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CFL Previews - Week 4 - July 17-19From The Sports Network
By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
EDMONTON ESKIMOS (3-0) AT WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (3-0)
DATE & TIME: Thursday, July 17, 8:30 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: Jockeying for position atop the CFL's Western Division standings, the Edmonton Eskimos and Winnipeg Blue Bombers will put their perfect 3-0 records on the line, as the two teams meet at Investors Group Field on Thursday evening.
The Blue Bombers have enjoyed quite the turnaround from last season, as they came from behind last week against the Montreal Alouettes, earning a 34-33 victory and moving to a flawless 3-0 on the young season, tying their win total from all of last year (3-15).
The Eskimos have also enjoyed a fast start to the season, showing their own resilience last weekend after trailing early against Ottawa, to blow by the RedBlacks in a 27-11 final. The win also kept Edmonton unbeaten on the season at 3-0.
Winnipeg and Edmonton are joined by Calgary (2-0) as the only three unbeaten teams left in the CFL.
A sluggish start to the game had the Eskimos trailing the RedBlacks 7-2 at the half. Edmonton's offense found its rhythm after the break, thanks in large part to the play of wide receiver Adarius Bowman, who torched the RedBlack defense, finishing the day with nine catches, 140 yards and three touchdowns.
For Bowman, it was the second time in the first three games that he has eclipsed the century mark. On the season, Bowman has been a real force, ranking second in the league with 21 catches, for 284 yards and a league-best four touchdown grabs.
Quarterback Mike Reilly finished the game going 22-of-33 passing, for 256 yards and the three scores. Reilly has enjoyed a strong start to the season as well, completing 67.6 percent of his passes, for 738 yards (third in the league), with seven touchdowns against just two interceptions, leading to an impressive 100.8 passer rating.
The ground attack for Edmonton has taken backseat in the early stages, as Reilly actually is the team's top rusher at 103 yards through three games. Running back John White was able to put up decent rushing numbers against Ottawa though, finishing with 15 carries, for 99 yards in the win.
Defensively, Edmonton got another big game from Almondo Sewell, who recorded three sacks against Ottawa. For his efforts, Sewell was named the top defensive player in the league for Week 3. The defensive tackle paces the CFL in quarterback takedowns with five through three games.
Winnipeg signal caller Drew Willy has become accustomed to the flair for the dramatic early on and proved it once again by throwing a game-winning 17-yard touchdown pass to Julian Feoli-Gudino with just 28 seconds remaining, propelling the Blue Bombers to a thrilling 34-33 win over Montreal last week.
Willy, who ranks second in the CFL in passing yards (871), was 24-of-38 passing against the Alouettes, for 256 yards and the lone score to Feoli- Gudino. Willy has now completed just over 65 percent of his passes, with five touchdowns against two interceptions and enjoys a 102.0 passer rating as a result.
Nick Moore and Aaron Kelly have been a solid receiving combo for Winnipeg, ranking third and fourth in the league, with 204 and 172 receiving yards, respectively. Moore led the way in the win over Montreal with seven catches, for 84 yards.
The Winnipeg defense also played a huge role in the latest victory, recording two scores, one on an interception and another on a fumble return. Defensive back Desia Dunn returned a fumble 70 yards for a score in the first half, while defensive back Chris Randle went 28 yards for a touchdown on an interception later in the game.
Winnipeg defensive back Matt Bucknor has been the most active defender thus far for the Blue Bombers, ranking second in the league with 17 total tackles.
In regular-season meetings since 1938, Edmonton holds a 95-85-3 record against Winnipeg. The Eskimos have claimed two straight victories against the Blue Bombers and have won four of the last five meetings, overall.
Winnipeg needed to pull out all the stops to get by Montreal last week. Edmonton's pass defense is strong and against a Blue Bombers' squad that relies so heavily on Willy and his ability to make plays, the Eskimos could be the team left standing when all is said and done. Getting off to a fast start on the road is key to Edmonton's success in this one.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Edmonton 31, Winnipeg 27
TORONTO ARGONAUTS (1-2) AT OTTAWA REDBLACKS (0-2)
DATE & TIME: Friday, July 18, 7 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: The Ottawa RedBlacks will play their first official home game on Friday night, as they entertain the Toronto Argonauts at the refurbished TD Place.
The RedBlacks are the third Canadian Football League team to call Ottawa home, and despite dropping each of their first two games this season to Winnipeg (36-28) and Edmonton (27-11), respectively, there is an obvious air of excitement as professional football returns to Bytown for the first time since 2005.
By contrast, the Argonauts are the oldest professional sports team in North America, and they have won more Grey Cups than any other CFL franchise (16), with their most recent coming in the 100th installment of the championship game back in 2012.
This season however, Toronto has stumbled to a 1-2 start, sandwiching a 48-15 rout of Saskatchewan on July 5, between double-digit losses to Winnipeg in the opener (45-21), and at home to Calgary last Saturday (34-15).
This is obviously the first meeting between these two Eastern Division foes, and they will conclude the regular season against each other in Toronto on Nov. 7. However, when taking into account regular season matchups between teams from these respective cities, dating back to 1907, Toronto leads the series, 132-104-5.
The Ottawa offense, under the direction of veteran quarterback Henry Burris, was stymied for much of last Friday's bout with Edmonton, finishing with only 276 total yards. Burris was off the mark throughout, hitting a mere 13-of-25 passes for 134 yards, with no touchdowns and he was sacked five times. Chevon Walker led the rushing attack with 92 yards on 10 carries, although 65 of them came on one long touchdown run in the second quarter.
The RedBlacks actually played very well on defense in the first half of last week's tilt, permitting only a pair of singles, but the Eskimos scored 25 points after intermission to claim the victory. Edmonton quarterback Mike Reilly wound up going 22-of-33 for 256 yards, hitting slotback Adarius Bowman nine times for 140 yards and three touchdowns, much to the RedBlacks' dismay.
Burris, who in his 15th season is the CFL's all-time leader in rushing yards by a quarterback, threw for 241 yards and a pair of scores in the season- opening loss to Winnipeg. As for Walker, he tallied a pair of touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving) while coming up with 62 yards on 15 carries in that contest.
Consistency from Burris, a complete game from the defense, and better discipline on both sides of the ball (28 total penalties for a loss 237 yards in the first two games) will be the keys to Ottawa picking up its initial win, and continuing to log them as the season moves along.
Toronto quarterback Ricky Ray completed 28-of-36 passes for 292 yards, but did not throw a touchdown pass and was sacked three times in last week's loss to Calgary. By comparison, his counterpart, Bo Levi Mitchell, threw for 267 yards and four TDs for the Stampeders, who rolled up 445 yards of total offense compared to 367 for the Argonauts. Toronto's Chad Owens led all pass catchers in the game with nine grabs for 102 yards.
Place kicker Swayze Waters booted through five field goals, including a 51- yarder in the third quarter, to account for all the team's scoring. Waters also averaged 48.3 yards per punt, dropping a pair inside the 20-yard yard line.
While clearly having issues stopping the pass, Toronto's effort against the run resulted in the Stamps needing five guys to reach an even 100 yards, and no Calgary rusher found the end zone.
After three weeks of action, Toronto is dead last in the CFL with regard to total defense (424.3 yards per game), but it makes up for it by pacing the league in total offense (446.0 yards per game). With Ray (.757 completion percentage, 982 yards, five TDs and zero interceptions) leading the way, the Argos are the top passing team, lighting up the sky for 351.0 yards per game. Owens ranks first in the league in both receptions (28) and receiving yards (339), but it was announced on Tuesday that he will be sidelined the next few weeks as he nurses a foot injury.
As was the case last week, the defense's Achilles' heel has been its inability to shut down the opposition's passing attack, as foes air it out for 308.3 yards per game. Despite the issues facing his teammates, defensive back Jalil Carter has recorded three sacks already, while linebacker Antwaun Molden has two picks, one of which he returned 108 yards for a score in the team's blowout win over Saskatchewan in Week 2.
Ottawa has shown that it can move the ball and put points on the board, and it will be interesting to see just how effective Burris can be as he stares down the league's worst pass defense. That said, this game will likely hinge on the RedBlacks defense, which is due to put together a consistent effort for all four quarters, thus making the team successful in its first foray in front of the hometown faithful.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ottawa 27, Toronto 22
HAMILTON TIGER-CATS (0-2) AT CALGARY STAMPEDERS (2-0)
DATE & TIME: Friday, July 18, 10 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: One of three remaining unbeaten squads left in the CFL, the Calgary Stampeders will attempt to keep their momentum rolling at home on Friday night when they take on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at McMahon Stadium.
Hamilton has not gotten its season off on the right foot, losing its first two games out of the gate, a year removed from a run to the Grey Cup championship game in 2013. The Tiger-Cats opened the campaign at Saskatchewan in a rematch of last fall's title bout, falling 31-10, and followed that up with a 28-24 setback at Edmonton on July 4, losing grasp of a fourth-quarter lead with under two minutes to play. They were idle last week hoping to recharge their batteries for a turnaround.
As for Calgary, it has shined in very limited action in 2014 with a pair of convincing victories in its first two bouts, joining Edmonton and Winnipeg (both 3-0) as the only teams remaining without a loss. The Stampeders opened up at home on June 28 with a 29-8 triumph over Montreal, then following a bye week, they toppled Toronto on the road on July 12, 34-15.
The Stamps have had Hamilton's number of late. They won both meetings last season and have claimed nine in a row over the Tiger-Cats at McMahon Stadium.
Much of Hamilton's struggles this season has been due to its lack of continuity under center. After Henry Burris signed a contract with the expansion Ottawa RedBlacks in the offseason, Zach Collaros was named the starter during the preseason, but he's been largely unproductive (.561 completion percentage, 212 yards, TD, two INTs). Collaros left the Edmonton loss following a blow to the head, and he has been ruled out for Friday's matchup.
In Collaros' absence two weeks ago, neither Jeremiah Masoli (5-for-15, 118 yards, TD, INT) nor Dan LeFevour (8-of-11, 70 yards, TD) did much to separate themselves as the clear successor. Although Masoli has been announced as the starter for this week, expect both to see action. The team also secured more quarterback depth by signing Jacory Harris.
The carousel of quarterbacks has hindered the production of the wide receivers. No Hamilton player has more than 100 yards receiving through two games, with Cary Koch (four receptions, 92 yards) and Luke Tasker (seven receptions, 91 yards) coming the closest. Andy Fantuz, who caught 65 passes for 896 yards and three touchdowns for the Ticats a season ago, has missed the first two games with a concussion, but is eyeing his return.
Running back C.J. Gable was a non-factor in the season opener, rushing for just eight yards on three carries, but he was outstanding versus Edmonton, turning six carries into 43 yards and a touchdown, while adding six receptions for 53 yards and another score. Gable racked up 1,380 total yards and 12 majors a year ago, and the offense is clearly at its best when he is involved.
Defensively, Hamilton has struggled stopping opposing teams but still has a handful of strong playmakers to rely on. Simoni Lawrence ranks fourth in the league in tackles with 16 despite playing in one fewer game than the leaders. Michael Coe made his team debut in the loss to Edmonton, making his presence felt all over the field with 12 tackles. Rico Murray is one of four CFL players with two interceptions.
Calgary's success this season can be largely attributed to the play of Bo Levi Mitchell at quarterback. After tossing 267 yards and a career-high four touchdowns in last week's win, the 24-year-old signal caller now has 580 yards (on 65.8 percent completions) with six touchdowns paired with zero interceptions, and his 146.6 QB rating is the tops in the league. Mitchell is now 5-0 to start his CFL career, two wins shy of matching Jeff Garcia's record of seven in a row also set with Calgary back in 1995.
Mitchell does an outstanding job distributing the ball to multiple receivers. Anthony Parker (five receptions, 117 yards, two TDs), Jeff Fuller (eight receptions, 114 yards, two TDs) and Marquay McDaniel (five receptions, 80 yards, TD) are all sure handed options, with each catching a touchdown pass in the win over Toronto last week. Maurice Price's lone catch this season went for a 102-yard major in the opener, but he is sidelined for the next several weeks with a broken hand.
Star running back Jon Cornish was forced to miss last week's game with a concussion, but he has returned to practice and hopes to be ready for Friday's bout. Cornish was named the league's Most Outstanding Player in 2013 after piling up 1,813 rushing yards, 344 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns, and he picked up where he left off prior to his injury in the opener with 108 total yards and a score. If he's unable to go, Matt Walter (17 carries, 78 yards) will assume the role of feature back once again.
The Stamps' defense has been equally as good as their offense in the early going, having given up a league-low 23 points (11.5 ppg), with their only touchdown allowed coming in garbage time of their blowout victory in Week 1. Lin-J Shell, Brandon Smith and Buddy Jackson are all tied for the team lead with nine tackles, while Charleston Hughes and Juwan Simpson have two sacks apiece.
If Calgary's outstanding early-season play and homefield advantage weren't enough to give it a big advantage in this game, the possible return of one of the game's prolific playmakers in Cornish will only give it another point in its favor. Expect the Stamps' stout defense to feast on Hamilton's backup quarterbacks as they keep their perfect record intact.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Calgary 35, Hamilton 13
MONTREAL ALOUETTES (1-2) AT BRITISH COLUMBIA LIONS (1-2)
DATE & TIME: Saturday, July 19, 7 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: Just two weeks after their first meeting, the Montreal Alouettes and British Columbia Lions will square off for the second time this season, as each side attempts to climb back to an even .500 record.
The first meeting between Montreal and British Columbia was a one-sided affair, as the Alouettes rushed to a quick 20-0 advantage by the time the first half came to a close. The Als took the victory in the contest, 24-9, thanks to a career-high four sacks by defensive end John Bowman.
The win was the first and only victory of the season for Montreal, who suffered a week one loss to Calgary. The loss dropped the Lions to a quick 0-2 on the season.
Montreal quarterback Troy Smith paced a subpar offensive effort in the season opener, but bounced back with a solid performance against BC in week two. Smith completed 17-of-29 passes for 187 yards, while running back Brandon Whitaker scored on a 32-yard run in the first quarter.
Kicker Sean Whyte put 12 points up on the board for Montreal as he drilled three of his five field goal attempts, and added two extra points and a single.
With a 1-2 record entering the fourth contest of the season, the Alouettes (two points) are tied with Toronto for the Eastern Division lead. Both Hamilton and the expansion Ottawa RedBlacks are 0-2 to start the year.
The Als were exceptionally close to owning the outright lead in the East following a contest against Winnipeg last weekend. The two teams fought a close battle, but it was the Blue Bombers who came away with a 34-33 win to remain unbeaten at 3-0.
Smith performed well in the losing effort, completing 18-of-32 passes for 309 yards with a season-high three touchdowns. He also had one of his throws picked off.
Smith spread the ball around to seven different targets on the day, and found former NFL wideout Chad Johnson once for a 46-yard scoring strike. It was Johnson's first touchdown grab of the season. Brandon London hauled in four balls for 77 yards to pace the team, while Kenny Stafford and S.J. Green each had a scoring catch.
Whyte accounted for 15 points by connecting on all four field goal tries and all three extra points. Defensively, Alan-Michael Cash notched two sacks of Winnipeg signal caller Drew Willy, and Chip Cox and Jerald Brown paced the defense with six tackles apiece.
British Columbia picked up its first win on the season last weekend following a battle with Saskatchewan. The Lions jumped to an 11-0 advantage in the first quarter, but the Roughriders made it interesting by halftime, trailing 14-13.
The Lions created some breathing room in the final stanza, outscoring Saskatchewan 10-0 for the eventual 26-13 win. Running back Andrew Harris had a strong showing in the victory, scampering for 138 yards and a major on the ground while also racking up 65 receiving yards on five receptions.
Quarterback Kevin Glenn was efficient for British Columbia, completing 16- of-27 pass attempts for 170 yards and a touchdown.
The momentum for the home Roughriders shifted out of their favor late in the first half when a Hugh Charles fumble, which was recovered by J.R. LaRose for BC, set up a Paul McCallum field goal in the waning seconds. The 13-11 advantage for Saskatchewan evaporated, and the Roughriders would not score again.
BC linebacker Solomon Elimimian, who registered seven tackles in the Lions' first win of the season, tops the league in the category having racked up 19 stops on the season.
While Smith has been a target of some criticism this season for throwing interceptions, Glenn has been much more of a culprit in that area.
The BC signal caller has tossed six picks - the most in the league through three games. His passer rating of 62.5 is well below that of Smith's, which checks in at 73.6. Both quarterbacks have connected for three touchdown passes.
The Lions have the advantage over Montreal this time around as they are playing at home, but the progression of Smith under center for the Als has been promising through three weeks. Should he keep getting better in the passing department, BC could be in some trouble if the turnovers persist.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Montreal 26, British Columbia 16
2014 Sports Network Predictions: 7-5. Last Week's Results: 3-1.
07/16 12:47:44 ET