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CFL Preview - Edmonton (5-5) at Hamilton (3-7)



From The Sports Network

By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor

DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 15, 3:00 p.m. (et).

GAME NOTES: Having lost five straight games, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats hope that Ivor Wynne Stadium is the site where they are able to turn it around this weekend as they host the Edmonton Eskimos.

It wasn't that long ago that the Tiger-Cats were a game over .500 thanks to a three-game win streak in the month of July, but August was a complete bust (0-3) and September has started out much the same way with back-to-back defeats against Toronto, the most recent of those coming last Saturday in a 45-31 final.

As for the Eskimos, a team which is now tied for third place in the West Division with Saskatchewan at 5-5, they too have hit a bit of a rough patch with two consecutive defeats and three in the last four. Like every team in the CFL the last couple of weeks, Edmonton was pitted against the same opponent, Calgary, and both times lost by narrow margins. The annual Labour Day affair saw the Esks drop a 31-30 decision on the road, and then last Friday the squad bowed in a 20-18 final at home.

Against the Stampeders in last week's battle, quarterback Kerry Joseph completed 27-of-35 for 275 yards and a score to Fred Stamps in the fourth quarter, but it was too little, too late in the two-point loss. Joseph also led the way on the ground with 44 yards on seven attempts, a scary prospect given how many signal-callers have found their way to the sidelines with injuries already this season because they've put themselves in harm's way.

Having Joseph as the top ground gainer for the Eskimos was rather unusual, especially given the fact that the team dressed all three of their top-shelf running backs in Hugh Charles (31 yards), Jerome Messam (eight) and Cory Boyd (six). Head coach Kavis Reed admitted that having all three available and itching to get the ball probably wasn't the best approach for the squad, even causing some confusion on the sidelines when it wasn't clear who was supposed to be in the huddle and what their responsibilities were.

Coach Reed says that one of the backs will probably be scratched for this game, but at this time the decision has not been made and that might work to the benefit of the Eskimos if it forces Hamilton to study up and prepare for all three ball carriers and their unique set of skills.

It now appears that Hamilton doesn't have a problem finding a leader coming out of the backfield, since Avon Cobourne ran for a team-best 119 yards on 13 carries in the loss to Toronto last week. Cobourne, who played on a couple of championship teams with Montreal earlier in his career, has appeared in just two games this season and has totaled 169 yards on 21 attempts.

Chevon Walker had been the top choice to carry the ball for the Tiger-Cats, placing fifth in the league in rushing with 563 yards on 96 attempts, but he's found his way to the injured list and that has opened the door for Cobourne to shine again.

While the lead running back position may be in flux for Hamilton, the quarterback spot has no such ambiguity as Henry Burris maintains his leadership role in the huddle. Against Toronto in the latest outing, Burris converted 16-of-30 passes for 272 yards and three touchdowns, against just a single interception. Sam Giguere, Onrea Jones and Andy Fantuz all landed in the end zone, courtesy of a Burris pass at one point or another.

In his first season with Hamilton since coming over from Calgary where he was a standout performer for so many years, Burris is enjoying one of his better seasons as he leads the CFL in passing TDs (24) and efficiency rating (105.5). Already, the signal-caller has thrown more TDs this season than all of 2011 when he tossed just 20 for the Stampeders.

Burris, who has thrown for more than 7,000 yards against Edmonton in his career, has found Chris Williams to be his favorite target these days, the latter catching 47 balls for 775 yards and five touchdowns. An exciting performer who can score in a variety of ways, Williams is second in the league in combined yards with 1,716 and paces the CFL in touchdowns with 11, thanks to his six scores on returns which have already set a single-season record in the league.

Edmonton, which is set to host the 'Cats in their second meeting of the regular season on October 5, owns a 52-28-1 record versus Hamilton in regular season matchups dating back to 1950. The Eskimos won the most recent encounter last September by a score of 38-23 on the road, giving them two straight wins and six in the last eight over Hamilton.

Handling the running back controversy will be a huge problem for the Eskimos because someone with great talent is going to be left out of the mix. Ray certainly has the ability to get a team into the win column on his own, but the confusion going on behind him may be too much to battle through this weekend on the road.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Hamilton 27, Edmonton 24

09/12 12:05:49 ET