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CFL Previews - Week 9 - August 22-24From The Sports Network
By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
BRITISH COLUMBIA LIONS (5-2) AT MONTREAL ALOUETTES (2-5)
DATE & TIME: Thursday, August 22, 7:30 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: The 2013 campaign continues to slip away from the Montreal Alouettes, but the squad still needs to suit up to battle the Lions of British Columbia on Thursday night at Molson Stadium.
Since winning the season opener by a mere five points against Winnipeg at home (38-33), Montreal has been spinning out of control. On the field, the squad has lost five of the last six contests and fired first-year head coach Dan Hawkins, replacing him with Jim Popp a few weeks back.
Last weekend, the Als dropped to just 2-5 on the campaign as they bowed to Saskatchewan on the road, 24-21, in the final seconds. However, perhaps more important than another tally in the loss column, Montreal also lost the services of quarterback Anthony Calvillo who suffered a head injury. Calvillo, who converted 4-of-8 passes for 85 yards, with a long of 74 yards going to SJ Green before giving way to Josh Neiswander, continues to be evaluated for possibly suiting up this week.
Neiswander stepped in and converted just 12-of-30 passes for 147 yards and was picked off twice as the offense again struggled for the Alouettes. Montreal scored only one touchdown in the matchup on a 54-yard fumble return by Jerald Brown in the fourth quarter.
The Als also hurt themselves with a total of 11 penalties (101 yards), which means they have now been flagged a total of 76 times through seven games.
If Calvillo is unable to go, coach Popp says the team could trot out Neiswander or Tanner Marsh, but as of Tuesday afternoon there was still no definitive answer as to which route the Als planned to take.
Coincidentally, Montreal just last week signed former Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith.
Unfortunately, it appears as though the Als might have to make some other changes to their roster after Jonathan Beaulieu-Richard (ankle), Martin Bedard (shoulder), Josh Bourke (knee), Mike Edem (shoulder), Kyries Hebert (knee), Brandon London (head) and Bryn Roy (knee) all suffered injuries versus the Roughriders as well.
On a more positive note, linebacker Marc-Olivier Brouilette was named the CFL's Canadian Player of the Week after posting two sacks and forcing a pair of fumbles versus Saskatchewan.
While Montreal sits third in the East Division standings, ahead of only the Blue Bombers who have just a single victory in seven tries, the Lions are still very much in the hunt over in the West Division where a 5-2 mark has them tied with Calgary for second place, behind Saskatchewan (6-1).
After scoring 21 points in the first half versus Calgary last week, the Lions were limited to only five points through the final 30 minutes of action at home. Luckily the squad held the visitors to just six points, enough of a margin to give BC a 26-22 triumph. The win was the team's second in a row and the fifth in six games.
BC quarterback Travis Lulay started off well enough for the Lions as he tossed a 40-yard touchdown to Andrew Harris in the first quarter to kick off the game's scoring, but he ended up with just that single major through the air and tossed three interceptions. Lulay ended up 16-of-28 for 223 yards, while Thomas DeMarco used his lone rushing attempt to record a one-yard TD in the second for the group as well.
A huge play for the Lions, who suited up in commemorative uniforms as they celebrated their 60th anniversary, came following the first score by Calgary as Tim Brown fielded the ensuing kickoff and raced 97 yards to the end zone.
Harris posted not only 56 yards to lead the Lions on the ground versus Calgary, he also caught three passes for a team-best 61 yards as well. Coming out of the backfield, Harris continues to be one of the most productive players in the league, placing third in yards from scrimmage with 765 yards after seven games.
With 515 yards on 96 rushing attempts, Harris is third on that particular list as well at this point in the campaign. His efforts have taken some of the pressure off Lulay who is currently in the middle of the pack when it comes to total passing yards (1,691) and is tied for third in passing touchdowns (11). Unfortunately, because of several misfires last week, Lulay now has the most interceptions of any signal-caller in the league with seven.
After two decades, Calvillo is showing signs of breaking down, something that started before the 2013 campaign even began, but has been magnified due to the squad's inability to land in the win column these days. Calvillo's efficiency rating of 78.7 is dismal when compared to what he is accustomed to putting up. Montreal as a team is last in the league with just 1.502 passing yards, has one more INT (seven) than passing score and has the second-lowest efficiency rating (72.7) after seven games.
Adding to the woes of the Alouettes is a laundry list of other injuries, most notably that of receiver Jamel Richardson who has been one of Calvillo's favorite targets over the last several seasons.
Tracing back to 2004, the Lions own an 11-7 advantage in the series with Montreal, claiming victory in the most recent encounter last September by a score of 43-10 at home. The teams are slated to meet each other one more time during the regular season on Sept. 15 during Week 12 action in Vancouver.
Even if the Alouettes do get Calvillo back on the field on Thursday night, there's no telling how he will perform and how much pressure he will be under when the British Columbia defense goes on the attack. Calvillo could give the home team a fighting chance, but with the Lions trying to remain in contention in their division, this is the sort of game that they cannot take lightly.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: British Columbia 35, Montreal 17
CALGARY STAMPEDERS (5-2) AT TORONTO ARGONAUTS (5-2)
DATE & TIME: Friday, August 23, 7:30 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: Two teams coming off close decisions last week head back to the football field at Rogers Centre on Friday night as the Toronto Argonauts aim to take out the Calgary Stampeders.
The good news for the Argos is that they actually won their meeting with Edmonton on Sunday evening by a score of 36-33 at home, thanks in part to a crucial 26-yard field goal by Noel Prefontaine late on the fourth quarter. The victory was the fourth straight for a Toronto squad that is two games up on the rest of the East Division, sporting a record of 5-2.
Unfortunately for the Stampeders, their close call during Week 8 action did not finish as favorably as they bowed to British Columbia by four points on the road, 26-22. The defeat snapped a four-game slide and prevented Calgary from keeping pace with Saskatchewan atop the West Division standings. Instead, the Stamps are now 5-2 overall and tied with BC for second place.
Calgary scored in every quarter against the Lions last weekend, but tallied just three in both the third and fourth frames during the setback. Quarterback Kevin Glenn converted 22-of-38 passes for 199 yards and a score, while Jon Cornish contributed with a game-high 73 yards and a major on 15 rushing attempts, but it still wasn't enough to hold off a BC squad that tallied a kickoff return for a score after the Cornish TD in the first quarter.
Despite the loss, there were still a few items that could be applauded by the Stampeders, namely their three interceptions of Travis Lulay and two more field goals made by kicker Rene Paredes, running his consecutive streak to 38 in a row and he continues to push his record-setting number to new heights.
As for the Argos, they got caught up in a game that produced close to 1,100 yards of total offense. Quarterback Zach Collaros actually kicked off the game's scoring with a 45-yard major to Alexander Robinson, but it was Ricky Ray who grabbed the spotlight the rest of the way.
Ray threw a total of 35 passes, missing on only five of them, as he generated 413 yards and three touchdowns en route to being named the CFL Offensive Player of the Week.
The recipient of a six-yard TD strike in the third quarter, Chad Owens finished the outing with nine catches for 102 yards, adding another 78 yards on five kickoff returns, 46 yards on four punt returns and 15 yards on a pair of rushing attempts.
John Chiles stepped up his efforts with a team-best 135 yards and a score on five catches.
As well as the offense operated for the Argos the last time out, the same could not be said for the defense, particularly the secondary which was picked apart by Mike Reilly as the quarterback threw for a career-high 511 yards and three touchdowns.
After seven games, Toronto's pass defense ranks last in the league with 307.9 ypg allowed, and is one of three units with just four interceptions at this stage.
Luckily, the Argonauts have Ray to turn to when the defense is being far too lenient. Ray is second in the league in total passing yards with 1,768, second in passing scores with 14 and by far the most accurate of the regular starters with 78.1 percent of his attempts being completed. Add to all of that the fact that he has yet to throw an interception this season on 183 attempts, and it is easy to see why he is by far the most efficient passer in the CFL with a rating of 133.0.
Owens has actually dropped to second in the league in receiving yards with 572, one behind Fred Stamps of Edmonton after the latter caught six balls for a season-high 172 yards versus the Argos. Nevertheless, Owens is still tops in the league in combined yards with 1,395, one of only two players to have eclipsed the 1,000-yard plateau after seven games.
While Toronto leans on Ray and Owens, the Stamps have their own superstar coming out of the backfield in Cornish, currently second in the CFL in rushing yards (749) and first in rushing TDs (eight). Cornish has nine majors overall which also paces the league right now.
And don't forget the leg of Paredes which has been piling up the points this season, now at a league-high 80.
Dating back to 2004, and taking into consideration only regular-season matchups, Toronto has won nine of 17 meetings between the squads, and that includes a run of five straight heading into this particular battle. The most recent triumph for the Argos took place last August as the team captured a 22-14 victory on the road.
The last win for the Stamps versus Toronto came in the 2010 season opener when Calgary picked up a 30-16 home triumph, the start of what would become nine wins in the first 10 games of that campaign.
The teams, which met during the 100th Grey Cup (a 35-22 win for Toronto), are scheduled to play each other once more during the 2013 regular season, with Calgary hosting the Argos a month from now during Week 13 action.
Because the Argos have the one-two punch of Owens and Ray, that should be enough for the team to survive another weak effort by the defense and get into the win column once more.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Toronto 31, Calgary 26
WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (1-6) AT HAMILTON TIGER-CATS (3-4)
DATE & TIME: Saturday, August 24, 1 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: For the second time in as many weeks, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Hamilton Tiger-Cats collide on the football field, this time at Alumni Stadium at the University of Guelph on Saturday afternoon.
This game marks the third meeting of the 2013 season between the clubs, with the Tiger-Cats having won the first two, including a 37-18 romp last week. On the road in Winnipeg, the Ticats jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter and never looked back, registering at least one touchdown in every frame, en route to a second straight win and the third on the campaign overall.
Henry Burris converted 22-of-36 passes for 333 yards and a score, but he was also sacked three times. Burris has now played in eight consecutive games against the Bombers and has not been intercepted. Fellow signal-caller Dan LeFevour not only hit two of his three passes, one of which resulted in a major, he also carried the ball four times for 40 yards and another score.
C.J. Gable generated 147 all-purpose yards and scored once, setting a new personal high in both rushing (75) and receiving (72) yards.
While Hamilton was producing 456 yards of total offense, Winnipeg was coming up with just 321 yards and at the same time being flagged a staggering 17 times for a loss of 137 yards. Max Hall got the start at quarterback for the Bombers, hitting 18-of-30 passes for 241 yards and a score, but he was sacked once and picked off two times, yet he is still going to be the starter for this week according to head coach Tim Burke.
While he failed to put points on the board, Terrence Edwards was still a huge playmaker for the Blue Bombers in the loss as he caught eight balls for 172 yards, both of which were game highs. Heading into last week, the receiver had just 12 total receptions for 118 yards in 2013.
Getting used to Hall under center is just one major change for the Blue Bombers these days, the other being Marcel Bellefeuille's move into the offensive coordinator position after the team relieved Gary Crowton of his duties over the weekend. Somewhat ironic is the fact that Crowton was once the head coach at BYU (2001-04), which is where Hall played beginning in 2007 and also served as a coach until recently.
A loser in five straight and six of seven games overall this season, placing the program at the bottom of the East Division standings, Winnipeg has needed a shake-up for quite some time and hopefully these key changes will provide some spark for the offense.
The Bombers have scored the fewest points of any team in the league (21.9 ppg) and have but five passing scores. The squad is second-to-last, ahead of only Montreal (hard to believe), in passing yardage with 224.4 ypg and it also doesn't help that the program has been penalized for a league-high 662 yards either.
No other team in the CFL has thrown more than seven interceptions through seven games, yet Winnipeg has already reached double figures in that category, tossing a pick on 4.6 percent of attempts. As a result, the Bombers have the lowest team efficiency rating at the moment at 70.3.
As if an inefficient offense were not bad enough, Winnipeg's turnover margin is by far the worst as well, with the team showing a minus-17 in that area. Hamilton, which has forced a league-low six turnovers, has the second-worst margin at minus-eight.
Despite still being a game under .500 at the moment, Hamilton still finds itself second in the division standings, trailing Toronto which is the only team in the East with a winning record right now.
Trying to keep the Tiger-Cats moving in the right direction is Burris who is on pace to break his career high for passing yards in a single season, after putting up 5,367 just last season. With an average of 305 ypg through the air, Burris could come close to reaching 5,500 yards this year if he is able to keep up the hectic pace.
Hamilton has won three straight meetings in the series, yet dating back to 2004 the advantage in the relationships lies with the Blue Bombers who own a 16-13 advantage during the stretch. Dating back to 1961 and only taking into consideration games played during the regular season, the Bombers are ahead by a count of 59-48.
The squads are also slated to battle in the regular-season finale on Nov. 2 in Winnipeg.
As much as the Blue Bombers would like to completely reverse their fortunes right now, the change will have to be a gradual one. Chances are Hall isn't going to be the answer long-term at quarterback, but at least he's shown some enthusiasm while he is at the helm. Unfortunately, Hamilton showed last week that it can easily take care of business in this matchup and being at home should only make the job that much smoother for the hosts.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Hamilton 31, Winnipeg 20
SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS (6-1) AT EDMONTON ESKIMOS (1-6)
DATE & TIME: Saturday, August 24, 4 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: Two teams at opposite ends of the West Division standings get together in Edmonton on Saturday afternoon, as the disappointing Eskimos play host to the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Commonwealth Stadium.
Saskatchewan opened up the 2013 season with a five-game win streak, finally bowing to Calgary on the road on Aug. 9 by a score of 42-27. The team was able to get right back into the win column in Week 8 action though, slipping by a woeful Montreal club at home in a 24-21 final. Considering how poorly the Alouettes have performed this year, it was rather surprising to see Saskatchewan have trouble in that meeting, particularly at home.
Darian Durant converted 18-of-32 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns in the meeting, surviving a couple sacks in order to keep hope alive. Kicker Chris Milo ended up playing the hero for the Riders as he booted a 36-yard field goal as time expired to bring home the win.
The Saskatchewan defense managed to knock quarterback Anthony Calvillo out of the game, which should have made beating the Als all the more easier, but the Roughriders lost possession of four fumbles and also hurt themselves with 13 penalties for 135 yards.
Still, as shaky as the Riders may have been over the weekend, the bottom line is that they still came away with their sixth win in seven games and remain two points ahead of both British Columbia and Calgary in the division standings.
Nowhere near capable of challenging the more successful clubs in the division, Edmonton squandered a huge outing by starting quarterback Mike Reilly as it fell to Toronto on the road over the weekend, 36-33. Reilly converted 35-of-46 passes for a whopping 511 yards and three touchdowns, all without tossing a single interception and being sacked just two times. Reilly, who threw for just 682 yards all of last season with British Columbia, had five receivers catch at least five balls, with Cary Koch grabbing seven passes for 68 yards and a score.
Fred Stamps was one of three to catch six balls, and he was the game's overall leader with 172 yards through the air. With the monster effort, Stamps has now taken over the league lead in terms of receiving yards with 573 on 28 catches, one more yard than Toronto's Chad Owens who has 52 receptions through seven games.
Even though Reilly and Stamps picked up the pace last week, the fact still remains that Edmonton is one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league right now, producing just 23.0 ppg which is third-lowest in the CFL.
Reilly has moved into third place on the league list with 1,728 passing yards this season, resulting in nine TDs through the air, but one has to keep in mind that a huge chunk of both of those stats came in a loss in Week 8 play, so stats are not always a true indicator of how well a player or team might be performing.
Making Edmonton's job a bit tougher this week is the fact that linebacker J.C. Sherritt, the reigning CFL Most Outstanding Defensive Player, who set a league record with 130 tackles in 2012, will be watching the festivities from the sidelines after being placed on the injured list. Sherritt, who is sixth in the league and second on his own team in tackles thus far with 37, is out with a broken thumb. Taking his spot will be former University of Georgia star Rennie Curran who will be making his debut.
With Sherritt out of action for the immediate future, the job of fellow linebacker Damaso Munoz (45 tackles) just became that much harder.
While the Esks lose one of their top defensive performers, Saskatchewan is celebrating one of theirs as safety Tyron Brackenridge was named the CFL Defensive Player of the Week after forcing two fumbles and making an interception in the close call versus Montreal. Because of that sort of effort, the Roughriders are currently second in the league in turnover margin with a plus-11, although the majority of the credit should really go to the Saskatchewan offense which has lost possession only seven times, all on fumbles.
Durant has completed a modest 65.5 percent of his passes this season, but more importantly, has yet to throw a single interception in 171 attempts, all while posting a league-best 17 aerial TDs.
One of the oldest relationships in the CFL, in terms of the all-time series between the squads, taking into consideration only regular-season matchups dating back to 1938, the Eskimos are ahead by a count of 113-83-2. However, it was Saskatchewan which won the most recent battle to kick off the 2013 campaign with a 39-18 decision in this same building.
The Roughriders are due to host Edmonton twice this season, with dates set aside for Oct. 12 and Nov. 2, the latter being the season finale.
Even though stranger things have happened in the CFL, to expect the Eskimos to somehow rise up and take down a top-notch club like Saskatchewan, all without someone line Sherritt, is asking too much.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Saskatchewan 28, Edmonton 23
2013 Sports Network Predictions: 20-8; Last Week's Predictions: 4-0.
08/21 13:44:42 ET