As though the dominant Calgary Stampeders needed another subplot to make their storyline more compelling, they got one this week – and not at all the sort anyone wished for. Stampeders DB Mylan Hicks was shot and killed in the early hours of Sunday morning in Calgary, and the team will be honoring his memory this weekend and certainly through the season.
The news of Hicks’s untimely death as well as the contemplation of just how messed up society generally has become, truly puts a damper on CFL news reportage this week – at least for this writer. All apologies if this edition of The View From The South isn’t quite as peppy as usual. R.I.P. Mylan Hicks.
As for CFL games themselves, last week went like so.
Ottawa RedBlacks 29, Toronto Argonauts 12. So much for the Dan LeFevour comeback story. The suddenly über-vanilla offense of Trevor Harris & Co. (more on this below) got the RedBlacks out to a 13-0 lead and, despite the league slogan proclaiming that “no lead is safe”, a lead against the Argonauts this season is indeed safe if turnovers are avoided.
On the other hand, one may look at the quarterback situation in Tornoto and proclaim these Argos a mess on this basis alone. The Dan LeFevour comeback story whimpered to a halt somewhere in the first quarter, dragging on for the first 30 minutes of the game on a ridiculously dismal 13-of-19 for 72 yards and one interception.
In came Drew Willy and, in 2016, those are probably not the four words one wants to hear associated with one’s favorite team. Even if Scott “The Quarterback Whisperer” Milanovich can make something of Willy for the medium- to long-term future (say, after Ricky Ray’s final injury), it’s simply too difficult to imagine that Willy is the answer to today’s problems in Toronto.
Edmonton Eskimos 27, BC Lions 23 was a shocker, a stunner, a straight-up flashback to, say, week two or three. Mike Reilly looked very good in going 24-of-31 for 300 yards to go with one passing TD, one rushing TD and zero interceptions – this despite his still-problematic offensive line giving up three sacks. Adarius Bowman was his fantasy darling self, catching six passes for 121 yards, including a go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter.
And the defense looked sharper than they have in months, thanks to a nice recent acquisition or two, not to mention Jonathon Jennings’s continued inconsistency (how about nine completions for 85 yards to all BC Lions WRs not named Manny Arceneaux?).
All in all, this result was quite an impressive way for the defending champions (whoa, that Grey Cup feels like ages ago) to snap a three-game losing streak within the toughest part of the CFL’s toughest schedule down the stretch; the Eskimos are a game up on the Argonauts for the last spot in the playoffs – and look to be in a way better positon to do so.
My Favorite and Least Favorite Fantasy Players (This Week). Manny Arceneaux was the living embodiment of the clash between fantasy football and, well, reality. In catching seven passes for 164 yards and two TDs, Manny somehow accumulated more fantasy points (51) in the Fantaseh format than actual points scored by the Eskimos and Lions. In fantasy, he dominated the week; in reality, he was invisible (not in the good sense) in the second half of the Edmonton game. This matters not a whit to me, because he brought my team a W.
Meanwhile, co-owner Joe Pritchard and ! are going to have to admit that our Rouge, White & Blue fantasy team just plain sucks. The South wishes we could rant about one key play or bad call by the ref, but after losing by 111 points, well, we just have to say it’s a team effort. However, The South saves some hate this week for Andy Fantuz and Brad Sinopoli, a pair of *Canadian* wide receivers who were each good for 31 points.
Calgary Stampeders 36, Winnipeg Blue Bombers 34. Personally, The South is still questioning the placement of the Blue Bombers at no. 2 in the CFL power rankings – as is this case pretty much universally in the CFL-centric corner of sports media beyond The Grueling Truth; maybe everyone else just copied us – but a loss has oddly enough put them legitimately in that position of discussion.
In this game, Calgary got off to a 24-0 lead in the second quarter and we up 27-7 at halftime. Unlike the Argonauts on Friday, unlike so many teams against the second-half snoozing BC Lions this season, a three-TD lead wasn’t enough to put away these tenacious and loveable lions.
The Bombers are this season’s Team You Can’t The Channel On. The dogged Bombers kept plugging away, outdoing the Stampeders, the CFL’s fourth-quarter kings, 20-3 for the first 15 minutes of the final 10 minutes.
With 19 seconds to go, this win was a thing of beauty for the Bombers: Sure, Matt Nichols threw his first interception in seven weeks, but otherwise he was 27-of-44 for 287 yards and two TDs. The highlight reel for the game was all – or nearly all – Winnipeg, starting with the outstanding 50-yard dash for six by Tim Flanders (wow, this guy) in the second quarter to break up the shutout. And how about that Burnett-to-Green-to-Bass fumble recovery for a touchdown? YouTube gold, that is.
It’s now pretty much official Grueling Dogma here at The Grueling Truth:
- The Calgary Stampeders, in terms of organization and system, are the CFL’s answer to the New England Patriots.
- These Stampeders, like Bill Belichick’s Patriots, are never to be counted out.
Any other team, this is a stirring Winnipeg win. But any other team doesn’t have Bo Levi Mitchell, either.
Saskatchewan Roughriders 20, Hamilton Tiger-Cats 18. Aaaaaaand it’s another wacky quarterback story for the 2016 CFL season as Mitchell Gale comes in in the fourth Q for Darien Durant and wins the ballgame! The Riders are on a winning streak for the first time since early September 2014! But we still don’t quite know where Chris Jones is going with this team! And the Canadian talent just isn’t there!
And then there are the Tiger-Cats.
Wherefore the f***, Zach Collaros? Since the return of the man expected to morph the Ticats back nto the point-scoring machine that swamped the CFL during the first half of 2015 and had gotten to Grey Cups twice immediately before, Hamilton is 3-4 – matching their pre-Collaros record. The logic a couple months ago was that, beyond an automatic upgrade at the all-important position, the franchise quarterback’s reactivation would allow the offense to stay on the field longer and the defense to feel more at ease in taking chances, reckoning a high-scoring Collaros-led offense could make up for the occasional defensive mistake.
Fine. But here’s the thing. Statistically, Collaros’s 2016 is to this point slightly *better* than his 2015, a year in which at the halfway point, CFL officials were about ready to mail him his Most Outstanding Player award. His numbers projected over 12 games (the number he played in ’15) come out to 312-of-468 (66.67%) for 4,133 yards (13.25 ypc) with 29 TDs and 12 interceptions; last year, his stats ran 252-of-359 (70.2%) for 3,376 yards (9.40 ypc) with 25 TDs and 8 interceptions.
So what’s happened to the Ticats? Stuff like the first two Hamilton drives of this game. Collaros starts the game by gifting Ed Gainey with an interception. After Durant and the Riders did little but eat up some clock, Collaros went back to work with a long field and only went 5-of-6 for 103 yards. Meanwhile, the defense lost the time-of-possession battle against the league’s second-worst offense in yardage and entered the second quarter down by a 10-7 score which arguably should have been 14- or 17-3 the other way.
And in non-quarterback news, the Tiger-Cats’ incredibly bad special teams play manifested this week in missed field goals by Brett Maher in the third and fourth quarters.
Could two East teams actually back into the playoffs? Until we found out, The South suggests referring to the Tiger-Cats as the “Jekyll-Hydes.”
Statistic Of The Week Which Confirms Something We Already Know. The East is a combined 8-17-1 (about 30.8%) against East teams this season. None of the four East teams have more than two wins against the West; Ottawa is “best” at 2-3-1.
Statistic Of The Week Which Further Accentuates That Disparity. The last time an East team beat a West side was on August 20, when Hamilton blew out Saskatchewan, 53-7. Since then, it’s West 9 games, East 0.
As for next week’s games…
Edmonton Eskimos at Winnipeg Blue Bombers. In which the most impressive winner of last week vs most impressive loser. As buoyed as the Eskimos may be from their win over BC, however, let’s remember that the Bombers are this league’s never-say-die warriors. In week 6, the Bombers topped the Esks, 30-23, the begin the just-ended seven-game run. Here’s to thinking another one starts here. Blue Bombers win.
Calgary Stampeders at Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Wow, one starts to wonder if Hamilton will fix their problems before the playoffs and (for the nth time this season) whether anyone can beat the Stampeders. These Ticats as this juncture won’t. Stampeders win – in the closing minute if they must.
Canadians in the NFL. OL Brett Jones, who managed to stick with the New York Giants this season, saw action on the last 15 offensive snaps for the G-Men in a Sunday loss to Washington. While some criticism reckoned that the Giants abandoned a previously hot running game because of Jones’s substitution for the ejected Weston Richburg, others figured he fared well enough.
Meanwhile, Christian Covington will be a Canadian to watch for this weekend. Just having recovered from injury and surgery himself, the sophomore NFLer will be called in to replace J.J. Watt at the defensive end spot. No word as to how that workload will be divided, as Devon Still played in Watt’s position through much of the preseason.
Ottawa RedBlacks at BC Lions. Ottawa’s traveling, BC’s staying home. The Lions haven’t played as impressively as most feel they can since before the bye week. The South’s saying BC Lions win here, if only for the sake of justice and aesthetics. To wit: just what has happened to this RedBlacks offense? Through the Cinderella story of last season, through Henry Burris and Trevor Harris and Brock Jensen and back, this team has been the funnest in the CFL to watch, bar none. But since Harris’s most recent return … nothing but vanilla. Ten months has never felt longer for Edmonton and Ottawa fans…
Toronto Argonauts at Montreal Alouettes. The one plus the stumbling Alouettes have over the reeling Argonauts is the element of surprise: Interim head coach Jacques Chapdelaine will be in the film room and on the sidelines for Montreal for the first time. Ever. While Chapdelaine got admirably much out of a dreadful Saskatchewan offense last season, these Alouettes may have even less. In fact, that’s the main hurdle to picking the Alouettes in every game: Where do you get the, say, 16 points needed to win? Toronto ain’t much better, but The South has to side with someone … Argonauts win.
Next week: Football without the disturbing headlines. Let’s hope.