A s the CFL season hits the two/thirds mark, the season is far from over, even for dog teams like the Montreal Alouettes.
The Saskatchewan Roughriders passed a test of sorts against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats with a 27-19 score that sets them up nicely for the main event Sunday against the Calgary Stampeders. Calgary, which seems to be ticking like a fine watch, seems more consumed over the drama concerning a new arena, which the taxpayers are supposed to build and then give to Flames ownership. All of this is coming up just before the Alberta municipal elections and has pushed the Stampeder run to first place off the front of the sports pages.
It’s gotten so bad that Bo Levi Mitchell tried trolling Rider fans on Twitter, hoping to create interest in the Buffalo Bills of the CFL. Sure Calgary has great regular season records, but sometimes, and more often than not, they disappoint in a big game, be it western final or Grey Cup.
Meanwhile the Riders survived a weird game in Hamilton where a Canadian quarterback actually threw three touchdown passes in one game for the first time in over 30 years. It was a great first half for the Riders, but a combination of a game Hamilton team and some pretty conservative play-calling in the second half left the game tighter than it should have been.
So the Riders gave the keys to Brandon Bridge and he led the team to a win, even considering the many injuries the Riders went through. If Bridge were consistent through four quarters rather than just two, maybe the book could be closed regarding whether the Riders were comfortable with their young quarterbacks.
Bridge has the size, legs and arm to be a definite leader at the quarterback position. It may be consistency that will define or undo him, but Bridge appears to belong to a category of quarterback who gets better when the lights come on for real. For Bridge to get that opportunity and make it his own, he needs to be consistent when he gets those opportunities, or coaches will turn to someone who can consistently deliver in moving the team.
The Riders went through 10 injuries, but the majority of them seem to be coming back and the Riders Canadian content got a lift this week with the signings of Elie Bouka, a Rider draft pick from last year, and Marc-Olivier Brouillette coming back from retirement prior to training camp, combined with the additions of Otha Foster III and Jeff Knox Jr. has bolstered the Rider defense where it perhaps needs help the most.
Well, let`s maybe include the interior defensive line where the Riders are looking for someone built like a house to hold the middle or even better, push up the middle and disrupt the running game. Defensive lineman Nick James did a pretty good job in the middle, but now on the six game injured list, the Riders are looking at Montori Hughes and Antonio Longino to step up and move in on the defensive line.
Kevin Glenn appears s to be back from the hand injury he suffered in the Labour Day rematch and forced him to sit out the Hamilton game. Duron Carter, who went out with what appeared to be a high ankle sprain was tentatively practising and will probably start against Calgary, with the Riders needing all hands on deck against the best team in the CFL.
There is some ambiguity with Jerome Messam maybe missing the game because of a late hit in his last game against BC, but count on him playing. Calgary is looking at an eight game winning streak and would like to swat down this potential challenge to their dominance.
The Rider schedule looks fairly favorable with two games against Ottawa and one against Toronto and Montreal. With teams like Edmonton running up a 7-0 record mainly on the strength of beating eastern teams, The Riders could be in a good spot to make at least a 500 record. But first they have to play the games.
Ottawa plays Winnipeg on Friday and after Drew Tate left the Ottawa Montreal game with his arm in a sling, the prospect for Ottawa going into Winnipeg, coming off a bye week, is probably terminal. Ryan Lindley, the third string quarterback, is the likely starter, but until the offense takes the field, it would be premature to rule Tate out.
Winnipeg had a bit of a strange bye week with Jamaal Westerman out for the rest of the season with what was described as an upper body injury, even though there was a picture of him cradling the Banjo Bowl Trophy after the game. Westerman says he doesn`t know how he injured himself, which lends some potential suspicion the injury was due to salary management system reasons, like perhaps taking Westerman`s salary off the books so Winnipeg could make it under the cap.
So everything seems set for a Winnipeg win, and probably pretty big. So that`s why I am picking Ottawa. Every so often, even a blind pig finds an acorn and while Winnipeg plays well on the road, at home they are a bit iffier and if Ottawa loses, it tends to not be by much. So by that logic Ottawa 30-29.
Then we have Hamilton at BC and Hamilton picked up Edmonton receiver Shamawd Chambers is what appears to be a salary dump by Edmonton so they could sign defensive back Aaron Grymes. I would expect Hamilton to try some kind of move of quarterback Zach Collaros but in the meantime Jeremiah Masoli has the reins as quarterback.
The problem with this is unless Masoli is lining up against Ottawa, he really hasn`t done anything against the rest of the league and this will be an interesting test of how well June Jones can quarterback whisper at until Johnny Manziel`s status is determined. BC is also having their own quarterback problems with Jon Jennings trying to recapture the form he showed until his was injured in the first game against Hamilton.
This is a tricky one to figure out because while BC has bolstered their defense with Alex Bassi, their problem is with their offensive line and the lack of protection it has offered BC quarterbacks. Hamilton`s defense has been getting good pressure, but needs to find more consistency. The detemining factor here could well be the travel for Hamlton to BC which tends to kill most eastern teams. So in the battle of the cats, the BC Seal Point Kitties beat the Hamilton black cats 30-23.
Then Montreal goes to Toronto and Kavis Reed brought in former Rider head coach Ken Miller to essentially babysit Darian Durant whose mental game has gone out the wind like the many bones from a KFC bucket Nik Lewis would inhale on a regular basis. The addition of Miller begs the question of what exactly Anthony Calvillo is doing, or if Durant is even listening to Calvillo or Calvillo knows what he is doing as offensive coordinator.
If Collaros is someone who might benefit from a change in scenary, Durant may well be another. Well no one would begrudge him from getting the money he felt he deserved up front from Montreal, his play the last few months has raised the spectre that Chris Jones may know what he was talking about when he described Durant as moderately successful.
This will be an interesting game because Montreal needs this game to stay in contact with the rest of the eastern conference, which consists of Ottawa and Toronto and even Hamilton is playing better than Montreal. Toronto spanked Edmonton last week in a game that demonstrated that a calm sideline demeanour probably gets more wins than a spoiled kid throwing a tantrum the Eskimo Way.
Toronto did something interested and unveiled a running game and one thing that was interesting was not just how Montreal`s offense fell apart, but special teams and defense. Montreal`s problems are many, including bad decisions and salary cap management issues, and while you might think a team can`t suck as bad as Montreal did last week two weeks in a row, that may well be true, but the problems in Montreal go deeper than what a coaching change can address. Toronto wins this one 25-22 and I`m making this close on the assumption Montreal knows their season is on the line.
Finally we have the main event Calgary at Saskatchewan. Calgary is bringing an eight game winning streak into this one and while they have not looked overly impressive in their last few games, that overlooks the fact they have won eight straight games.
The last time these teams met, Calgary rang up a 30-0 lead before the Riders got two touchdowns in the last few minutes to make things look somewhat respectable. But don`t let the 30-15 score fool you, the game was not that close.
That game was in Calgary where the Stampeders have built an aura of invincibility. This game is in Saskatchewan and the Riders after blowing their first game, have won ever since. The initial feeling of hearing about 10 injuries after the Hamilton game made some think this game was a write off, but considering the Riders have added some talent in Bouka and Brouillette, the Riders depth has improved quite a bit.
The question is whether talent can cover for lack of familiarity or perhaps not being in CFL game shape which requires more cardio work than one would see in say, the NFL. It will be interesting to see how the Rides cope with the Calgary pass rush, with Dan Clark practicing with the team and the team having a few options to consider.
So you would think that Calgary should win this one 30-24, because while the Stamps win they seem to be pretty workmanlike about it. However, I am curious about how the upgrades to the Rider defense respond and if Foster and Knox can find their form of previous years. My guess is probably yes so Saskatchewan 31-28 over Calgary.
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