last Saturday with a 37-29 defeat at the hands of Hamilton.
Lulay finished that meeting 26-of-43 for 334 yards and two touchdowns and was also the leading rusher, which isn't saying much since he gained a mere 21 yards on six carries. However, with Lulay putting himself out there to be hit more often, bringing in someone like Pierce was crucial.
The top receiver for the Lions in the loss was Nick Moore who reeled in 12 balls for 159 yards and a score. However, on the other side the Tiger-Cats easily offset the effort by Moore by having three receivers with at least 108 yards through the air, each with a touchdown.
With the setback British Columbia, a team which is a league-best 5-0 at home in 2013, is now third in the West Division standings with 12 points, trailing both Calgary and Saskatchewan by four points.
Meanwhile, the Alouettes have been enduring their own unusual storyline stemming from the quarterback position. The venerable Anthony Calvillo continues to be treated carefully with his head injury and that has opened the door for little-known Tanner Marsh to make a name for himself in Montreal for better or for worse.
Against Toronto and British Columbia within the last few weeks Marsh threw for more than 300 yards versus both defenses, but on Sunday he was knocked down a few pegs by the Argonauts who limited the quarterback to 13-of-28 for 225 yards, sacked him five times and logged three interceptions. Marsh has brought some excitement to the game for the Als, but the numbers are beginning to pile up against him, specifically eight picks against only three TDs.
Marsh also scored for the Als on a one-yard run during the team's 37-30 setback at home versus the Argonauts, but like Lulay and Pierce before him, Marsh is only putting himself in harm's way the more times he leaves the pocket.
Montreal actually scored the first points of the game against the Argos last Sunday, thanks to a 47-yard fumble return for a major by Geoff Tisdale, but still the odds were stacked against an Als team that is third in the East Division with only four wins through 10 outings.
Not only are the Alouettes dealing with the loss of Calvillo these days, now comes word that running back Brandon Whitaker has been placed on the nine-game injured list as a precautionary measure due to his ailing hamstring. Whitaker, who can be taken off the list if he improves, is still the leading rusher for the Als with his 338 yards, adding another 162 yards receiving in order to tally three total touchdowns.
Montreal is hoping that Jerome Messam can fill some of that void at running back, but he too appeared to be hobbling against Toronto over the weekend. Still, Messam is averaging close to five yards per carry and has two rushing TDs just like Whitaker.
These two teams faced off against each other just a few weeks ago in Montreal, the game that turned into the coming-out party for Marsh as he replaced Josh Neiswander and eventually moved the Als into field goal range with time running out, en route to a thrilling 39-38 victory at the gun. Marsh generated 329 passing yards on only 14 completions, but was sacked three times and had four attempts picked off.
With that victory, Montreal has closed the gap in the all-time series even more, now trailing by a 34-32-1 margin in contests held during the regular season dating back to 1961.
Clearly, with all of the key injuries to the Alouettes this season, 2013 has been a tremendous disappointment. While Marsh can supply some occasional excitement, he can't do it alone.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: British Columbia 31, Montreal 23
2013 Sports Network Predictions: 25-15; Last Week's Predictions: 0-4.
09/11 15:25:34 ET