2016 CFL Preveiw: Top Wide Receivers

*For previous articles in the series see the bottom of the page*

With the new CFL season getting ever closer, I will be taking a look at each position from Kicker to Quarterback going into 2016 and ranking who I see as the best. This will be a list made up of last year’s players as I have little info on new International players and the draft rarely yields elite level talent (at least in the player’s rookie year). Please feel free to leave a comment if you have other thoughts.

Here we go…

1. Chris Williams (2015 Stats: 88 Catches-1214 Yards-5 TDs)

I may get roasted for not placing Adarius Bowman up here but I can’t ignore what Williams has accomplished in his career since day one. I remember Williams exploding onto the scene in 2011 in a game against BC and then seeing him torch seemingly every opponent since then. Williams has never had less than 1000 yards or 5 TDs in a season and is one of the most dangerous return men in the CFL to boot. Blazing fast and able to handle a high volume of targets (70+ receptions every year), I see Williams as the unquestioned #1 receiver going into 2016.

2. Adarius Bowman (2015 Stats: 93 Catches-1304 Yards-7 TDs)

No way I can drop Bowman any lower than #2 after back to back years of monster production at level we haven’t seen in the CFL in some time. My issue with Bowman is his penchant to drop easy balls and, at times, disappear completely from a game. But make no mistake, when the 6’3 217 pound receiver gets going you CANNOT stop him. Recently watching the NBA playoffs, I liken Bowman to Lebron James: when it comes to these two being motivated and on their game they are too strong and too good for anyone to do anything but hope to slow them down. Maybe Bowman will put up a third monster season and forces his way back to the top of the list, I sure wouldn’t be opposed to watching that happen.

3. Emmanuel Arceneaux (2015 Stats: 76 Catches-1151 Yards-9 TDs)

One of my favorite CFL memories was watching Emmanuel Arceneaux come down with the game-tying Hail Mary touchdown against the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the 2010 West Division Semifinal. I knew then that the BC Lions star wide-out would be something special in the league, and nearly 6 years later I (and the Lions) haven’t been disappointed. As strong, fast, and keenly aware of the field and his position in it, Arceneaux fits the prototypical mold of a #1 receiver and has provided the Lions with a reliable option in the passing attack. While Arceneaux lost a few years to the NFL and his year to year numbers aren’t on the same level as Williams or Bowman there is no receiver I trust more to go deep and snag a critical jump-ball. With the strong-armed Jonathan Jennings set to take over at QB in 2016, Arceneaux could be set to light up the league in a big way.

4. SJ Green (2015 Stats: 71 Catches-1036 Yards-3 TDs)

SJ Green has made his name in the CFL with his incredible circus catches but it is his consistent production and leadership in the past few years that have him at #4 on this list. With Anthony Calvillo retired  and Jamel Richardson no longer on the roster, Green became the big dog on the Alouettes and put the offense on his back with several 1000 yard seasons, and yes, more circus catches, to keep his team competitive. With the return of Duron Carter (more on him below) and the steady hand of Kevin Glenn at QB (or tantalizing rookie Vernon Adams), I can see Green being a contender for leading the league in receiving this year. Even if his numbers don’t climb that high, Green will surely put on a show for CFL fans as he has each and every year.

5. Luke Tasker (2015 Stats: 76 Catches-1066 Yards-6 TDs)

Tasker may have been higher on the list had Quarterback Zach Collaros not been hurt last year (and now possibly to start this year). The two have an incredibly chemistry which has allowed Tasker to steadily improve over the years to my #5 overall receiver. This season, despite Collaros’s injury, Tasker never had less than 3 catches in a game and only fell beneath 50 yards twice. Consistent production like that, coupled with clutch plays in some tight games, already place Tasker in an elite category despite his slightly smaller size and frame (5’11 191lbs). Now, with yet another year under his belt, Tasker can really come into his own, especially if Collaros comes back earlier than expected.

The next superstars: Derel Walker (2015 Stats: 89 Catches-1110 Yards-6 TDs), Duron Carter (2014 Stats: 75 Catches-1030 Yards-7 TDs), Ryan Smith (2015 Stats: 59 Catches-991 Yards-7 TDs)

The future is bright for the CFL and these three young men are all a big part of it. Walker burst onto the scene with a rookie campaign that have some already crowning him the best receiver in the league. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider listing him above, but I need to see it once more before he knocks off one of the vets. Carter was well on his way to his own epic CFL career when an opportunity down south stole him away and reset expectations (to a degree). Now back with the Als, Carter can get to work in earnest for his own bust in the CFHOF which should match nicely with his Dad’s down south. When Ryan Smith left Saskatchewan there were some who felt it was a bigger loss to the Riders than similarly diminutive receiver Weston Dressler. While I’m not sure if I agree there, Smith wowed the CFL with several outstanding catches and nearly snagged 1000 yards while on a very bad Rider team. Expect Smith to continue to produce at a high level and work his way out of Dressler’s shadow to forge his own legend, in Winnipeg or elsewhere.

 

Previous Articles in the Series:

Top Defensive Secondaries

Top Running Backs

Top Linebackers

Top Pass Rushers

Top Kickers

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Eskimos and REDBLACKS – Grey Cup

The Grey Cup has come and gone and we are now left with the empty void that is the CFL offseason. At least we were treated to a great game between the CFL’s finest and a half decent halftime show (if you watched on TV). The game ended the way I predicted but certainly not how I predicted, but often that’s half the fun of watching any sport because nothing is guaranteed. Sports theology aside, here is the breakdown of the 103rd Grey Cup.

Edmonton vs. Ottawa

This game was fantastic In that it showed the true colors of so many key players…

  • Adarius Bowman made a horrible drop on a key play and then proceeded to dominate the rest of his matchups like the top shelf receiver he is.
  • Patrick Watkins put an exclamation point on his reputation as a lockdown corner with an interception and several pass knock downs (and very nearly a second pick).
  • The REDBLACKS defense shut down the run game but were unable to control a mobile QB for the second straight week.
  • Mike Reilly took far too many hits and several questionable shots with the football but put the team on his back when the game was on the line and came out on top.
  • Henry Burris…well. Burris played a game that encapsulated his entire career. He started hot, made a huge mistake, went through a bad funk, and then almost came back for a win. Love him or hate him  Burris can play with the best of em, but he also has a knack for giving it all back when his concentration is broken.

The biggest surprise of the evening was how well the Eskimos covered the REDBLACKS receivers throughout the evening. Early on Burris tried to pick on Aaron Grymes and for the most part it worked, then Watkins snagged his interception. After that pick the entire Edmonton secondary clamped down and made the REDBLACKS lean on William Powel.

I have to throw a note in about the kickers, wow was I off base (much like Sean Whyte). Whyte came very close to costing the Eskimos the entire game with his pair of misses while Chris Milo cemented his odd year elite status with several clutch kicks, never bet against odd year Milo.

In the end the game did come down to defense and the Quarterback play, as most (NFL and CFL) games do. The game was never out of reach for either side thanks to the solid play from both teams along the defensive front. When it finally came to the crunch Reilly pulled out every trick he had and got his team across the goal line. I’m not sure how long Reilly can play his run-n-gun style in the CFL, before he literally gets knocked out for good, but he has proven that he can certainly be the franchise QB Edmonton wanted when they handed the reins to him back in 2013.

Extra Point

  • I’m not sure I would agree with it, but I can see Reilly getting the #1 overall spot in TSN’s top 50 CFL players next year after the above mentioned game winning drive (#BoldPrediction).

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Playoff Picks – The 103rd Grey Cup

Here it is, the Grey Cup. All the hype and buildup has led to the biggest game of the year for two lucky (and deserving) teams, this year those teams are the Edmonton Eskimos and the Ottawa REDBLACKS. The past few days I have been comparing the talent between the two GC contestants, here is the summary of how they broke down…

Kicker Edmonton
Kick Returner Even
Cover Team Ottawa
Safety Edmonton
Defensive Secondary Edmonton
Linebackers Edmonton
Defensive Line Edmonton
Running Back Ottawa
Offensive Line Ottawa
Receiver Ottawa
Quarterback Even

That 5 for Edmonton, 4 for Ottawa, and 2 draws. While it promises to be a great (and hopefully close) game I have to go with Edmonton to win it all. Now lets kick back and watch it unfold!

 

 

 

Grey Cup Matchup #3 (Offense)

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.

Advantage: Ottawa

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.

Advantage: Ottawa

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.

Advantage: Ottawa

Quarterback

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.

Advantage: Even

Grey Cup Matchup #2 (Defense)

The Grey Cup is tomorrow! With that said I have a lot to cover to finish the matchup between the Ottawa REDBLACKS  and the Edmonton Eskimos. Let’s continue to Defense!

Defensive Line

Ottawa: Shawn Lemon, Justin Capicciotti, Keith Shologan, Moton Hopkins, Zack Evans

Edmonton: Odell Willis, Eddie Steele, Almondo Sewell, Willie Jefferson, Marcus Howard

The meat of the matchup, both teams have scary defensive lines capable of stuffing the running and making life miserable for the opposing quarterback.

Ottawa’s DL is unique in that a lot of pressure comes up the middle rather than from the edges. Evans and Shologan have been maniacs in the center with seven sacks a piece and plenty of stops for no gain. Hopkins doesn’t put up huge numbers but is a veteran presence that helps everyone get on their correct assignment. Capicciotti has been a revelation at rush end with double digit sacks in back to back years, though he seems to have slowed down a bit as of late. Lemon has shown he wasn’t a one hit wonder in Calgary, coming back from the NFL to be an impact player.

Edmonton’s unit didn’t post as high a sack total as Ottawa’s but they were close, though more of it came from the edge rush than the middle of the line. Odell Willis has had a down year (by his standards) with 9 sacks while Sewell and Steele have been solid interior run stuffers. Jefferson has steadily improved over his two seasons and will be counted on to provide consistent pressure opposite Willis.

While Ottawa ranked higher defensively and posted more sacks than Edmonton I favour the Esks in this matchup. Edmonton beats down their opponent with a variety of player substitutions and blitzes, especially along the DL. Ottawa is good but allowed the inexperienced Jeremiah Masoli to put up big numbers on them. Mike Reilly is a much bigger threat than Masoli.

Advantage: Edmonton

Linebacker

Ottawa: David Hinds, Damaso Munoz, Antoine Pruneau

Edmonton:Dexter McCoil, JC Sherrit, Otha Foster

Injuries early in the year forced Ottawa to cycle through various players at the Linebacker position. Pruneau, one of the REDBLACKS promising defensive backs from 2014, moved down to LB while Hinds was promoted midyear when Malik Jackson went down. The most impressive of the bunch is Damaso Munoz who was a solid starter in Edmonton for several years before being let go. Munoz is strong against the run and will likely be asked to contain Akem Shavers and Reilly (when he starts to roll out of the pocket). The big question is if this group of LBs can cover the quick passes from Reilly to Bowman and Walker, an Eskimo staple.

In contrast to the REDBLACKS, the Eskimos have had an an excellent trio at Linebacker for most of the season. JC Sherritt is a former Defensive player of the year and once broke the tackle record for most in a season. While this year Sherritt’s tackles were down he continued to make plays and had a career high three forced fumbles. Dexter McCoil finished off last year by winning the Rookie of the Year and has kept playing at a high level (though, like Sherritt, his numbers are down a bit). Foster doesn’t come with any of the awards hardware of his counterparts but has shown himself to be an above average starter. Watch for this group to make life hard for Henry Burris and William Powel.

Advantage: Edmonton

Defensive Secondary (Halfbacks and Corners)

Ottawa: Abdul Kanneh, Brandon Sermons, Brandyn Thompson, Jovon Johnson

Edmonton: Aaron Grymes, Patrick Watkins, John Ojo, Marcell Young

The REDBLACKS secondary can be described aptly in two words, Ball Hawks. When it comes to interceptions Kanneh has 6, Johnson has 5, and Thompson has 3. Sermons, filling in for the injured Jerrell Gavins (who had 4 picks), doesn’t have a whole lot of statistical bragging rights  but has impressed enough to remain a starter for the GC. Johnson is enjoying a career renaissance in Ottawa after several years in Winnipeg and provides the veteran leadership to a very young group. Kanneh is the top cover-man and will likely see Adarius Bowman much of the evening. It will be interesting to see how Thompson and Sermons hold up against the underrated Kenny Stafford and Nate Coehoorn.

Edmonton, no slouch in the Ball Hawking department either, will counter with elite cover-man Patrick Watkins and the hard hitting Aaron Grymes. Both can cover top receivers and make plays on the ball (both have 3+ interceptions). John Ojo, in addition to having an awesome name, has gained a reputation for big plays with 5 picks and can hold his own on the outside. Marcell Young is the only weak point I see in this secondary, having bounced around a couple years as a backup/starter between Edmonton and Hamilton. This matchup is tough to call, but I have to take experience over young talent when it comes to the big game.

Advantage: Edmonton

Safety

Ottawa: Jermaine Robinson

Edmonton: Cauchy Muamba

Easily the weakest point in the REDBLACKS defense, no one seemed to be able to hold on to the position with over 5 different players being named the starter in addition to Robinson. With only 2 tackles to his name this season despite starting two games prior this is should be a major area of concern if Ottawa’s DB’s struggle in coverage.

Not all that much better than Ottawa, Edmonton rolls out Cauchy Muamba. Muamba has had several years experience at the position with several teams and can make plays from time to time, though he hardly qualifies as top of the line. With so many deep threats from Ottawa Muamba will have to bring his absolute best to remain a starter into next year. That said, its still no question who has the edge here.

Advantage: Edmonton

2015 Grey Cup Matchup #1 (Special Teams)

As the 2015 Grey Cup looms closer I wanted to take a closer look at the rosters of both Edmonton and Ottawa to decide who has the edge going into the biggest game of the year. This is a feature I will likely be doing for one game a week going forward as I switch to NFL after the GC. Today will be Special Teams and tomorrow will be Offense and Defense. Let’s begin!

Kicker

Ottawa: Chris Milo

Edmonton: Sean Whtye

Neither kicker began the year on their current roster due to performance issues with their previous team, now they will be called upon to make the most pressure packed kicks of the year (Irony!).

Milo has had a rollercoaster career field goal average, an 84.6% 2011 followed by a 64.7% 2012 and then a 88.5% 2013 followed by a 71.4% 2014. As this is an odd year he is therefore doing incredibly well in Ottawa with 91.2% average. Milo has elite kicker ability and a tendency to get wildly erratic, a dangerous mix for his position.

Coming into this year Whyte was on my list of the top three kickers in the CFL behind only Rene Paredes and Justin Medlock. I don’t follow the Montreal Alouettes newsreel as closely as other teams but I still can’t imagine why the Als let Whyte walk. An accurate and consistent kicker, Whyte has never diped below 80% since becoming a starter and finished this year over 92%. While I don’t believe he has the range of Milo, I trust him more with a game winning kick

Advantage: Edmonton

Kick Returner

Ottawa: Chris Williams

Edmonton: Kendial Lawrence

A very close matchup as both players are dangerous on returns and as starting offensive pieces.

Lawrence had an incredible rookie year, contributing in returns, receiving, and rushing but this year has seen his touches reduced due to the presence of other stars (Bowman, Walker, Stafford, Bell). This is not to say he has not been effective, Lawrence finished second in the league in total return yards had has a punt return TD.

Williams seems to have lost none of his supreme talent after his journey south to the NFL. Prior to his depature Williams was an unstoppable return man in the Brandon Banks mold (small frame, big speed).  Williams has primarily been a focus on the REDBLACKS offense and as such he has shared much of his special teams duties with Jamil Smith. Still I expect the REDBLACKS to give the ball as often as they can to Williams, including on returns.

Advantage: Even

Cover Team

Ottawa: Antoine Puneau, Nigel Romick, James Green

Edmonton: Deon Lacy, Mike Miller, Blair Smith

Most people won’t know any of the names I listed above, but that hasn’t stopped them from being key cogs in keeping their teams from surrendering long returns. Considering the importance of field position these two groups will likely have big roles in the Grey Cup.

I don’t know enough about the intricacies of cover team work to get into much detail so I’ll single out one thing for each side. For Edmonton Deon Lacy is a beast. I don’t use that term lightly, Lacy lead the league in Special Teams tackles last year and was one tackle short of leading this year. He got into the starting defensive rotation this year and walked away with six sacks and two forced fumbles. Lacy is a playmaker and always seems to be around the ball. In a big game like the GC I can see him making a mark on Special Teams or otherwise.

For Ottawa no single name jumps off the page, but it doesn’t have to. Ottawa has been lights out in coverage this year thanks to contributions from a variety of sources. They completely shut down Brnadon Banks (who as I mentioned is just as deadly as Chris Williams) in the Eatern Final and can consistently make teams face long fields. That kind of team effort outshines individual performances, even Lacy’s.

Advantage: Ottawa

Stampeders and Eskimos – Western Final

The Stampeders put up a fight and attempted a late comeback but were outmatched against the Eskimos in Sundays Western Final. This game proved that being healthy is often the best advantage a team can have, especially in winner-take-all playoff games. My prediction of an Edmonton vs Ottawa Grey Cup has come true and has me more excited than every for next Sunday. Before that though, here are my takeaways from the 31-45 Edmonton win…

Calgary vs Edmonton

  • As mentioned above it showed early that Calgary was hamstrung by injury on multiple fronts. Bad snaps and several miscues along the mostly raw offensive line made life difficult for Bo Levi Mitchell and Jerome Messam who struggled to gain momentum. Being without Charleston Hughes hampered the Stampeders ability to get pressure on Mike Reilly who picked apart the Calgary secondary. Said secondary was also easy to pick on as it was forced to play inexperienced Adam Berger because of (you guessed it) injuries. Coming off two weeks rest Edmonton only suffered from a poor running game as a result of injury (Shakir Bell), and when you have Mike Reilly as a QB do you really need a running back?
  • Speaking of Edmontons lack of running game, it was easy to see that Reilly was happy to utilize the quick passing game to cover for his inexperienced back Akeem Shavers. Derel Walker and Adarius Bowman feasted on Calgary’s sloppy tackling, both going over 5+ catches and 70+ yards.
  • I am happy to admit that my endless hours of watching football paid off in a big way when I correctly called the Eskimos special teams fake in the first half. When the Eskies lined up to kick all I could think of was, “Chris Jones is gonna go for this, its too close a game to play it safe.” And lo and behold they did indeed run a fake and got it! It’s gutsy calls like that which make Jones a hard coach to predict, and going into the GC that’s a big advantage for the Eskimos.
  • Other quick thoughts: I know that I gave the Calgary OL a hard time but they did seem to improve as the game went on. So why on earth did the Stamps ignore Messam inside the 5 yard line? That’s where you give your bruiser the rock…When Bo Levi gets time he is a deadly passer with a good combination of arm strength and touch. While Bo can play under pressure and on the move it doesn’t seem to be his favored style. The difference in this game was that Reilly is almost better at making things happen when he is moving than when he stands in the pocket. Both QBs were under pressure but Bo couldn’t make consistent big gains until the end when the Eskies backed off with the lead.

Extra Point

It will be interesting to see what happens to the Stampeders organisation going forward. With Hufnagel moving to the front office full time, Dave Dickenson likely becoming HC, and the Roughriders looking to snag assistant GM John Murphy we could see the end of an era in Calgary. However it would be a disservice to Hufnagel to assume everything will fall apart going forward, I trust that he has had a good plan in place for his succession for a while now. Still, you know what they say about the best laid plans…

REDBLACKS and Ti-Cats – Eastern Final

Wow! I have never been more happy to be completely wrong guessing how a game will play out. The REDBLACKS came to play, but what I didn’t see was the Ti-Cats going blow for blow and being denied a win only by a Hail Mary pass that should never have happened (see below). It was an instant classic with lots to look at. With no further ado here are some thoughts and takeaways from the 28-35 Ottawa win…

Ottawa vs Hamilton

  • Prior to the game I was struck by how important it was to see football back in the nations capital. I will admit that  I am too young to know Ottawa football teams as anything other than examples of failure and an odd time when two franchises had the words “Rough” and “Riders” in their names. Yet even that couldn’t detract to the pride I felt that we finally had a team in Ottawa, and it was doing well. On a more practical note it bodes well for the CFL that an expansion team can make it work like the REDBLACKS have (but I still think it’s a terrible name for a sports team).
  • Kent Austin and Offensive Coordinator Tom Condell did a magnificent job in calling their game plan for Jeremiah Masoli. They kept the REDBLACKS dominant pass rush at bay with screens and short passes that took advantage of Masoli’s mobility and Hamilton’s shifty receivers. Masoli also surprised me with his accuracy on throws down the field and outside the hashes, it likely helped that he had the freedom to run or get outside the pocket. Austin made it easy for his QB which in turn did wonders for his confidence as the game went on, it also likely made Masoli a lot of money this offseason when he becomes a free agent.
  • The QB play for Ottawa was by contrast much more inconsistent. Burris started the game nearly perfect and then leveled off as his receivers dropped passes and he overthrew short routes despite having good protection. Yet Burris showed his seasoning as he kept at it and used his legs when his team needed a first down (or a score in one case). He also nearly killed his team with a head scratching throw right into Hamilton defender Gason Nadon’s hands late in the game but was given a second chance by blind luck when Nadon dropped it. Burris took advantage of that saving grace with a Hail Mary pass that showed complete faith in his receiver and was rewarded with a storybook ending to the biggest game (so far) in RedBlack history.
  • Other quick thoughts… Medlock tested my proclamation that he was the leagues best kicker with some shaky punting and a crucial missed kick, he may have been the biggest reason Ottawa was able to fight back with great field position…Fantuz can’t outrun people anymore but he can make a clutch catch when he needs to… The big difference in the game? Special Teams. Ottawa allowed no room for Brandon Banks to get going, forcing the Ti-Cats to drive the whole field multiple times…I have yet to see a football game in Canada that didn’t have Rider Fans somewhere in the crowd.

Extra Point

The decision by Hamilton to give up a safety for better field position right before half baffled me. I have (almost) never seen the logic in giving up 2 points for field position. In a league where teams are REWARDED for a missed field goals and long punts with a single point giving up a safety should always just result in the other team booting it as hard as they can if the drive stalls and hope they can make it three points anyway (why don’t teams try that more often?).  In this case a shaky Medlock punt let Ottawa kick a field goal and sparked an 5 point turn around, questionable call by Austin.

Playoff Picks – CFL Division Finals

Since I missed getting my picks up before the CFL Semi-Finals I need to admit I selected the Argos to top the Ti-Cats. But hey, everyone gets a mulligan right? Now with my freebie used up I’m 1-1  with three games to go, I pretty sure I can finish 4-1. So without further ado here are the official Practice Squad Playoff Picks! (100% Guaranteed to possibly be right)

Hamilton at Ottawa

A match-up that would have looked like an instant classic midway through the season now has the potential to be a one sided beat down similar to the  Stamps and Lions last week. Jeremiah Masoli is set to make his 3rd career start against an Ottawa defense that lead the league in sacks this season. By contrast Henry Burris is heading into career start 234 and brings with him four (FOUR!) thousand yard receivers in Chris Matthews, Ernest Jackson, Brad Sinopoli, and Greg Ellingson. While Hamilton will play hard on defense I don’t see this as a defensive slugging match like last week. I expect Burris to spread the ball and utilize William Powel on the ground to keep Hamilton’s defense on the field and exhausted while Ottawa’s defense stuffs the run and dares Masoli to throw on Abdul Kanneh and Co. in the secondary. While I will never count out Head Coach Kent Austin’s ability to coach up a team, I believe Ottawa sees this as a golden opportunity to go from Expansion team to CFL powerhouse.

Final Score OTT 31 – HAM 13

Calgary at Edmonton

A much harder game to call with Calgary coming off a dominant performance against BC despite key injuries throughout the contest and Edmonton coming off over two weeks rest. Edmonton took the season series 2-1 but Calgary has been able to push around their division rivals in big games the past few years and will look to do the same with a strong ground game and deadly passing attack in Jerome Messam and Bo Levi Mitchell. Edmonton will look to change the narrative with a scary good defense and their own top notch QB in Mike Reilly. I expressed concern in last weeks recap that Edmonton could take away Jerome Messam early with a few stuffs and get Bo Levi to air it out. While Bo can throw (yes I caught that) I think Head Coach Chris Jones would rather trust his corners (Watkins and Ojo) to provide sticky coverage and let his pass rushers feast on a patchwork O-Line then get into pounding match against Messam. When it comes down to it I can’t let the past cloud the fact that Edmonton is a more complete team.

Final Score EDM 24 – CGY 21

Stamps and Lions – CFL Semi Finals

The Lions were the underdogs (or cats) and had enough people hopeful to make this a game I wanted to watch. I predicted a Stamps win but couldn’t have seen the level of beat down that would come in a 35-9 win for Calgary. Here are some thoughts and breakdowns.

Calgary vs BC

  • Early in the game it looked like we had the makings of a close one. Harris and Messam were running hard and Jonathan Jennings was getting time to throw. The Stamps looked flat and were missing Charleston Hughes and the pressure he can put on opposing offenses. Then Keon Raymond happened. With an interception return for a TD the slumbering giant of the Stampeders woke and flattened the outmatched Lions.
  • Before getting pulled for Travis Lulay (who I think should have started) Jonathan Jennings was starting to remind me of Darian Durant, an athletic gunslinger who takes chances regardless of whether he should. Don’t get me wrong, like him a lot and I think that given time he can develop, like Durant, into a darn good CFL quarterback. However in this game Lulay should have been the starter. He has experience and poise, even if he was rusty, and gave the Stamps more to worry about (albeit not much more).
  • Before people jump on me I know  previously posted that the Argos should have gone with their athletic backup and let the experienced and poised Ricky Ray sit, this situation is very different. Harris was a legitimate MOP candidate for much of the year who faced good teams and won. Jennings had a phenomenal game against a very bad Rider team who has made nearly every QB they faced look like an All Star. Jennings has struggled against top tier teams (Though he did have a good game against the Ti-Cats in week 18) and predictably struggled against a John Hufnagel coached playoff team.
  • Speaking of Huff, what a job that man has done with this team. Lose two offensive linemen, well we can throw in some defensive linemen and be fine (credit to OL coach Pat DelMonaco as well). Need a premier receiver, hello Eric Rogers! Jon Cornish not feeling well, yeah I see you Jerome Messam. Some people may not like it (including the Rider Fan in me) but Huff and the Stamps are the CFL version of Bill Belichick and the Patriots, they find ways to be great when people want them to fail.
  • Finally, the only weakness I can see in this Calgary team (aside from the injuries) is their tendency to neglect the run game at times. In the past and even this season they go for stretches where they ignore their best weapon (Cornish most times, but even Messam a couple times this game). When your running game is averaging around 6 yards a carry you keep doing it until someone stops you. With Edmonton’s strict D coming up I can see Calgary shying away from the run game if the first few carries get bottled up. Keep with it Calgary.

Extra Point(s)

  • Juwan Simpsons beard makes him look like a Viking Warlord…and that terrifies me.
  • Andrew Harris has had a heck of a career in BC, I hope they see that and try and hold on to him
  • While some people are calling for his head I hope Wally Buono gives Jeff Tedford another good season before making a change at HC. He wasn’t given a whole lot at the seasons start and I think he can continue to make good changes.