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View from the South: The CFL roundup, Week 2

Talk about your reset buttons. Week 2 of the 2016 CFL season looked a heckuva lot like any time past the halfway point of ’15. While the names on the jersey backs may have changed, the results were similar. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Montreal Alouettes came crashing back down to Earth after surprising debuts. The Ottawa RedBlacks are still a scoring machine capable of seemingly effortlessly ringing up 28 points. Last year’s three non-playoff teams (Montreal, Winnipeg and Saskatchewan) are still the standings table’s bottom-feeders despite notable offseasons.

On the whole, week two in the CFL felt instead like an example of the saw, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” (Yes, the BC Lions are playing excellently, particularly in comparison to ’15; we’re talking “on the whole” here…)

The Week That Was

Game by game, week two went down like this.

Ottawa RedBlacks 28, Montreal Alouettes 13. Well, that still-famed Montreal defense did what they could against Ottawa – and by the time the book closes on the 2016 CFL season we may decide that holding these RedBlacks to a mere three passing TDs is a stellar performance. This time out, Ottawa’s quarterback du jour Trevor Harris passed at will, going for 20-of-26 passing for 395 yards with the aforementioned three touchdown strikes against zero picks.

On the other side, poor Kevin Glenn could not reproduce his excellent throwback-style show of week one. Just as in 2016, the Alouettes offense is taking hits, albeit this time in the WR coprs – and this time of at least one player’s own making. Glenn’s wonky 26-of-41 showing was characterized by a handful of throws to the turf or sideline, but the man was clearly hampered by first the loss of S.J. Green to injury followed by the ejection of the temporarily insane Duron Carter – the latter of which chased Montreal’s sole touchdown, by the way. And while Carter’s “highlight” is still making the rounds of American sports media, coach Jim Popp and his Alouettes will have to make full use of the bye week to devise some sort of game plan for week 4 that doesn’t involve half the team’s starting wide receivers.

Toronto Argonauts 30, Saskatchewan Roughriders 17. Former CFL star Robert Drummond reckoned on The Grueling Truth’s Weekly CFL Pick ‘Em podcast that the new-look Roughriders would be tight in their 2016 opening game/home debut with new coach Chris Jones and high expectations of the league’s most devoted fanbase.

And tight the Riders were, visibly feeling the various pressures and displaying a real lack of execution on offense; the defense (particularly woeful in ’15) wasn’t much better, with a particular lowlight in last season’s all-star Justin Capicciotti, who totaled zeroes in every statistical category while looking flat-out lost against the Argos’ veteran offense. Jones was notably displeased and may yet induce a new policy for TSN broadcasters: In dozens of sideline shots, Jones’s, um, salty language was clearly visible to the most amateur of lip-readers.

CFL weekly pick’em show Week.2 W/Robert Drummond!

On the other side, the Argos appeared to right the ship after an iffy-at-best showing in week one. The aging Ricky Ray came out preposterously strong, winging two TD passes on his first three attempts, but appeared to morph back into Clark Kent after a 5-of-8 first quarter, going just 8-of-14 for a measly 76 yards in the final three.

BC Lions 28, Hamilton Tiger-Cats 3. Those on Twitter for the first half of this game might’ve been confused about all the fashion talk: The Lions broke out their newly-designed away unis, and the 141-character reactions were polarized along love/hate lines – haters decried the white-and-light-orange look as creamsicle-colored, while those in favor such as yours truly … well, we also noted the resemblance to the frozen treat – but for us the gear’s harkening back to the late 1970s/80s Tampa Bay Buccaneers was cool and refreshing. So to speak.

And some actual football was played at Tim Hortons, of which the homefield mystique has certainly disappeared: The three points mustered by the Ticats represents the team’s fewest in a game since moving into the new digs in 2014. In short, this game showed the Hamilton team that many expected going into ’16, with the offseason losses on defense (DB Ed Gainey, DE Justin Hickman, LB Taylor Reed, just to name a few) creating weaknesses all over the field for BC head coach Wally Buono to pick apart.

On the offensive side of the ball, Cinderella story Jeremiah Masoli may blame his re-pumpkining performance (26-of-39 for 248 yards plus two interceptions) on extreme wind conditions, but despite limited options at receiver – Chad Owens, Andy Fantuz and Luke Tasker accounted for 20 of the 26 completions – he’ll simply have to get more creative in distributing the ball. (After all, these are the weather conditions at his home park and the Lions managed a pair of second-half TDs in the swirling winds with starting RB Jeremiah Johnson out.)

Calgary Stampeders 36, Winnipeg Blue Bombers 22. What a pleasure to see the sleeping bear from Calgary slowly awaken in front of our eyes! After a sluggish and forgettable game one, the Stamps came out in the first quarter with seemingly crippled communication within the offense – Bo Levi Mitchell went 7-of-12 in the quarter with the five misses pretty much all well off-target – and had their quarter capped with a nasty sack.

In the second quarter, Mitchell himself awoke the running game with a nice 10-yard scamper and before too long, the Blue Bombers were visible only in the rearview mirror. By the third quarter, the Stampeders were cruising, again resembling the steamroller of the 2014 Grey Cup championship and the 14-4 squad of ‘15.

The best that can be said about Winnipeg? Well, certain Bombers players could be considered fantasy football darlings, as this team is rapidly becoming the CFL leader in garbage-time points – 25 of the team’s 36 cumulative points have come with the opposition holding healthy leads in the fourth quarter.

Weird Canadian news story of the week

We love our neighbors to the north beyond just their version of gridiron football, but TheGruelingTruth likes to remind that, well, Canada really is a whole other country.

Not so much a weird Canadian news story as a weird Canadian parliament story this week. You probably heard something of the North American Leaders summit held in Ottawa last week featuring three heads of state: US president Barack Obama, Mexico president Enrique Peña Nieto and, of course, host/Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau. Indeed, video of the bizarre three-way handshake among the trio was probably Canada’s most viral last week – other than the Duron Carter incident, that is.

But the real oddity came when Obama spoke before the House of Commons last Friday, prompting political junkies to wonder if the Democratic National Committee had body-snatched the unfortunate Canadian politicos and replaced them with prez-loving pods. Reportedly, the American president received around 50 standing ovations within the course of his speech as well as a round of “Four more years!” chants.

Really? Fifty times? That’s more than your average US Senate party shills are willing to give up for a 90-minute State Of The Union address. The Commons know that Obama is not actually *their* prime minister, right? Is this actually about the Canadians fearing an nflux of expatriated American directly following the election or what?

Next week

Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Hamilton Tiger-Cats – After a hot-and-cold opening two games, who can tell with Hamilton? Luckily for them, they’re staying home and facing the Bombers who, in the kindest assessment, still look to be a few games away from cohesion. Hamilton wins, likely by double figures (at least going into the fourth).

Toronto Argonauts at BC Lions – Those who underestimated the effect of all-time winningest CFL head coach Wally Buono on the Lions after five years away from the sidelines (OK, it was probably only yours truly) can stop now. Mr. Buono’s got BC humming early, and we still haven’t seen anything near the peak performance of former former MOP Solomon Elimimian. Expect Big Sol and Adam Bighill to dominate on D to give Ray twitchy feet throughout. This one should be a true test of an average-looking Toronto OL. BC Lions win, and who would’ve forecast a 3-0 start for the Creamsicles? (OK, probably everyone except yours truly.)

Calgary Stampeders at Ottawa RedBlacks – Game of the week, eh? The RedBlacks have skated by while worrying little about its “bend don’t break” defense since, oh, say, the team’s foundation. And without Capicciotti, there may be no end to the amount of points the Ottawa brain trust is begrudgingly willing to give up. That mentality won’t sit against the heating-up Stampeders, who have just enough on the defensive side to slow up the RedBlacks. Stampeders win.

Saskatchewan Roughriders at Edmonton Eskimos – TSN, get the “CENSORED” graphic ready. Coach Jones will likely be just as miffed as he was last week when we see a Saskatchewan D simply incapable of stopping Mike Reilly & Co. Edmonton wins decisively.

 

Next week: Is there truth to the rumor of a Bombers-Alouettes merger? If so, could they win four games this season…?