The home stretch is in sight! With the Grey Cup less than 24 hours away lets break down the most exciting matchup of any football game, OFFENSE!
Running Back (and Fullback)
Ottawa: William Powel and Patrick Lavoie
Edmonton: Akeem Shavers and Calvin McCarthy
Its a little shocking that neither team in the Grey Cup has a dominant running back or dedicated running game, but in the CFL you win by passing. Ottawa has had a number of their backs go down due to injury this season but have found a way to make things work with the shifty Powel. With decent speed and power Powel has also helped Burris on passing downs with his ability to catch passes out of the backfield. There is not much depth behind Powel, however, so the REDBLACKS could be in trouble if he goes down. Lavoie is a solid blocker who can be a sneaky good pass catcher near the goal line.
Edmonton has had trouble running the ball the past few years…with a running back anyway. Whether by design or injury issues Mike Reilly has been either the leading or second leading rusher the last three years in Edmonton. With yet another injury taking down Shakir Bell the newcomer, Akeem Shavers, will step in and try to make an impact. Shavers didn’t show much as a pass catcher in his lone start but made several good runs as the game went on. McCarthy is a multipurpose back who can block, run, catch, and play Special Teams, I actually have far more confidence in him than Shavers. In the end I’m not expecting much from this position other than blocking for Reilly.
Offensive Line (LT-LG-C-RG-RT)
Ottawa: SirVincent Rogers, J’Micheal Dean, Jon Gott, Nolan MacMillan, and Colin Kelly
Edmonton: Tony Washington, Chris Greaves, Justin Sorensen, Matthew O’Donnell, and D’Anthony Batiste.
I know a bit more about Offensive Line play than the average fan, but that’s not saying much. Still, when looking at the REDBLACK’s lineup I am impressed how quickly they became a better unit after being near the bottom in 2014. Veteran acquisition Rogers has helped establish the left side while Dean and Gott (both former Stampeders) provide a solid interior presence. MacMillan (the first ever draft pick by the REDBLACKS) and Kelly form a young right side that has developed quickly to keep Burris upright.
The Eskimos has a line that has performed far better than expected this season. Greaves, Sorensen, and Batiste have been serviceable but not top tier options in the past. This season has seen the Esks O-Line gel and excel with Washington and O’Donnell doing bang-up jobs as well. “Greater than the sum of its parts” is an expression that I feel sums up this years Edmonton line which has been helped by Reilly’s ability to escape pressure.
Receivers (Slot and Wide)
Ottawa: Chris Williams, Ernest Jackson, Brad Sinopoli, Greg Ellingson, and Maurice Price.
Edmonton: Adarius Bowman, Derel Walker, Kenny Stafford, Nate Coehoorn, and Cory Watson.
Here be fireworks! Both teams possess an embarrassment of riches at the received position and will make life incredibly hard for the opposing defenses, no matter how good they are. Ottawa is almost uncoverable when it comes to the position, every player starting has over a 1000 yards (save Maurice Price who had several very nice years in Calgary). Every week it seems to be a different player who steals the show and that has to be driving Chris Jones mad as he tries to scheme a way to slow this offense down. Williams and Ellingson provide the speed, Jackson and Sinopoli terrorize the middle, and if you ignore Price he will be in your endzone before you blink. For my part I think it will be Sinopoli who makes several big plays this week, but your guess is as good as mine.
Bowman and Walker are, in my opinion, better receivers than anyone on the REDBLACKS. Bowman would be on the level of Milt Stegall or Geroy Simon if he didn’t have drop prone hands at the worst times. That said, Bowman is miles ahead of anyone else in the matchup when his head is in it. Walker amazed everyone with how fast he became a top receiver in the CFL, if he doesn’t disappear to the NFL I could see him becoming unstoppable. Stafford disappears for several games at a time and then reappears to score touchdowns galore (9 TDs this year). That’s where the firepower ends for the Eskimos though. I like Coehoorn and think he is a tough, underrated competitor and Watson has loads of talent but the back end of this receiving core doesn’t hold a candle to the REDBLACKS.
Ottawa: Henry Burris
Edmonton: Mike Reilly
Arguably the most important matchup of the whole Grey Cup, Burris and Reilly are at opposite ends of their careers but both are a big reason their team got this far. Burris has had an incredible career (3rd all time passing) despite losing two years to the NFL and switching teams 5 times. He can rub people the wrong way at times but is Hall of Fame bound whether he wins tomorrow or not. At the seasons start I didn’t think Burris could make use of all the new toys the REDBLACKS picked up in the off season, boy was I wrong. At the tender age of 40 Burris was easily the best QB in the league. My one problem with Old Man Hank is that he tends to have cold streaks in the middle of games (like last week in the East Final) where he misses throws or forces them in bad situations. This season he has often recovered before his team suffered a loss but in the Grey Cup is a one and done game, any throws off the mark could be very costly.
Reilly missed a big chunk of the season with an injury before coming back to lead his team on an incredible winning streak right to the Cup. A complete football warrior, Reilly takes punishment that would incapacitate many other players and yet still delivers in the clutch. Whenever I watch Reilly play, I just have a feeling he will make something happen at any moment – and he often does. With a half decent O-Line and two superstar targets in Bowman and Walker, I have a hard time seeing Reilly crumble in the spotlight. That said, Reilly has a bad habit of forcing throws or try too hard to make plays when he feels his team is falling behind. If Ottawa can take an early lead it may lead to Reilly throwing the game, literally.