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CFL Previews - Week 7 - August 7-9From The Sports Network
By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS (3-2) AT WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (5-1)
DATE & TIME: Thursday, August 7, 8:30 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: Winnipeg puts the best record in the CFL on the line Thursday night when the Blue Bombers entertain the Saskatchewan Roughriders in a West Division showdown at Investors Group Field.
Unlike the East Division where Toronto sits atop the standings with a dismal 2-4 mark after six weeks of action, every team in the West Division is playing at least .500 football and leading the way is Winnipeg, while the Riders are sitting in fourth place at 3-2.
Winnipeg appeared to be well on the way to a comfortable victory against Hamilton on Thursday night, ahead by a score of 20-3, but the team then surrendered 23 unanswered points and had to scramble in the final minutes to pull out the 27-26 triumph, thanks to a two-yard scoring strike from Drew Willy to Nic Grigsby on the final play of regulation.
Willy engineered a 10-play, 94-yard drive in less than two minutes to keep the Bombers undefeated on the road through three games in 2014. The quarterback converted 31-of-43 for 361 yards and the one score, while Grigsby caught six passes for 63 yards and also carried the ball 13 times for 56 yards and a major as well. Willy was named the Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts.
Robert Marve pitched in with a three-yard scoring run in the second quarter for Winnipeg, while kicker Lirim Hajrullahu knocked through both of his field goal tries and finished with nine points.
As a team, the Bombers rolled up an impressive 444 yards, while holding the Tiger-Cats to 236 yards and watching the hosts commit an unsightly 19 penalties for a loss of 114 yards throughout the meeting.
As for the Roughriders, they marched out to a 32-0 lead in the second quarter versus expansion Ottawa over the weekend and never looked back, although they did take their foot off the gas en route to the 38-14 road victory. Saskatchewan, which has won two straight since bowing in back-to-back contests versus Toronto and British Columbia, scored at least 31 points for the third time in five tries thanks to running back Will Ford who turned 20 carries into 74 yards and a pair of majors.
In just two games Ford, who was signed just a couple weeks ago, has as many rushing touchdowns (five) as he did in his two previous seasons combined, suiting up for Winnipeg coincidentally.
Quarterback Darian Durant hit on 19-of-25 passes for 294 yards and a score, shaking off a couple of sacks along the way. Rob Bagg caught six passes for a game-high 123 yards. Also working in favor of Saskatchewan was the fact that Ottawa pinned itself in with a staggering 19 penalties for a loss of 168 yards.
Adding even more excitement to the rout for the Riders was Tristan Jackson who was credited with a 111-yard missed field goal return for a touchdown.
However, there was one play during the game that caught the Riders off guard. In the second quarter Ottawa opted to punt away, but because Dobson Collins was behind backup quarterback Thomas DeMarco when he connected on the punt, Collins was eligible to recover the ball in the end zone for a touchdown, the first play of its kind since 1999 when Scott McKenzie scored for the Calgary Stampeders.
Assuming the Riders can put that fluke play behind them, they certainly have the fire power to keep up with Winnipeg this week. Saskatchewan is second in the league, behind only the Bombers (28.0 ppg) in scoring with 26.8 ppg. Ford has been a huge spark for the club with his trips to the end zone, which is why the program is tied with Winnipeg for the top spot in the CFL with seven rushing TDs entering play this week.
On the defensive side of the ball, John Chick continues to lead the league in sacks with six, and that in turn has brought the team's total to 21, one more than Winnipeg. However, as strong as Chick and his teammates have been when fighting their way into the backfield, the fact remains that Saskatchewan is still second-to-last in yards allowed with 341.0 per game.
Chick and Co. will have to keep an eye out for Grigsby during their pursuit of Willy because the running back is now second with 343 rushing yards and is second with four rushing TDs. Grigsby is also second in yards from scrimmage with 566, opening himself up for the ball from any and all angles these days.
The relationship between the clubs is a long and storied one, with the series history favoring the Blue Bombers, 114-88-3, when considering just regular- season clashes dating back to 1936. Saskatchewan had won five in a row over the Bombers, but Winnipeg put an end to the slide with a 25-13 victory at home last September.
In just over three weeks the teams will be back on the field together in Saskatchewan and a week after that will complete back-to-back gatherings in Manitoba.
After putting up a record of just 3-15 a year ago, everyone continues to wonder when and if the wheels will fall off the Blue Bombers. Considering Saskatchewan is the defending Grey Cup Champion, this could be as good a time as any for Winnipeg to come back down to reality, although being at home should give the Bombers a slight edge nonetheless.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Winnipeg 27, Saskatchewan 25
EDMONTON ESKIMOS (4-1) AT MONTREAL ALOUETTES (1-4)
DATE & TIME: Friday, August 8, 7 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: Edmonton returns to action after sitting idle this past week, as the Eskimos go up against the Montreal Alouettes on Friday at Percival Molson Stadium.
The Eskimos came out of the gate red hot this season, ripping off four straight wins, but even in the highly competitive West Division that start might not be enough to keep the team on pace with the rest of the squads. After crushing Winnipeg by a score of 26-3 on July 17 the Esks took a week to prepare for Calgary at home and came up short, 26-22, heading into the bye week.
Still, even with the layoff and the setback in the most recent outing, Edmonton is still tied for second place in the division standings with the Stampeders at 4-1, two points behind the Blue Bombers.
For Montreal, a team which is desperate to find a replacement for the retired Anthony Calvillo, the start to 2014 has been awful.
The effort by the Alouettes last Friday night was concerning as they were held to single digits in the scoring column for the second straight game and third time this season in a 31-5 setback versus Toronto. Almost nothing went right for the squad as it dropped to 1-4 on the campaign.
Montreal has now delivered back-to-back outings without the benefit of a single touchdown, scoring five points in contests versus British Columbia (41-5) on July 19 and the Argonauts during Week 6 action. In terms of total offense in the most recent outing, the Als generated a paltry 167 yards.
While no one single player is to blame, most of the attention falls on the quarterback position. Former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith completed just five of his 10 pass attempts, leading to 63 yards, and was on the bench for most of the last three quarters. Alex Brink came on in relief and was not much better, hitting 9-of-23 for 60 yards and an interception.
This was set up as a transition year for the Als, but the complete inability of the offense to become even a minor threat is troublesome. With the passing attack going nowhere, even running back Brandon Whitaker is taking the heat, putting up a mere 31 yards on 12 attempts on Friday night. Whitaker, who ran for more than 1,300 yards for the Als just a few seasons ago, has just one rushing touchdown on 61 attempts in 2014.
Considering the Montreal defense allowed just 290 yards to Toronto, there was a slim chance the Als could make a late run, but with punter Sean Whyte conceding in the end zone for a pair of safeties for the Argonauts in the fourth quarter, the hosts couldn't catch up.
To make matters worse the passing attack for the Als is by far the worst in the league heading into Week 7 action. The group has an efficiency rating of just 58.0 percent, the completion percentage coming in at a mind-numbing .463 which is unheard of in a league where passing is given every advantage.
Scoring a league-low 15.0 ppg, even the kicking game has left the Alouettes high and dry with a mere nine conversions on field goals. Montreal is one of only two teams, the other being Hamilton, that is averaging less than 315 ypg in total offense and the Als are way down on the list with a mere 235.6 ypg.
In an effort to give the Als a spark, the team added former CFL/NFL quarterback Jeff Garcia to the coaching staff on Monday.
Garcia will be trying to help the Als break the code against an Edmonton defense that leads the league by a wide margin with just 252.4 ypg allowed on defense. The Eskimos have allowed a league-low 53.7 percent of passes to be completed and trail only Calgary (15.4 ppg) in points allowed with 16.8 ppg at the moment.
Montreal should be wary about putting the ball in the air this week because Edmonton ranks first in interceptions with nine and is tied with the Stamps for the top spot when it comes to turnover margin with a plus-six.
Unlike the hosts this week, Edmonton has very little to worry about when it comes to the quarterback position because it has Mike Reilly, the CFL's Offensive Player for the month of July taking care business. Reilly threw for 1,142 yards and nine touchdowns and also ran for another 221 yards en route to his award.
As far as the all-time series is concerned, Edmonton owns a 37-29-2 advantage in regular-season meetings dating back to 1961 with the Als. However, Montreal won the most recent matchup in October by a score of 47-24 on the road, giving the Als a winning streak of eight in a row in the series.
The teams are slated to face each other in just over a month for the second and final time during the regular season, this time at Rogers Centre.
At some point the Alouettes are going to find the answer to their offensive woes, but until then a team like Edmonton should be able to conquer Montreal on both sides of the ball.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Edmonton 28, Montreal 14
HAMILTON TIGER-CATS (1-4) AT BRITISH COLUMBIA LIONS (3-3)
DATE & TIME: Friday, August 8, 10 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: A pair of teams coming off close calls during Week 6 action get together at BC Place on Friday night, as the British Columbia Lions host the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
The Lions began the season with back-to-back defeats versus Edmonton and Montreal, but have managed to battle back and reach .500 after six games, although that still leaves the club alone in last place in the West Division. Last Friday, on the road at Calgary, BC found itself trailing by double figures at the break, but used a 12-point fourth quarter to complete the comeback bid and earn a 25-24 victory.
Quarterback Kevin Glenn, who tossed the game-winning touchdown to Ernest Jackson for 65 yards with time winding down in regulation, finished the matchup 22-of-32 for 277 yards and a couple of majors, although he also tossed an interception that was returned for a touchdown in the second quarter.
The other aerial score for the Lions went to Andrew Harris, a four-yard effort in the final frame. Harris not only caught five passes for 73 yards, he accounted for a team-best 70 yards on 15 rushing attempts as well. For his efforts, Harris was tabbed as the top Canadian of the week for the third time this season.
The Lions allowed Calgary to generate 359 yards of offense, but thanks to Ronnie Yell and his 34-yard interception return for a touchdown for the first points of the contest, BC remained on point. Yell, who also forced a late fumble to prevent the Stamps from fighting back in the waning moments, was named the CFL Defensive Player of the Week.
Hamilton, which went to the Grey Cup last season but lost to Saskatchewan (45-23), fell behind 20-3 in the third quarter against Winnipeg at home over the weekend, but managed to take a late lead (26-20), only to lose on the final play of the game.
Starting quarterback Dan LeFevour completed 19-of-33 for 189 yards and a score, but was also picked off once and sacked three times. The signal caller also carried the ball five times for 15 yards and another major, but it wasn't quite enough to keep the hosts out in front. Chris Gable accounted for four receptions for 47 yards and a score.
Giving the 'Cats a huge lift on special teams was Quincy McDuffie, who scrambled 67 yards for a score on a punt return in the fourth quarter. McDuffie's effort was a much-needed boost for a squad that managed to produce a mere 236 yards on offense and was penalized 19 times for 114 yards. McDuffie was selected as the CFL Special Teams Player of the Week.
With the setback, Hamilton is now tied with Ottawa and Montreal for second place in the East Division standings, with each team having won just once thus far.
Even though LeFevour has given the Hamilton fans something to cheer about, the fact remains that he and the rest of the Tiger-Cats playing the quarterback position have tossed almost twice as many interceptions (seven) as touchdowns (four). Hamilton signal callers have an efficiency rating of just 69.8 and while that's not the worst in the league (Montreal, 58.0), it is still a very concerning stat in a league where passing the ball is of utmost importance.
Not only has the troubling play from quarterbacks kept Hamilton out of the end zone this season, it has left the offense out of range even for field goals. Entering Week 7 action, the 'Cats were last in the league with just eight successful field goals, a small portion of the squad's 20.0 ppg
The immediate future for Hamilton would not look quite so bleak if the defense was playing better. However, at the moment the unit is allowing teams to complete 66.5 percent of their pass attempts, the highest rate in the league.
This could be the perfect time for the secondary to gain some confidence as it goes up against Glenn. Granted, Glenn is ranked third in the league in passing yards with 1,390, but leads the league in interceptions (nine).
Keeping the Lions from falling completely off track, when Glenn makes his mistakes with more and more regularity, is a defense led by Solomon Elimimian, who paces the CFL with 49 tackles.
Heading into this week's game, British Columbia owns a 49-33-3 advantage in the regular-season series between the two programs, stretching back to 1961. However, the Tiger-Cats managed to come out on top in the most recent battle last September by a score of 37-29 at home. The win snapped a three-game slide in the series for the 'Cats.
If LeFevour can again create something out of nothing with his feet, perhaps the Tiger-Cats will have a shot in this meeting, but it seems more likely that Hamilton will remain in the division basement this week.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: British Columbia 30, Hamilton 23
OTTAWA REDBLACKS (1-4) AT CALGARY STAMPEDERS (4-1)
DATE & TIME: Saturday, August 9, 7:30 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: Calgary attempts to bounce back from its first loss of the season when the Stampeders play host to the expansion Ottawa RedBlacks Saturday evening at McMahon Stadium.
Calgary, which is tied with Edmonton for second place in the West Division standings, two points behind Winnipeg, rattled off four straight victories to begin the 2014 campaign before being taken down by British Columbia in Week 6 action by a score of 25-24 at home.
What makes the setback to the Lions so difficult is the fact that the hosts owned a 21-10 advantage at halftime and were then held to just a 35-yard field goal by Rene Paredes in the fourth frame. Had Paredes been given even one more shot at a field goal somewhere along the way, there's a good chance the Stamps would have come out on top.
As it were, Bo Levi Mitchell saw his run of wins as starter at the beginning of his career snapped at seven, leaving him in a tie with former Stampeder Jeff Garcia for the CFL record in that department. Mitchell converted 21-of-31 for 227 yards and a score, tossed an interception that was returned for a touchdown and was sacked one time. It was the first pick of the season for the signal caller and his first in 142 attempts overall.
Joining Mitchell and the rest of the Stamps on the field, making his first appearance in a CFL contest since 2009, was running back Martell Mallett who ran for a game-high 116 yards on 14 attempts and also caught a team-best six passes for an additional 59 yards.
From a defensive perspective, Keon Raymond was credited with an interception that he returned 63 yards for a major in the second quarter to help boost the Calgary advantage.
It is not often that a game features an interception return for a TD on both sides, but if that was thought to be a bit unusual then the RedBlacks surely stole the show during their 38-14 loss to visiting Saskatchewan last Saturday.
It wasn't so much that Ottawa again was left in the dust, bowing for the second straight game and fourth time in five tries, it was more specifically the play made by Dobson Collins in the second quarter that finally put the RedBlacks on the board after the Roughriders opened with a 32-0 scoring run.
Needing some sort of a spark to at least get the hometown crowd engaged, backup quarterback Thomas DeMarco punted away on third and three from his own side of midfield and the ball ended up deep in the end zone. Because Collins was behind DeMarco when the kick was made, he was eligible to recover the ball for a touchdown. A rare play that had not been successfully pulled off since 1999.
Coincidentally, the touchdown by Collins was also the first of the season for the RedBlacks on their home field. In their first home date during Week 4 action the RedBlacks took down Toronto by a score of 18-17, courtesy of six successful field goals by Brett Maher. Unfortunately for Ottawa, Maher has made a total of just six field goals in all the other games the team has played to date.
Quarterback Henry Burris, who played for Calgary for a total of nine seasons during two separate stints in his 15-year CFL career, converted 17-of-33 for 217 yards, was sacked two times and had a pair of passes picked off. Burris has completed only 56.2 percent of his pass attempts so far this season, leading to four touchdowns in five contests.
As expected, the Ottawa offense has had issues getting into gear and is currently eighth in the league in scoring with just 18.8 ppg, ahead of only Montreal (15.0 ppg) heading into Week 7 action. Perhaps things would not seem so bleak if not for the fact that the RedBlacks are last in the league in yards allowed, permitting a hefty 399.4 ypg.
Despite the sporadic play by Ottawa, the team is still just two points out of first place in the slumping East Division where Toronto is at the top of the standings with a record of just 2-4 and the other two clubs, Hamilton and Montreal, are tied with the RedBlacks for second place with marks of 1-4.
Even though this is the first season for the RedBlacks, there is a history between franchises that have represented these two cities over the years. In fact, Calgary shows a 36-23 advantage over opponents from Ottawa dating back to 1961, but only focusing on regular-season encounters.
The last time an Ottawa club and the Stamps hooked up was Sept. 22, 2005 as Calgary ripped through the visitors, 45-23. However, Ottawa has won four of the last five meetings and five of the last eight.
In a little over two weeks from now, Ottawa will have the opportunity to host the Stampeders in the second and last matchup of the regular season.
Expect Mitchell to be back on point this week as he tries to shake off his first loss as a starter. He may not put up stellar numbers, but against the struggling RedBlacks he really doesn't have to in order for the Stamps to come out on top.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Calgary 31, Ottawa 17
2014 Sports Network Predictions: 12-12. Last Week's Results: 1-3.
08/06 11:12:21 ET