CFL Previews - Week 8 - August 16-19
From The Sports Network
By Greg Xenakes, CFL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
HAMILTON TIGER-CATS (3-3) at WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (1-5)
DATE & TIME: Thursday, August 16, 8:00 p.m. (et).
GAME NOTES: Two teams trying to bounce back from double-digit defeats hit the field at Canad Inns Stadium on Thursday night, as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers entertain the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Hamilton recently enjoyed a three-game win streak, following consecutive defeats to kick off the 2012 campaign, by beating the likes of Toronto, Montreal and Saskatchewan. However, on August 9, the Tiger-Cats fell back to .500 as they bowed to Calgary at home, 31-20. Despite being 3-3 after six games, the 'Cats enter Week 8 of the season tied with both the Argonauts and Alouettes for first place in the East Division.
As for the Blue Bombers, they are the one team looking up at the other three clubs in the division, having won just once in six tries. The squad squeezed out a 23-22 triumph versus Edmonton on July 26 to snap a four-game slide, but then a week later the team dropped a 36-26 decision to the Als. With the worst record in the league, head coach Paul LaPolice felt it was time to make a major change and that was at quarterback. This week Joey Elliott is being given the start ahead of Alex Brink, even though the latter doesn't feel his play has been the reason for the team's fast fall from grace.
Brink, who was second on the depth chart at the start of the season behind Buck Pierce who was injured early on, has been blind-sided by the switch after throwing for 311 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the loss to Montreal. Brink added a rushing touchdown as well while shaking off three sacks. Slotback Terrence Edwards reeled in eight passes for a game-high 120 yards for the Bombers who are simply trying to find something that works in their favor and earn them a few victories over the last 12 weeks of the regular season.
While the outing against Montreal was certainly one that Brink could be proud of, the fact remains that he has converted just 53.5 percent of his pass attempts and has one more interception (six) than he has TD passes (five).
Elliott, a product of Purdue, has very little starting experience in the CFL, having hit on just 56-of-109 attempts for 715 yards and three touchdowns in three years with Winnipeg. In the last two seasons he has just 21 completed passes and overall his efficiency rating is a disappointing 66.1. Still, the coaching staff believes a change is necessary to give the group some spark.
Even though Hamilton is also coming off a loss, there doesn't seem to be any monumental changes filtering down from the coaching staff to the players on the field. The Tiger-Cats had some trouble getting their offense into gear versus Calgary during Week 7 action, failing to score in the first quarter. However, the squad delivered 20 points over the next two frames before again falling silent in the final period, while giving up 14 points to the visitors. Hamilton didn't do itself any favors by being called for 13 penalties, amounting to 91 yards in lost field position.
Quarterback Henry Burris, facing off against his former team for the first time this season, connected on 21-of-40 passes for 267 yards and a touchdown, but was also picked off once. Running back Chevon Walker showed his versatility yet again as he not only carried the ball 10 times for 68 yards and scored on a 47- yard jaunt, he also caught four passes for another 35 yards and a major as well. Andy Fantuz contributed with six receptions for a game-high 77 yards.
The pass defense for Hamilton played well enough to limit Calgary to just 141 yards through the air, but stopping the run was an entirely different story as the group allowed a whopping 233 yards and three scores, much of the damage being done by Jon Cornish, who rumbled for a career-high 170 yards.
At this stage, the run defense for the Tiger-Cats is one of the weakest in the league, last among all eight clubs in terms of first downs allowed on the ground with 54. Hamilton is giving up 145.2 ypg rushing, by far the highest average in the CFL. As a result of the porous run defense, foes are not as inclined to throw the ball and that's why Hamilton is last in the league in interceptions with a mere three through six games.
Ranked seventh in the league in yards allowed per game overall (417.6), Hamilton is ahead of only one other team, that being Winnipeg which is permitting 419.3 ypg at the moment. The only other squad giving up more than 100 ypg on the ground, the Bombers are slightly over that threshold at 103.7 ypg.
With both of these defenses having their issues, it shouldn't come as a complete surprise that they are at the bottom of the list when it comes to points allowed, Hamilton checking in with 33.0 ppg given up and the Blue Bombers only slightly behind at 33.2 ppg.
As far as the all-time regular-season series is concerned, Winnipeg owns a 57-45 advantage over the Tiger-Cats dating back to 1950. In October of last year the Bombers posted a 33-17 victory at Hamilton to give them three straight regular-season wins over the Tiger-Cats.
The teams are set to meet two more times during the regular season, once in September on Winnipeg's turf and then five weeks later in Hamilton.
Even though LaPolice says the schemes on offense will remain relatively the same with Elliott directing the group, a fresh perspective at quarterback could kick-start Winnipeg enough to get the team rolling. However, it may take some time.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Hamilton 37, Winnipeg 30
MONTREAL ALOUETTES (3-3) at EDMONTON ESKIMOS (4-2)
DATE & TIME: Friday, August 17, 9:00 p.m. (et).
GAME NOTES: With a pair of running backs who both have at least 400 yards to their credit after six games this season, the Edmonton Eskimos now set their sights on taking down the Montreal Alouettes when the teams collide on Friday night at Commonwealth Stadium.
With Hugh Charles having already proven himself this year as a viable offensive option with his 400 yards and two touchdowns on 84 rushing attempts, the Eskimos have one of the top running backs in the league. Late last week the team added to its stable of backs by signing Cory Boyd after he was released by the Toronto Argonauts. Over the course of 36 games with the Argos, Boyd had amassed more than 3,000 yards in rushing and receiving and scored 18 touchdowns.
A product of the University of South Carolina, Boyd has already rushed for a league-high 447 yards and is averaging 5.5 yards per attempt. Prior to this move, Edmonton was tied for the fewest rushing TDs in the CFL with just three and was second-to-last in total rushing yards with 524.
Edmonton, which is tied with British Columbia for first place in the West Division with a record of 4-2, has won three of its last four outings, thanks to a 28-20 victory over Saskatchewan last Friday. Against the Roughriders, Edmonton ran for just 84 yards and only Charles (67 yards) was able to gain more than 15 in the matchup.
Quarterback Steven Jyles hit on 18-of-23 passing for 282 yards and a score as well for Edmonton. The team also picked up a defensive touchdown by Joe Burnett who returned a fumble 44 yards for a score late in the third frame. Burnett also leads the league in interceptions with three, one of which he returned 108 yards for a touchdown earlier in the campaign.
As for the Alouettes, they've been itching to get back onto the field since defeating Winnipeg on the road August 3 by a final of 36-26. Snapping a two- game slide, Montreal scored in every quarter of the meeting thanks in large part to Sean Whyte, who knocked through all four of his field goal tries and finished with 15 points overall, earning CFL Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
Helping to put Whyte in scoring position was Anthony Calvillo, who converted 17-of-29 passes for 368 yards and two touchdowns. While the aging signal-caller was sacked three times, he didn't throw an interception. On the other end of six of those completions was Brandon Whitaker, who turned them into 64 yards, giving him a total of 179 yards from scrimmage after gaining 115 yards on 18 rushing attempts. Even though Calvillo had yet another strong effort and receiver Jamel Richardson caught four balls for 91 yards and two majors, it was Whitaker who was named the CFL Offensive Player of the Week.
Whitaker has now carried the ball 71 times for 366 yards, seventh-most in the CFL, but he hasn't broken any runs of major significance as of yet.
While Whitaker has proven that he can help shoulder some of the load coming out of the backfield for the Als, the leader on the field in every way imaginable remains Calvillo. The first quarterback in the league to eclipse the 2,000 yards plateau in passing yards, Calvillo hasn't been quite as sharp with his throws, yet he is still second in passing scores (13) and efficiency rating (104.5).
Calvillo has managed to keep plenty of his receivers happy, spreading the wealth to as many as six players who have double-digit receptions to this point in the season. S.J. Green leads the team in receiving yards with 433, Whitaker has the most receptions with 31 and is tied with Patrick Lavoie (11 catches, 134 yards) in receiving scores with three apiece.
Mixed in on that list of outlets for Calvillo is Richardson who is working towards his fifth straight 1,000 yards season, showing 25 grabs for 386 yards and two TDs thus far.
Last season Montreal won both meetings against the Esks, first taking a 27-4 final at home in August and then posting a 34-21 victory on the road six weeks later. Overall the Als have won four in a row and five of the last six versus Edmonton and yet it is the Eskimos who maintain a 37-25-2 advantage in the all- time, regular-season series dating back to 1949.
The teams are set to play each other once more during the regular season, meeting up in Montreal on October 28.
Even though Jyles doesn't make many mistakes throwing the football, he doesn't exactly instill confidence in the offense either. Still in the testing phase, Jyles needs a signature game to hang his hat on and this could be that one shining moment for the quarterback if he can get his team into the win column.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Edmonton 31, Montreal 23
TORONTO ARGONAUTS (3-3) at CALGARY STAMPEDERS (3-3)
DATE & TIME: Saturday, August 18, 7:00 p.m. (et).
GAME NOTES: With parity being a running theme in the CFL through the first seven weeks of action, a couple of squads sitting at 3-3 cross paths on Saturday, as the Calgary Stampeders host the Toronto Argonauts at McMahon Stadium.
Both clubs have split their first six games of the 2012 campaign and for Toronto that means being in a three-way tie for first place in the East Division with both Hamilton and Montreal. Displaying an identical record, Calgary is tied with Saskatchewan for third overall in the West Division, just one game behind both Edmonton and British Columbia.
Calgary, which has yet to put together consecutive winning efforts, dumped Hamilton on August 9 in a 31-20 final on the road. The top scoring program in the CFL at 31.0 ppg, Calgary was paced by Jon Cornish who not only galloped for a career-high 170 yards and scored once on 20 carries coming out of the backfield, he also caught a team-best six passes for another 47 yards for the visitors. Because of his efforts, Cornish was not only named the Canadian Player of the Week, he also earned Offensive Player of the Week in the CFL as well.
Kevin Glenn hit on 15-of-28 passing for 141 yards and a major as well. Backup quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell and wide receiver Romby Bryant both contributed with rushing touchdowns in the second half to help with the offensive effort.
Toronto should be well rested since a poor showing against British Columbia back on August 6 when it came up short in an 18-9 loss to British Columbia at home. Ricky Ray and the rest of the Argos offense struggled as they generated a mere 252 yards on 72 snaps, the signal-caller completing 25-of-34 for 215 yards while pulling himself off the carpet four times and tossing three interceptions. If not for kicker Swayze Waters and his three successful field goals, the effort would have been even more dire as Toronto saw a two-game win streak come to an end.
Toronto has had a couple of lackluster scoring efforts so far this season and that has led the squad to seventh in the league in overall scoring at 23.0 ppg. Now in his 10th CFL season, Ray had his worst game with his newest team the last time out, his efficiency rating at just 52.9. Ray is still completing close to 70 percent of his pass attempts, the top number of any regular starter in the league, but with his team tied for the fewest rushing touchdowns (three) in the league, he is having to shoulder most of the offensive burden.
Trying to make an impact in any way he can, Chad Owens continues to be inserted into the offense and is again the top player in the league in terms of combined yards with 1,460 already. Owens, who is well on his way to reaching 3,000 combined yards for the third straight season, is currently third in the league with 465 receiving yards, scoring three times on 35 receptions.
The Stampeders have their own receiving specialist in Nik Lewis who is second in yards (484) and first among all players with 43 catches and seven touchdowns. Already having scored two more touchdowns than he did all of last season, Lewis was rewarded late last week with a contract extension that could keep him in a Calgary uniform until he decides to retire.
Lewis, who began his CFL career with Calgary back in 2004, has registered at least 1,000 receiving yards in all eight of his campaigns leading up to this year. Averaging better than 14 yards per catch, Lewis needs just 284 more yards to reach 10,000 for his career.
While the Stamps put much of their faith in Lewis, Toronto had been attempting to exploit defenses by handing the ball to Cory Boyd who currently leads the league in rushing with 447 yards on 82 attempts. However Boyd, who has scored only twice on the ground thus far, was just released by the team on Sunday as the squad opted to move in a different direction as far as their style at running back was concerned.
With Boyd no longer in the picture, the Argos apparently have decided to give the starting nod to Chad Kackert who, after running for 349 yards and four touchdowns last year, has carried the ball just twice for minus three yards in 2012.
Toronto won the first meeting of the season between the teams back on July 7 by a score of 39-36 at home. In that contest the Argos scored in every quarter, but it was a 28-yard field goal by Noel Prefontaine as time expired that pushed the hosts into the win column. Controlling the ball for more than 36 minutes, the Argonauts were led by Ray who threw for 407 yards and two touchdowns, shaking off a couple of interceptions, while Boyd tacked on a game-high 101 yards and a score on 20 rushing attempts. Glenn completed 15-of-19 passing for 172 yards and two scores, but he was also sacked three times and threw a pair of picks in the setback for the visitors.
In terms of the all-time, regular-season series between the squads, Calgary is ahead by a slim 41-40-1 margin dating back to 1945. However, the Argos have stepped up and taken four straight decisions.
The change in running back may give the Argonauts a bit of a spark for the time being, but the team will only go as far as Ray can take them so it is up to the quarterback to come to terms with his poor effort the last time out and fix the issues.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Toronto 27, Calgary 23
SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS (3-3) at BRITISH COLUMBIA LIONS (4-2)
DATE & TIME: Sunday, August 19, 7:00 p.m. (et).
GAME NOTES: With a stout defense that has held the last two opponents to single digits, the British Columbia Lions try to continue their strong play on Sunday when they entertain the Saskatchewan Roughriders at BC Place.
Since losing to Edmonton on July 20 by a score of 27-14 at home, the Lions have dialed up the pressure on defense and played much better in the last two road outings, defeating Calgary 34-8 and then stopping Toronto, 18-9, in the most recent contest back on August 6 before the bye week. Thanks to the latest victory, BC is currently tied with Edmonton for the best record in the CFL and first place in the West Division with a record of 4-2.
Against Toronto, the Lions held the hosts scoreless in both the first and fourth quarters and kept the Argos out of the end zone altogether by allowing a mere three field goals to Swayze Waters. The Argonauts generated just 252 yards of total offense against BC and while the score could have easily been even more one-sided, Toronto benefited from the visitors being flagged 16 times for 100 yards in penalties.
Quarterback Travis Lulay converted 18-of-27 passes for 205 yards and a score, while Mike Reilly sealed the victory with a one-yard run in the final period to cap off a seven-play, 69-yard drive that ate up 4:29 off the clock.
As for the Roughriders, they were most recently in action on August 10 when they came out on the short end of a 28-20 final versus Edmonton on the road. The defeat, the third in as many games for a team that opened 2012 with three straight victories, saw Saskatchewan score a couple of rushing touchdowns, one each by Drew Willy and Darian Durant, as the squad generated a hefty 507 yards of total offense. However, the Riders lost 90 yards of field position due to 13 penalties, were guilty of one lost fumble and two interceptions.
Durant, who has spent all seven of his CFL campaigns with the Roughriders, had his best game of this season in terms of passing yardage with 401 as he converted 24-of-35, but he also failed to throw a TD for the third time in five games and was picked off twice. Through the first three games of the season Durant had more than 700 yards and four touchdowns, without a single INT, but now his numbers have begun to level off a bit.
When Durant isn't exploiting defenses, Kory Sheets tends to be the one who steps in and picks up the slack. Here in his CFL rookie campaign, Sheets has been a steady producer with a total of 440 rushing yards, second-most in the league. Up until the last game when he was kept out of the end zone, Sheets had also scored at least one TD in five straight contests to begin his career. While he didn't score last time out, Sheets did counter by turning six receptions into a game-high 138 yards versus Edmonton.
Right behind Sheets with five catches for 84 yards versus the Eskimos was Weston Dressler, a slotback who already is nearly halfway to his career high of 81 receptions, sporting 40 grabs for 513 yards and four TDs thus far in 2012. Averaging just under 13 yards per catch, Dressler is first in the league in total receiving yards after six games.
While Dressler is at the top of the receiving list as far as yards is concerned, the Lions don't have a single player within the top-12 in that department right now. Geroy Simon, who kicked off the season with a bang by becoming the league's all-time leading receiver, has turned his 22 catches this year into 329 yards to pace BC, but for someone who now has 957 receptions to his name and needs just two TDs to reach 100 for his career, he has yet to cross the goal line in 2012. You have to go all the way back to 2002 to find a longer stretch to open a season where Simon has been shutout in this manner.
Because of the last two games, British Columbia is now first in the league in defense, holding the opposition to just 277.1 ypg. Combine that with the fact that the Lions are also first on offense with 400.5 ypg and those numbers would indicate a dominating club. Being tied for the top spot in the turnover department with a plus-6 is certainly another strong indication of how good the Lions can be when they put all the pieces together for a solid 60-minute effort.
The Roughriders won the first meeting of this season back on July 14 with a 23-20 triumph at home. In that contest Saskatchewan's Tristan Jackson returned a missed field goal a staggering 129 yards for what proved to be the winning score in the fourth quarter. The Riders generated just 266 yards of total offense, while giving up 460 to the visitors. Lulay threw for 345 yards and a couple of majors for BC, but he also tossed a pair of interceptions in the setback as well.
BC ran the table against the Riders last season, winning all three matchups by at least double figures and by a combined score of 95-34. The all-time series now stands at 91-80-4 in favor of Saskatchewan when considering just regular- season matchups dating back to 1954.
The teams are set to meet two more times during the 2012 regular season, late September in Saskatchewan and then November 3 in the regular-season finale back at BC Place.
The Lions have shown opposing crowds that they can dominate games and now the squad just needs to make that happen in front of the faithful in Vancouver.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: British Columbia 28, Saskatchewan 18
2012 Sports Network Predictions: 8-16. Last Week's Selections: 0-2.
08/15 15:47:43 ET