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CFL Previews - Week 6 - July 31-August 2From The Sports Network
By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (4-1) AT HAMILTON TIGER-CATS (1-3)
DATE & TIME: Thursday, July 31, 7 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: The Hamilton Tiger-Cats are set for their second home game of the season on Thursday night as they host the resurgent Winnipeg Blue Bombers at McMaster University's Ron Joyce Stadium.
Hamilton, which is 0-3 on the road thus far and a mere 1-3 overall, would normally have to be worried about losing sight of the rest of the teams in the Eastern Division standings, but surprisingly the club is actually tied for first place with both Montreal and expansion Ottawa heading into Week 6 action.
Last weekend the Ticats, playing a home game in Hamilton for the first time in 637 days, snapped a three-game slide with a 33-23 triumph over the RedBlacks.
In his first career start, quarterback Dan LeFevour passed for 361 yards and ran for another 109 for the Tiger-Cats in the triumph. The only player in NCAA history with at least 12,000 career passing yards and 2,500 rushing yards, LeFevour carried the ball 13 times and converted 21-of-30 passing, leading to one touchdown and an interception.
Running back Chris Gable ran for 62 yards and also caught three passes for another 105 yards for the Tiger-Cats. Kicker Justin Medlock converted all four of his field-goal attempts for the hosts as they went up against former Hamilton QB Henry Burris, holding the signal caller in-check for most of the second half.
Clearly the performance by LeFevour, one that earned him the CFL Offensive Player of the Week honors, was an uplifting one. On Monday the Ticats announced fellow quarterback Zach Collaros was heading to the six-game injured list, due to issues with his head and back, opening the door for LeFevour to gain even more experience.
As for the Blue Bombers, a team which won a total of just three games all of last season as it wallowed in last place with the worst record in the league, they have four victories already, starting the campaign with wins over Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, before bowing to Edmonton.
Last week Winnipeg bounced back from the dismal 26-3 setback to the Eskimos in Week 4 by dominating British Columbia at BC Place, 23-6. However, the final score might be a bit deceiving, at least from the standpoint of how well the Bombers offense performed.
Winnipeg generated a modest 300 yards, but just 50 of those coming on the ground. Drew Willy managed to converted 18-of-26 passes for 250 yards and a score, but was also intercepted once and sacked two times. Really, the game ball should have been given to kicker Lirim Hajrullahu who did it all for his club.
Hajrullahu not only handled all of the punting and kickoffs for Winnipeg, who also knocked through all five of his field-goal chances and finished with 16 points, en route to being named the CFL Special Teams Player of the Week.
Hajrullahu is now second in the league among kickers in terms of points scored with 51, having converted all but two of his 14 field-goal attempts. Because of the efforts of Hajrullahu, the Bombers are the top scoring team in the league after five weeks with 28.2 ppg, even though they are sixth with only 311.4 ypg.
Also giving Winnipeg a lift is Nic Grigsby, who is second in yards from scrimmage (447) and second in rushing, turning his 67 carries for 287 yards into three touchdowns.
Hamilton may have new life with LeFevour, but he still has a lot of work in front of him to turn this group around for good. The Tiger-Cats are second-to- last in scoring (18.5 ppg) and a lot of that has to do with the fact that they are also second from the bottom in terms of turnover margin with a minus-four. The 'Cats have not only thrown six interceptions, they've also lost possession of six fumbles.
Winnipeg leads the regular season series by a count of 59-50, dating back to 1961. However, the most recent matchup was an easy victory for the Tiger-Cats in November of last season, 37-7, as Hamilton has won five straight over the Bombers.
While Winnipeg may have the better record at the moment, the Bombers have to remember that they don't have much tape to study on LeFevour and have to be ready for almost anything. For LeFevour, he must minimize the number of times Bombers defenders can get their hits on him if he wants to bring the Ticats out victorious.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Hamilton 27, Winnipeg 23
TORONTO ARGONAUTS (1-4) AT MONTREAL ALOUETTES (1-3)
DATE & TIME: Friday, August 1, 7 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: The Toronto Argonauts try to shake off an abysmal effort last weekend as they challenge the Montreal Alouettes in an Eastern Division showdown at Percival Molson Stadium on Friday night.
During the second week of the season the Argonauts destroyed the Saskatchewan Roughriders at home by a score of 48-15, but last Saturday night the Riders were ready for retribution, clobbering Toronto in a 37-9 final at Mosaic Stadium. The Argos were without offensive stars Chad Owens and Andre Durie, both of whom are now on the six-game injury list.
Then again, this is a Toronto group which has now lost three straight and four of the first five games on the campaign. While that may sound like a disaster, the good news for the Argos is that not a single team in the division has more than one victory heading into Week 6 action. In fact, the Argos might be listed in last place in the standings, but with two points they are tied with all three of the other clubs in the division.
Toronto quarterback Ricky Ray, one of the most accurate passers in the league the last few seasons, was beaten up pretty badly by the Saskatchewan defense. In that first meeting of the season Ray threw for more than 400 yards and three touchdowns, but he had no such luck on Saturday night.
Under constant pressure, Ray hit on 23-of-35 passes for 221 yards and was intercepted twice, including on the very first play from scrimmage. Ray was sacked three times and fumbled the ball away twice, leaving the Argos little chance of competing with a Saskatchewan squad that was seeking to exact revenge.
Kicker Swayze Waters was the lone bright spot for the visitors as he knocked through all three of his field-goal chances.
Montreal caught a break in the schedule last week, which hopefully gave quarterback Troy Smith some added time to work on his craft. Of all the regular starters at this position, Smith, a former Heisman Trophy winner at Ohio State (2006), has both the weakest completion percentage (.487) and lowest efficiency rating (.649).
Trying to take some of the pressure off Smith is running back Brandon Whitaker, who is currently third in the league in rushing with 268 yards, but he has just one touchdown on 49 carries. Unfortunately, since 2011 when he generated a career-high 1,381 yards on the ground and another 638 yards through the air, Whitaker has failed to maintain that level of production.
It should come as little surprise that Montreal, which is last in the league in scoring with just 17.5 ppg, doesn't have a single player with more than one major. The team is a distant ninth in yards per game (263.3), while giving up 354.2 ypg which is third from the bottom in that category as well.
Toronto comes in with 22.0 ppg on offense, placing it in the middle of the pack, but the way that Ray was treated last week, in conjunction with the loss of several key assets, the Argos are in some serious trouble for the time being. Ray is still the league's leader in passing yards with 1,501 and has hit on close to 70 percent of his attempts, but he has almost as many INTs (four) as he does aerial TDs (six).
The loss of Owens is especially painful given that he still ranks fourth in the league in combined yards (574) and is recognized as one of the most electrifying players the league has seen in quite some time. With the struggles on offense of late, expect the Argos to again call on Waters, the third-highest scorer among kickers (50 points) to help keep them competitive.
Taking into consideration only regular-season matchups dating back to 1946, the Als own a 110-85-3 advantage in the series with Toronto. Last November Montreal managed to squeeze out a 23-20 victory at Rogers Centre, giving the Als four victories in the last six encounters.
With added time to prepare and heal nagging injuries, the Als are in the perfect position to take down the Boatman, particularly since Toronto is again without several key players and will be in that situation for weeks to come.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Montreal 25, Toronto 20
BRITISH COLUMBIA LIONS (2-3) AT CALGARY STAMPEDERS (4-0)
DATE & TIME: Friday, August 1, 10 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: The last of the unbeatens in the CFL takes the field on Friday night as the Calgary Stampeders play host the British Columbia Lions in a Western Division showdown at McMahon Stadium.
While the Lions are all alone in last place in the division, the only team among the five with three defeats already, Calgary continues to cruise along with an unblemished record.
For the first two games of 2014 the Stamps were untouchable, beating up on both Montreal (29-8) and Toronto (34-15), but then they were given a scare by Hamilton (10-7) and barely slipped by Edmonton last week (26-22). Against the Eskimos, Calgary had to hold on late in order to sustain victory, the team scoring just a pair of field goals after intermission.
The Stamps were held to only 13 first downs and 239 yards of total offense, partly due to the fact that they were flagged for 15 penalties, leading to a loss of 135 yards. Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell managed to match former Calgary signal caller Jeff Garcia with seven straight wins as a starter to begin his CFL career, although his numbers in this particular meeting were far from impressive.
Mitchell, a former Walter Payton Award winner, completed just 14 of his 29 pass attempts, resulting in 124 yards and a single touchdown.
From a scoring standpoint, kicker Rene Paredes helped to shoulder the load as he knocked through all four of his field-goal chances and finished with 14 points.
Keenan MacDougall stepped up on special teams to block a punt and return it to the end zone in the first frame for the Stamps as well.
In news off the field for the Stamps this week, the team signed running back Hugh Charles to the practice squad. Charles was with Saskatchewan earlier in the campaign, playing in one game before being cut on July 16. The back has appeared in a total of 49 games during his CFL career, producing 2,170 rushing yards and 15 TDs on the ground, adding another 995 yards and six majors on 82 pass receptions dating back to 2008 when he broke in with the Riders.
As for the Lions, they went from crushing the Montreal Alouettes in Week 4 action (41-5) to being trounced by Winnipeg last week in a dismal 23-6 final in front of the hometown crowd. The only scoring for BC came from kicker Paul McCallum who converted field goals of 11 and 19 yards in the second quarter, keeping the team close in a 9-6 halftime bout.
Quarterback Kevin Glenn hit on 18-of-31 passes for 232 yards, but was picked off two times and sacked on five occasions. The Lions did not help themselves, committing 14 penalties for a loss of 122 yards.
Defensively, the Lions did well to limit Winnipeg to only 300 yards of offense, shutting down drives time after time. However, like McCallum for the Lions, the Blue Bombers brought kicker Lirim Hajrullahu out to make all five of his field-goal opportunities, en route to 16 total points.
British Columbia is currently third in the league in points allowed, giving up 18.4 ppg and while the unit has surrendered a league-high 13 field goals, most teams would take that number as long as the squad is preventing foes from getting into the end zone too often.
As for Glenn, a seasoned veteran, he seems to be taking a few too many gambles with his pass attempts and those have led to a league-high eight interceptions, while his TD passes are a bit lower with five.
There are a couple of silver linings in the BC defense though, with Solomon Elimimian and Adam Bighill placing first and second league-wide in tackles with 39 and 23, respectively.
Tied with Bighill with those 23 stops is Calgary's Brandon Smith, who had a total of 60 takedowns all of last season. Also not to be overlooked is Charleston Hughes, who has posted four sacks and is the league-leader with three forced fumbles.
Because of the efforts of Hughes and his teammates on that side of the ball, Calgary ranks first in the league in scoring defense, permitting a mere 13.0 ppg.
In terms of the all-time series between the clubs, one that takes into account only regular season battles stretching back to 1954, the Stamps are ahead by a count of 97-79-5, although BC has won two of the last three encounters. The most recent of those victories for the Lions was a 26-7 decision last November in Vancouver.
Even with Mitchell struggling last week, the Stamps found a way to come out on top and there's no reason to think the team can't make that happen again this week at home against a BC group that has had a couple of questionable efforts to this point.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Calgary 27, British Columbia 18
SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS (2-2) AT OTTAWA REDBLACKS (1-3)
DATE & TIME: Saturday, August 2, 7 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: The defending Grey Cup champions hope to carry over their strong performance from Week 5 versus the Toronto Argonauts, as the Saskatchewan Roughriders clash with the expansion Ottawa RedBlacks on Saturday evening at TD Place.
The Roughriders, who lost to Toronto in the second game of the season by a lopsided 48-15 score, exacted some revenge last weekend when they blew out the Argos, 37-9. Granted, Toronto was without several key players, but still it was a dominating performance by Saskatchewan nonetheless.
Darian Durant, who completed 9-of-17 passes for 155 yards and scored once on the ground, may be the most obvious figure for the Riders right now, but making a name for himself in his very first game of the campaign was running back Will Ford.
Ford, who was picked up by Saskatchewan earlier in the week after spending the last two seasons with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, ran for 113 yards and three touchdowns on 17 attempts. An import from South Carolina State, Ford scored just two rushing totals all of last season. Ford also caught three passes for another 24 yards.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Riders picked off a pair of Ricky Ray passes and recovered three fumbles, two of those from the Toronto signal caller as well. John Chick forced one fumble and registered half of his team's four sacks. For his efforts, Chick was named the CFL Defensive Player of the Week.
Not to be forgotten during the one-sided affair was linebacker Samuel Hurl, who claimed Canadian Player of the Week honors for the Riders as he tallied seven tackles and recovered a fumble.
With the victory, Saskatchewan snapped a brief two-game slide, but still the team is fourth in the Western Division standings with a mere four points.
While the Western Division by far is the more dominant group this season in the CFL, the Eastern Division is the perfect landing spot for the RedBlacks as they try to generate interest. Despite having only one win in four chances, Ottawa is tied with Hamilton and Montreal for first place in the standings.
Against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats last weekend, the RedBlacks actually owned a 17-14 lead in the second quarter, but after that could manage just a pair of Brett Maher field goals the rest of the way, en route to the 33-23 road loss. The visitors rolled up close to 400 yards of total offense but could not capitalize enough on a solid effort by quarterback Henry Burris, who threw for 290 yards and two touchdowns.
Marcus Henry was a steady supply of offense, as he caught 10 passes for 138 yards and a major in the first half. However, the rushing attack was non- existent, as Chevon Walker posted only 37 yards on eight carries versus his former teammates.
Maher, who knocked through all three of his field-goal tries and finished with 11 points, also completed a pass for 25 yards as part of a fake punt. Maher is now fourth in the league in kicking points with 44.
Because of the efforts of Maher, Ottawa has managed to stay out of the basement in scoring offense to this point, although there is still room to improve on the squad's 20.0 ppg. The bigger problem for the RedBlacks in the early going is a defense that is surrendering 28.3 ppg, second-most in the league behind only Toronto (29.8 ppg).
The pass defense has been especially suspect for the RedBlacks, permitting a hefty 305.5 ypg, which is by far the most in the CFL after five weeks. It also doesn't help that Ottawa has yet to stop an opponent on downs, the only team in the league without such an effort.
Burris, who threw his first and only interception of the season in the most recent game, could stand to pick his targets a bit more carefully since he has completed just 57.4 percent of his attempts and has just four TDs through as many games. Walker is trying to lend a hand as best he can, placing fourth in the CFL with 342 yards from scrimmage, but there are still holes to be filled for the RedBlacks.
Saskatchewan hasn't exactly been burning up the scoreboard in the early going, averaging 24.0 ppg, and that has a lot to do with Durant, who has an efficiency rating of only 75.5 and has just as many INTs (five) as TDs.
Against teams representing Ottawa over the years, the Roughriders have won 38 of 61 regular-season matchups dating back to 1961. The most recent clash took place back in 2005 with Saskatchewan bowing by a score of 22-17 on the road.
The regular-season schedule has these teams playing just once more this season during Week 13.
The RedBlacks will pick up wins this season for sure, but against a team that is coming off a title run a year ago, it won't be easy by any stretch this weekend for the hosts.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Saskatchewan 31, Ottawa 25
2014 Sports Network Predictions: 11-9. Last Week's Results: 1-3.
07/30 10:45:59 ET