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View from the South: CFL Week 4 recap

After a week filled with headlining performances by quarterbacks, week four of the 2016 CFL season saw the highlight reels weighted toward defense and special teams play – bookended by a pair of nifty performances from the league’s younger guns.

Unfortunately, the final results were business as usual for last year’s bottom feeders, the Montreal Alouettes, Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders – surely enough to just about blow away any vestiges of optimism among the in the former two’s fan bases. At this point in the season in ’15, the Als were down to their fourth QB and second starter; the Bombers were at 2-2 but with little indication that a years-long malaise was about to be broken; finally, the Riders were still chasing that elusive first victory. Could all three miss the playoffs again?

When the dust had settled and The Grueling Truth’s CFL Power Rankings were released, the intrigue left positions 1, 7, 8 and 9 as the only obvious choices on the table. Next week’s slate of games appears to offer scant hope for separation between the established elites and playoff bubble teams; on the other hand, figuring in teams’ ineffable lack of success in 2016, well … who can tell?

The Week That Was

In week four, four games featuring viable teams plus the Montreal Alouettes and Winnipeg Blue Bombers were played. Here’s what we saw.

Ottawa RedBlacks 30, Toronto Argonauts 20. Trevor Harris captured the media-side glory in his return visit to his former team, with the QB earning a stat line reading 28-for-31 for 392 yards plus a rushing TD, while WR Greg Ellingson hauled in nine catches for 204 yards, but the real revelation in Ottawa is how these RedBlacks are playing defense this season.

While keeping the Argos to three touchdowns might not seem like any profound mark of success, bear in mind that this is a team that allowed an average of over 25 points per game in ’15; that only two CFL teams are currently averaging 20 points or less per game; and that two of Toronto’s touchdowns were scored on goal line plunges. In outscoring Toronto 20-7 in the second half, the RedBlacks let Ricky Ray and his guys to pass the 55 on just one drive.

And speaking of Ray, the old veteran’s comeback trajectory took a step back thanks to some excellent pressure defense already proving to be the Argonauts’ Achilles heel. After allowing the Tiger-Cats to punish Ray to the tune of six sacks on opening day, the Argos OL then held the Riders and, more impressively, the Lions defenses to just two apiece; in this game, Ray was perpetual harassed, taking three sacks (two on consecutive plays in the fourth quarter) plus a couple of late hits that the Argonauts are thanking lucky stars weren’t worse.

Edmonton Eskimos 20, Winnipeg Blue Bombers 16. How long can an edge on special teams keep a team in a game? About 30 minutes, 54 seconds if this game is to be believed. With apparently no long-ball threat in the pass game and a secondary now totaling just three interceptions on the season, the Bombers’ sole advantage against the average CFL team comes during kicks. Justin Medlock was good for three FGs, twice putting the Bombers ahead (albeit briefly) in addition to punting seven times. Kevin Fogg’s 94-yard kickoff return (reduced to 72 “thanks” to penalty) set up the second quarter Willy-to-Kohlert TD pass.

So there you have it: 16 points, all due at very least indirectly to special teams.

Considering that Edmonton QB Mike Reilly was yet again in Most Outstanding Player form, going 32 of 45 on attempts for 465 yards and two TDs against one pick, the only question is why the Eskimos only managed 20 points. Perhaps the Esks were spotting the Bombers a quarter. They might need two – and a half-dozen turnovers.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats 31, Montreal Alouettes 7. Of course, if one CFL looks worse – noticeably worse – than the Blue Bombers right now, it’s the Alouettes. Local media outlets and the league’s official website itself are calling this a “statement win” for the Tiger-Cats; if so, that statement goes something like, “Set us up against an inferior team will cause guys like Adrian Tracy and Brandon Banks to go ballistic.”

After such a win, the Ticats faithful would do right to keep a sense of perspective. Tracy isn’t likely to match his 11 tackles nor will his team pile up *eight sacks* against an undemoralized offense currently averaging a whopping 14 points per game (six points fewer than the current second-low, Winnipeg). And as though that weak 5-4 halftime weren’t enough indication of a seriously low-watt offense, look again at acting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli’s numbers again: 19-of-27 for 208 yards and an interception.

Give Hamilton credit for taking care of business against a team they should have beaten, and let’s hope they enjoy this W. Few will come this readily this season for the Ticats, to be sure.

BC Lions 40, Saskatchewan Roughriders 27. For a while there, everything was going according to plan in Saskatchewan. Chris Jones’s roster looked to have taken noticeable steps forward in weeks two and three toward the desired cohesion and was apparently catching BC coming off a confidence-shaking loss. But a convincing 23-10 halftime win eroded away from a combination of stellar Jonathan Jennings performance and a body count putting the Riders on the wrong end of Monty Python’s “Bring Out Yer Dead” cart.

After said halftime deficit, Lions HC Wally Buono brought his charges out angry. Solomon Elimimian played like a man possessed in the second half – and no CFL offense wants to face Solomon Elimimian The Possessed Version – with three tackles and two sacks. Better yet for the Lions, Elimimian and the always-steady Adam Bighill finally saw solid contribution from the rest of the D, with Brandon Stewart and T.J. Lee particularly contributing some key stops.

Shawn Gore and Nick Moore scored fourth-quarter touchdowns to cap nights of 103 and 88 yards, respectively; Bryan Burnham and Manny Arcenaux’s respective 109 and 83 yards in the one give more weight to the argument that the Lions may just have the CFL’s top receiving corps.

While on the Saskatchewan side, a bit of a M*A*S*H unit: Injured in this game alone were starting QB/Saskatchewan’s hope for 2016 Darien Durant, OG Brendon LaBatte (thereby paving the way for the somewhat unprepared inaugural appearance of no. 1 overall draft pick Josiah St. John), RB Matt Walter, WR Shamawd Chambers, WR John Chiles and DB Justin Cox. Ouch.

Weird Canadian News Story of the Week

It’s got to be this, right?

Now, technically, San Diego isn’t part of Canada but Remigio Pereira, the now-infamous member of the Four Tenors, certainly weirded out much of both the US and Canada with his utterly bizarre take on the Canadian national anthem. Luckily for Pereira, his ham-handed attempt to go current events at the MLB All-Star Game crowd was spared a tsunami of bad publicity due to news-swamping stories of cop killing and a coup in Turkey, but sheesh, do lots of questions remain. Like:

  • What do you suppose might have happened if he’d altered the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner”? What’s that get you? Three years, maybe five years under the Trump Administration?
  • Did he reckon that American baseball fans (to whom the “message” was directed) would be so familiar with the lyrics of “O Canada” – or even paying attention enough – to notice the change?
  • How long did he plan this change? Did he write the lines on the back of an envelope, a la Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address?

And most of all…

  • Why, man? Just … why?

Next week

Calgary Stampeders at Winnipeg Blue Bombers – At this point in the season, the 2015 Calgary Stampeders remind me of the 2014 Hamilton Tiger-Cats. With just one win in three games, one can’t help but feel that the Stamps have yet to show their true (potential dominant) nature. At this point last year, the Ticats went on to compile five straight wins in which they outscored the opposition by an average score of 41-14. Let’s see … in the next six weeks, Calgary gets Winnipeg this week, Saskatchewan twice and the Ticats at home. Sounds like the Stamps are about to start rolling, beginning here. Stampeders win in a walk.

Ottawa RedBlacks at Saskatchewan Roughriders – According to reports, Darian Durant’s ankle injury is not serious, but he’s likely to miss this game. Factoring in all the other injuries plus the RedBlacks’ insane refusal to lose, we’re saying the Chris Jones Era continues winless. RedBlacks in a close one.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Edmonton Eskimos – Reilly and his red-hot targets Adarius Bowman and Derel Walker (who combined for 17 catches and 339 yards against Winnipeg) will take advantage of one the CFL’s weaker secondaries. Just as certainly, Masoli is not the QB to do likewise against Edmonton’s vulnerable coverage. Eskimos run up the score in a big win.

Montreal Alouettes at Toronto Argonauts – Even more discouraging than the Alouettes’ lackluster play against Hamilton was the, shall we say, eccentric coaching from Jim Popp. In Popp’s fifth go-around on the Montreal sidelines, the GM/HC has remade the Alouettes in his fuzzy vision while leaving no counterbalance for his foibles, particularly in the offensive play-calling. If Als fans were questioning the pathetic three targets for Duron Carter (and Monteral’s remaining viable starting WR caught all three) before garbage time, they were near-apoplectic at Popp’s grandstanding call for a non-challengeable challenge. Until something drastic changes – like invention of time-travel to bring back Anthony Calvillo, circa 2004 – getting Montreal on the schedule is a boon for guys like Ricky Ray. Argonauts win with an over/under on Alouettes QBs used at 2.5.

Next week: Attendance of 7,000 at BMO Field is blamed on sunny weather and a general sense of well-being among Torontonians…