CFL Previews - Week 4 - July 19-21
From The Sports Network
By Greg Xenakes, CFL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
TORONTO ARGONAUTS (1-2) AT WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (1-2)
DATE & TIME: Friday, July 19, 8:00 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: The Toronto Argonauts try to get back on track this Friday night when they contend against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Investors Group Field.
Toronto, the reigning Grey Cup Champion, started the 2013 campaign well enough with a 39-34 triumph over Hamilton at home, but since then the squad has dropped two straight versus British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
Both the Argos and Blue Bombers are just 1-2 on the young season, the same being the case for the other two teams in the Eastern Conference (Hamilton and Montreal), so there's still plenty of time before need arises to push the panic button. However, the team that drops this matchup will be a step behind and might have to re-evaluate their approach.
Winnipeg's road to this point began with a 38-33 defeat at the hands of Montreal at home, but the team bounced back with a 19-11 triumph over the Alouettes a week later to even the slate. Unfortunately, the Bombers responded by bowing to Hamilton in a 25-20 final this past weekend.
Against the Tiger-Cats, Winnipeg was held scoreless in both the first and third quarters, while at the same time giving up points in every period, en route to their second five-point setback of the season.
Quarterback Buck Pierce seemed to be under constant pressure, hitting just 15- of-26 passes for 186 yards, while being sacked six times. Running back Chad Simpson tried to fill in the gaps with his game-high 116 yards and two majors on just 11 carries, while Justin Goltz took one of his three carries seven yards into the end zone in the second period for the visitors.
While the offense struggled for the Bombers, the entire unit hurt itself with a staggering 19 penalties for a loss of 161 yards. The 19 miscues were more than half the team's total through three games (36 in all) and with an average of more than 100 yards lost per outing, Winnipeg is making the task of playing football far more difficult than it should be.
In addition to putting themselves in a hole due to far too many flags, the offensive line for the Bombers has been rather weak to this point as well, giving up 14 sacks which is the most in the league heading into Week 4 action.
By comparison, Toronto has permitted just six sacks, second-fewest in the CFL behind the four given up by a perfect 3-0 Saskatchewan squad.
Speaking of the Roughriders, they were the latest team to send Toronto to the loss column, courtesy of a 39-28 final last week. The Argos actually scored the first points of the meeting and led 11-7 after 15 minutes of action, but the hosts were then limited to only three points over the course of the second and third frames before making things interesting with a couple of majors in the fourth.
Ricky Ray tried to keep Toronto competitive by hitting 27-of-37 passes for 334 yards and two touchdowns, but he was sacked three times and backup Zach Collaros was taken down twice behind the line of scrimmage as well.
The versatile Chad Owens accounted for eight receptions for 85 yards, five kickoff returns for another 102 yards, but just 19 yards on four punt returns.
Owens leads the league with 28 catches for 291 yards, but he has yet to make it into the end zone. The Hawaii product is also first in combined yards with 640, but is keenly aware that he has a huge target on his back these days and cannot do it all by himself.
Although he doesn't get nearly the level of attention as Owens, Andre Durie did raise his visibility last week as he caught seven balls for 100 yards and a touchdown, adding a 22-yard run on his lone carry out of the backfield as he was named the CFL's Canadian of the Week.
The Toronto defense has started out rather flat based on the first three games of the season, allowing a total of 35 and 31 points in the first and second quarters, respectively. However, the Argos have been able to straighten themselves out following the break, giving up a total of just 31 points in the second half thus far.
Unfortunately, the bottom line is that the Argos are last in the league in points allowed (32.3 ppg), the only team to be giving up an average of more than 30 ppg right now.
Toronto won two of the three regular-season meetings in 2012 between the squads, taking a 25-22 decision in Week 4 and a 29-10 final 10 weeks later. However, Winnipeg did respond on Oct. 19 with a 44-32 triumph at home.
Dating back to 1961 and taking into consideration only regular-season matchups, the Argos hold a narrow 53-51-2 advantage over Winnipeg, thanks to victories in four of the last five encounters.
These clubs have two more regular-season meetings on the schedule for 2013, although they don't take place until later this fall. The next engagement is slated for Oct. 19 again in Winnipeg, while just five days later the squads meet up at Rogers Centre.
If the Argonauts can figure out how to put together four strong quarters this week and can get enough pressure on Pierce, the visitors might be ready to break out of their mini slump.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Toronto 27, Winnipeg 24
MONTREAL ALOUETTES (1-2) AT CALGARY STAMPEDERS (2-1)
DATE & TIME: Saturday, July 20, 7:00 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: For just the second time since 1997, the Montreal Alouettes find themselves dealing with a 1-2 start as they prepare to challenge the Calgary Stampeders for the second straight week, this time at McMahon Stadium.
Montreal, which lost only two home games all of last season, was taken out at Percival Molson Memorial Stadium last week by the Stampeders in a 22-14 final, which wasn't nearly as close as the final score might indicate.
The Als, one of the most successful clubs in the CFL over the last decade, have now dropped two straight games after slipping by Winnipeg in the opener on the road, 38-33. The good news for Montreal, if there is such a thing at this point for new head coach Dan Hawkins, is that all four squads in the Eastern Conference have only one win in three chances, therefore keeping Montreal from being lost in the standings already.
A 19-yard touchdown pass from Anthony Calvillo to Brandon London in the first quarter got the Als off on the right foot last week, but then the offense went cold. The only other score for Montreal in the meeting came on a blocked punt return by Ed Gainey late in the fourth quarter, giving the hometown fans some much-needed hope before Calgary kicker Rene Paredes knocked through a 39-yard field goal in the final minute of regulation.
Calvillo, who has been taken to the ground far too often in the early going this season, hit 22-of-36 passes for 205 yards, was sacked twice and picked off once in the outing. Arland Bruce, a new addition to the Montreal offense for this season, showed signs of life with five catches for 80 yards, but that made little difference in the outcome.
The Montreal offensive line provided much better protection for Calvillo in Week 3, after permitting seven sacks a week earlier, but the unit did take a significant hit when guard Scott Flory went to the locker room with an injury in the third period.
The prognosis for Flory is not good, with the team expecting him to miss the rest of the season with a torn biceps. One of the all-time greats along the offensive line for the Als, Flory had started every regular-season contest for Montreal for the last 12 years.
The change along the line could not come at a worse time for the Als and Calvillo, seeing as how the signal-caller is suffering through one of the worst three-game stretches in his illustrious career. The league's all-time leader in most passing categories, Calvillo has completed fewer than 59 percent of his attempts thus far in 2013, resulting in just three touchdowns and four interceptions. Because of those numbers, Calvillo is in rare territory with an efficiency rating of only 69.0.
Making Calvillo's life more difficult is the continued absence of left guard Andrew Woodruff who was placed on the nine-game injured list after suffering a concussion during the team's home opener in Week 2.
From a defensive standpoint, Chip Cox is making a name for himself on the other side of the line for the Alouettes, currently tied for the league lead in total tackles with 24 (along with JC Sherritt of Edmonton). Cox, who has spent his entire eight-year career in Montreal, is coming off a career-high 82 stops from a year ago and could easily surpass that number if Calvillo and the Als offense doesn't find a way to remain on the field for more snaps the rest of the way.
For the Stamps, quarterback Kevin Glenn took his lumps from the Montreal defense last week, suffering through five sacks, but still he was able to convert all but six of his 28 pass attempts for 268 yards and a score. Backup signal-caller Bo Levi Mitchell, who could have given his team a huge lead in the second half, was sacked near the goal line as well by the Als.
Jon Cornish helped out with 18 rushing attempts for a game-high 90 yards for Calgary as well.
With quarterback Drew Tate out of the lineup last week, the open roster spot gave Brad Sinopoli a chance to show his value to the franchise and he did not disappoint. Included as one of his five receptions for 81 yards, matching Nik Lewis who made his gains on six catches, was a fantastic one-handed grab along the sidelines which has to be encouraging for the receiver and his coaching staff.
Also earning a piece of the spotlight for the Stamps last week was Paredes who knocked through all five of his field goals, en route to being named the CFL Special Teams Player of the Week.
Paredes has now made good on all seven of his field goal attempts and leads the league in scoring with 30 points through three games. The kicker has converted 25 straight field goals, leaving him five shy of tying Paul McCallum for the all-time record in that department.
In 2012, these teams played twice in the first three weeks of the season, with each winning on its home field. Obviously the Als can't make that happen this time around, but still the squad could press for a split nonetheless.
We keep waiting for Calvillo to break a game wide open, but maybe time has finally caught up with the aging passer, with key injuries adding to the problem for the Alouettes.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Calgary 26, Montreal 18
EDMONTON ESKIMOS (1-2) AT BRITISH COLUMBIA LIONS (2-1)
DATE & TIME: Saturday, July 20, 10:00 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: The Edmonton Eskimos will get a second straight crack at British Columbia, although this time the Esks will be heading to BC Place to challenge the Lions on Saturday night.
During Week 3 action, these same two teams clashed at Commonwealth Stadium but only once showed much fight over the course of 60 minutes of action. The home team may have taken a 3-0 lead in the first quarter on a 32-yard field goal by Grant Shaw and maintained an unusual 3-1 advantage at the break, but in the third frame BC finally woke up, scored a pair of TDs and headed off for the 17-3 victory.
Travis Lulay converted 12-of-18 passes for just 158 yards, but he did have scoring tosses of 12 and 16 yards to Emmanuel Arceneaux and Andrew Harris, respectively, to put the visitors in control in the second half. Harris, who tallied four grabs for 30 yards, also carried the ball 17 times for an additional 70 yards, second only to Lulay who generated a game-high 82 yards on nine rushing attempts.
Over on the other side, Edmonton could not get out of its own way. Quarterback Mike Reilly, who bided his time behind Lulay on the BC depth chart before jumping over to the Esks, completed a mere 13-of-23 passes for 97 yards, was picked off once and sacked three times. Reilly tried to make an impact as a runner with five totes for 37 yards, but it made little difference as the squad suffered its second loss in three tries.
Edmonton head coach Kavis Reed, who was recently rewarded with a contract extension, was quite emotional following the loss to BC, so much so that he had to bite his tongue a number of times and make it clear that changes were due.
One of the biggest issues for Reed and the Eskimos was the excessive number of penalties the squad was forced to endure, 11 in all for a loss of 103 yards. When you consider the offense generated just 178 yards on 66 snaps, it is easy to see how critical those miscues were in the disappointing performance.
After three games the Eskimos, who are all alone at the bottom of the West Division standings, have a staggering penalty total of 41, for a loss of 330 yards. Considering how inept the unit has been in the early going, it is somewhat surprising to see that the Eskimos are a respectable fifth in the league with a scoring average of 25.3 ppg.
In addition to having been plagued with enormous penalties, Edmonton hasn't done much positive in the way of turnovers either. Sure, the club has gained six takeaways, three of those coming on downs, but at the same time it has given the ball away eight times, which means the Esks are tied for second-to- last in the league in that department at minus-two.
British Columbia has broken even in the turnover department, gaining the ball twice in all three manners (interceptions, fumbles and downs), but at the same time giving up the ball two times each.
The Lions, tied with Calgary for second place in the division standings behind a perfect Saskatchewan group, have produced a pair of victories based on an aggressive defensive attack that leads the league in yards allowed (274.3 ypg), permitting a league-best 6.2 yards per pass, all of which has led to only 47 first downs for opponents.
Thanks to the win last week, BC has now taken three straight from the Esks and six of the last seven overall. Dating back to 1954 and taking into account only regular-season matchups, it is Edmonton which owns a decisive 103-74-4 advantage over the Lions.
After playing in back-to-back weeks, the teams will take a long break from each other, with their third and final meeting of the 2013 regular season coming in Week 18 right back here in British Columbia.
Coach Reed needs to get his squad turned around and headed in the right direction, but whether or not he can actually accomplish that remains to be seen. However, don't be surprised to see some major changes on both sides of the ball if players do not live up to expectations. Alterations to the depth chart might stir up some fight amongst the Esks, but probably not enough to get the team into the win column this week.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: British Columbia 30, Edmonton 20
HAMILTON TIGER-CATS (1-2) AT SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDGERS (3-0)
DATE & TIME: Sunday, July 21, 7:00 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: For the only team in the CFL that is undefeated after three weeks of play, the Saskatchewan Roughriders are keeping a close eye on their star quarterback as they prepare to host the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Mosaic Stadium on Sunday evening.
Darian Durant left the game against Toronto last Thursday, an eventual 39-28 triumph, after suffering a right foot injury in the fourth quarter, but subsequent MRI results came back negative which means he still could take the field versus Hamilton.
Durant managed to connect on 14-of-19 passes for 245 yards and three touchdowns before giving way to backup Drew Willy. Making the job that much easier for Durant prior to his exit was Taj Smith who reeled in touchdown grabs of 61 and 70 yards, and finished with a game-high 141 yards receiving on just three catches.
Because of the efforts of Smith and other skill players on offense, Durant has completed 72 percent of his pass attempts in 2013, resulting in eight touchdowns and no interceptions. With numbers like those, it should not come as a surprise that Durant is blowing away the competition with his 135.1 efficiency rating.
Helping to spread the field for the Roughriders was Kory Sheets as he carried the ball 26 times for a hefty 178 yards and a pair of majors of his own. With his huge effort against the Argonauts, Sheets is easily the top rusher in the league at the moment with 442 yards and four TDs on 69 totes.
For his efforts last week, Sheets was named the CFL Offensive Player of the Week.
In addition to Sheets being rewarded for his strong play, so was teammate Renauld Williams who tallied eight tackles, including a pair of sacks, and a pass defended while picking up CFL Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Through three games, Williams leads the Riders in total tackles with 14 and has recorded three sacks. Despite the three quarterback takedowns by Williams, Saskatchewan is still third in the league in total sacks with 10.
While the Riders are crossing their fingers when it comes to the availability of Durant, Hamilton doesn't have the luxury of even considering a change at quarterback at the moment, even though Henry Burris took a beating during the team's 25-20 victory over Winnipeg at home last week. Burris, who was sacked seven times, still managed to complete all but six of his 32 pass attempts, leading to 362 yards and two touchdowns.
Burris, who also led the squad in rushing with 47 yards on six attempts, took entirely too many hits from the Blue Bombers defense and that is something that needs to change in a hurry if the Ticats hope to have him lining up for the long haul this season.
One of only two QBs in the league to have thrown for more than 701 yards Burris, who leads the CFL with 957 yards, has six TDs and two picks on 105 attempts. Now in his 14th season, Burris is coming off his best campaign in terms of touchdown passes and yards, having thrown a total of 43 scores and 5,367 yards a year ago, which is why his strong start to 2013 shouldn't come as much of a surprise.
As well as Burris has been playing, it is the running attack that needs to be ramped up for the Ticats to experience any true measure of success. Hamilton is one of three teams with just a single rushing score. The defense could also stand to be more aggressive as well, considering the group has forced a league-low two turnovers and is tied for the second-worst turnover margin at minus-two.
Saskatchewan is by far the best in the league in terms of turnover margin with a plus-six. The bulk of that can be credited to Durant who has been virtually flawless in his offensive approach.
In recent news off the field, the Ticats announced the naming of their future home beginning in 2014 as Tim Hortons Field. Named after the restaurant chain which was established almost 50 years ago, the new venue will also play host to international soccer events, major outdoor concerts and future Grey Cups.
Hamilton slipped by the Riders in the most recent regular-season tussle on July 28, 2012 by a score of 35-34 in Regina, snapping what had been a two-game win streak for Saskatchewan. The Riders have won 15 of the last 18 regular- season matchups and currently maintain a 40-38-4 edge in regular-season dates going back to 1961.
The squads are slated to meet up again in just six days in Hamilton to complete the season series.
At some point the opposition will catch up to Durant and the Saskatchewan offense, but until that time comes the Roughriders will be the favorite, especially when they are playing in the comforts of home.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Saskatchewan 34, Hamilton 23
2013 Sports Network Predictions: 7-5; Last Week's Predictions: 2-2.
07/17 10:53:07 ET