Friday, July 15, 2011

Week Three review (ending July 16)

Calgary At Winnipeg

Game number one for week number three provided some serious smash mouth football, a hard hitting, at times bordering on nasty affair, as the Stampeders snared a 21-20 win over the home town Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Such was the ferocity of the hitting and the frequency of infractions, that some of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers appeared to be of the opinion that the Stamps defenders were seeking harm on the Bomber quarterback, or as they put it,  "gunning for Buck and trying to take him out. And it wasn't an issue of the protection not being sound -- it was just extra guys late."

It was a first half that featured little in the way of scoring, but it was two key late hits on Winnipeg's starter Buck Pierce that had the Bombers most concerned. So much so that it was the interaction between the whistles that seemed to sidetrack the hometown side at times, as they trash talked and pushed and shoved post whistle, resulting in of course more linen on the field at Canad Inn Stadium.

When both sides weren't taking penalties, they put on a defensive display in the first thirty minutes especially the Bombers, limiting the scoring opportunities on both sides.  There were blocked field goals attempts and a terrific receiver defender battle between the Bombers Edwards and the Stamps Smith, that highlighted some of the action of the game.

The frequency of the battery and in some Bomber eyes, the targeting  on Pierce, eventually knocked him out of the game, unable to return in the second half due to a reported quadriceps injury, though it would seem that the Winnipeg media might be of a different medical opinion.

The departure of Pierce would leave the game in the hands of Joey Elliot, who took over the Blue attack in the second half, squaring off against the Stamps Henry Burris as each tried to take momentum to their side and secure victory.

Burris at times seemed out of sync with his very open receivers, sailing passes over their out stretched hands, negating drives at inopportune times. A recurring theme for the Stamps in the first three weeks, where instead of a spectacular aerial offensive game, they instead have to battle for inch for inch, taking points wherever they can find them and only barely coming out of their last two games with wins.

Elliot too at times struggled to move the ball, though in the latter stages of the fourth quarter it seemed as though he was closing in on the end zone and some all important insurance points for the Bombers, however, in what was one of the key plays of the game, a huge hit by the Stamps Demetrice Morley on the Bombers Terrence Jeffers-Harris proved to be the game changer of the night, outside of course of the exit of Pierce.

The Stamps Keon Raymond picked up the fumble recovery and was on its way for a touchdown when only a last stand tackle by Elliot himself stopped their momentum temporarily, a hit that would leave Elliot limping for the remainder of the game.

However, with the shift of possession the Stamps were able to cash in on the opportunity, with Burris tossing at TD pass to Ken-Yon Rambo to put the Calgarians ahead 21- 20 with three minutes to go.

The Bombers had a couple of chances at retaking the lead, a first series of downs that went 2 and out, and then thanks to one more stand by the Winnipeg defence another chance to move down the field for the final plays of the game.

Some clutch catches from Bomber receivers moved the ball into the Calgary end, setting up a 44 yard field goal attempt into a strong wind at Canad Inn stadium, however, there would be no story book ending for the Bomber faithful on this night.

Into that wind the kick went wide left, more than enough distance but missing the uprights, it was returned out of the end zone and that was the ball game.

The field goal attempt could be  one to be second guessed by those of us in the armchair coaching ranks, in the face of that wind, perhaps trying for the rouge and a single point and then taking your chances in Overtime might have been an option, but coach Paul LaPolice seems to have decided that Justin Palardy could make the three,  and while he had the range, the drift to the side proved to be costly to the Bombers undefeated status.

Of more immediate concern to the Bombers though heading into week four, won't be their loss at home but the potential loss of their quarterback, it has been the theme of concern in Winnipeg since training camp began and now, three games in, the reality of a game without Buck is once again a possibility.  In Winnipeg, it seems that the learning curve for Joey Elliot is about to get a fast track.

Winnipeg Free Press-- Buck blitzed into oblivion
Winnipeg Free Press-- Elliot gets passing grade
Winnipeg Free Press-- Bad news for Bombers
Winnipeg Sun-- Turnovers kill
Winnipeg Sun-- Blue see red over late hits
Winnipeg Sun-- Bombers blow late lead, fall to Stamps
Calgary Herald-- Stampeders eke out another win
Calgary Herald-- Game story: Stampeders 21, Bombers 20
Calgary Sun-- Hits difference in Stamps win
Calgary Sun-- Pure Stamps rock em' sock 'em

Toronto at Montreal

The record watch came to an end 11 minutes into the 1st quarter, as the Montreal Alouette’s Anthony Calvillo stepped into the pocket and passed his way into the record book as he connected with Eric DesLaurier, (the latter now the answer to a future CFL trivia question) a completion that was so close it was subject to a review and very well may have been out of bounds.

However, after the CFL War room had spoken, the TD was counted and of course now duly noted, as Calvillo passed Damon Allen in the books at #395 and counting, with more on the way before TSN’s Friday Night Football would sign off for the night.

The Argos weren’t dis-heartened at that point, still early in the game as it was, Cleo Lemon answered those Alouette points with his own TD pass, bringing the Argos even with the Als at 7 points each, the teams then traded off field goals until the 12 minute mark of the 2nd quarter when Calvillo threaded the needle on #396 to Brian Bratton, putting the Als up 17-10.

With less than 30 seconds to go in the half, he almost had #397, but S. J. Green stumbled going into the end zone and couldn’t reach the Calvillo toss. The Als took three points and headed into the locker room up by 10 at 20-10.

And while the Argos were still within striking distance on the scoreboard at the half, the statistical story was heavily sloped in favour of the Als, they hammered the Argos in total rushing by a wide margin pushing over 300 yards in the first half alone, Anthony Calivllo’s hot hand in passing also added to the statistical ledger as he recorded 20 of 25 for 250 yards by half time.

And things didn’t improve much for the double blue in the second half. With the Argo defence continuing to stall on the field, with frequent two and outs, the Toronto defence spent far too much time on the field, a situation that began to take its toll through the third and into the fourth.

There was a glimmer of hope for Toronto in the third as Cleo Lemon connected with Chad Kackert on a pass that netted 6 pts on the board, with the conversion that brought the scored to 20-17.

Turnovers also offered some hope for Toronto, when Ricky Foley picked off a Calvillo pass, however a penalty and no momentum on the series of plays negated that opportunity.

Turnovers however also proved to be troublesome for Toronto as well, on the last play of the third quarter Montreal recovered a fumble deep in the Argo end setting up Montreal for more points.

The Als then capitalized on another Argo turnover, As Calvillo handed off to Brandon Whitlock who pushed into the end zone for the 30-17 lead.

In less than two minutes the Argos continued to do no favours for their tiring defensive corps, another turnover by the Argo offence, in the form of a deflected interception set the Als up on the Argo 12, but as though to make their own exclamation point on an otherwise forgettable night for the Argos, the defence held strong again, leaving the Als to settle for one final field goal for the offence on the night.

The overall scoring however wasn’t finished yet for Montreal, the Argos down on the Alouette one yard line with less than two minutes to go and in shades of a familiar Grey Cup game of years ago, coughed up the ball.

Recovered by Chip Cox, he scrambled down the field 108 yards of it, tying the CFL record for longest fumble return, adding his name to a record book that on the night belonged to Anthony Calvillo.

The score in the scheme of things was irrelevant, but for the record it was 40-17, 18 of the Alouette points directly from the hand of Calvillo to waiting receivers.

The Als remain undefeated after week three, and it’s a situation that could be extended into week four as the Als host the struggling  Saskatchewan Roughriders on Sunday.

The Argos who have spent the last three weeks on the road, host their home opener on Saturday as the banged up Winnipeg Blue Bombers come to town for a 4 pm start at Rogers Centre.

Globe and Mail-- Anthony Calvillo breaks CFL career TD passing record
Toronto Sun-- Record then a romp
Toronto Star-- Calvillo picks apart Argonauts on record night
National Post-- Calvillo claims record in rout of Argos Calvillo sets passing touchdowns record as Alouettes down Argonauts 40-17

Saskatchewan at Hamilton

For the Tiger Cats, Saturday finally delivered some proof that all the expectations of the pre season were not just wishful thinking, as the hometown Ti Cats administered a Steeltown shellacking on the visiting Roughriders.

The Cats as always were ferocious on defence, while their offense finally got into gear as Kevin Glenn, found success despite the fact that his offensive tool kit was missing some pretty pivotal pieces in Arland Brouce, Mo Mann and Avon Cobourn.

Still, when Glenn is on his game it seems that things can go very well, and with a final score of 33-3 it all appeared to go very well for Hamilton by the time the final merciful whistle went for Sasktachewan.

The troubles for the day got off to fast start for Saskatchewan, as Darian Durant’s first pass was intercepted setting up a Tiger Cat field goal in the early going, setting the theme it seems for what was to come for the rest of the game.

By half time the Riders were down by 23 points, with

The Riders who in the lsat week of November were Grey Cup finalists, look to be a fair ways away from that lofty goal in 2011. As the third week of the CFL season wrapped up., the Riders remained win less, worse yet, it seems as though offence is quickly becoming a facet of the game of which they have little communion with.

Saturday, the Riders were dominated by the Tiger Cat defence which made punishing hits and created much pressure for Durant through the game, resulting in a number of two and outs and the hurried execution of plans that quickly led nowhere.

In thirty minutes of football, the Riders offense had generated but 34 net yards and two first downs, by the time he was replaced in the third quarter, Durant had thrown three interceptions, passed for 95 yards with a completion rate of 9 for 23. Ryan Diwniddie didn’t have much more success, his time at work providing for 115 yards on 5 of 11 passes.

While the stumbling ways of the Riders offense certainly come as a bit of a surprise, it’s their defensive struggles of late that might be raising the most eyebrows and blood pressure on the prairies.

Considering their head coach Greg Marhsall is know for his past defensive strategies and their defensive coordinator Richie Hall has long been acknowledged as a defensive leader both in his playing days and through his coaching career, the effort so far in 2011 must be worrisome.

The start to the season must be particularly perplexing for Hall, who returned to the Riders after his head coaching duties in Edmonton, only to watch his former team jump to the top of the CFL west why his current team languishes at the bottom of the division.

At the start of the season, if you were going to highlight strengths and weaknesses, you wouldn't think that the defence would be flagged for excessive worry.

But so far, that’s not the case, the Riders having surrendered 115 points in just three games, are clearly not good enough yet and the results so far are indicative of the heavy workload that lays ahead for Hall and Marshall.

Things won’t be getting any easier for the Riders in week four, it’s on to Montreal, the continuation of the road trip and a return engagement with the Grey Cup champion Montreal Alouettes, undefeated thus far in the season and busy collecting records for the CFL record book.

Now that they have discovered a winning approach, the Tiger Cats are off to British Columbia for Friday night to take on the Lions, a team that has yet to win a game and is also struggling to find its way in the CFL West.

Having watched the Cats manhandle the Riders on Saturday, they might be feeling a little worried about the weekend to come as they take to the Surrey practice field this week, the Cats as shorthanded as they were still able to fire on all their cylinders, not a good omen for the Lions who clearly haven't been able to say the same so far this year.

Globe and Mail-- Tiger-Cats maul reeling Roughriders
National Post-- Yes, the Riders are that bad
Hamlton Spectator-- Ticats click on all cylinders against beleaguered Roughriders
Regina Leader Post-- Saskatchewan Roughriders looking to regroup after third straight loss Riders' offence will huddle up to hash out problems

British Columbia at Edmonton

They remain undefeated and they hold the title of earliest surprise of the CFL season.

The Edmonton Eskimos grabbed their own share of the weekend highlight packages, taking a bit of the thunder away from the Alouettes Anthony Calvillo’s record making night of Friday and serving notice that the reports of a long hard year for Eskimo fans might have been a little bit premature.

The Esks took charge of a struggling BC Lion squad and for the third week in a row performed beyond even head coach Kavis Reed’s wildest expectations, defeating the Lions 33-17 at Commonwealth.

Once again it was Ricky Ray who led the way, passing successfully in 24 of 33 attempts , collecting some 320 yards through the air and putting two touchdowns on the board by the pass.

His performance was the highlight reel part of the game, the low points came from the Lions side of the ball, Travis Lulay struggled once again, the Lions offence incapable of extending drives .

The one bright spot for Lulay and the Lions was a pair of pass receptions from Geroy Simon, who helped cut the Eskimio lead to 21-10 in the first half with a sharp looking catch on a Lulay toss.

At that point there appeared at least to be some hope that the Lions were mounting another charge at the Eskimos, with hopes that the second half would be a rewarding one for Wally Buono and his team.

However, in what seems to be a recurring theme for the Lions this year, turnovers would again rise up to be the breaking point for BC, a third quarter interception brought the ball back to the Lions 18 yard line, leading to another Eskimo touchdown and 30-10 lead.

Any hopes of a comeback attempt were dashed completely with five minutes to go, when Lulay was once again picked off, this time an end zone pass directed to Geroy Simon was intercepted by Rod Williams, stopping a Lions drive in its tracks.

The Lions finally found the score board again late in the fourth, as Lulay found Akeem Foster in the end zone, adding points to the board, but hardly suggesting that the Lions were actually competitive by that point.

The final score of 33-17 flattered the Lions more than anything else, whether it was on offence or on defence, the Eskimos were the better of the teams on the field. A fact acknowledged by Wally Buono, who said they were outplayed and out coached by the Eskimos.

The Lions will review their film and seek some answers this week as they prepare for the Hamilton Tiger Cats on Friday night at Empire Fields, a temporary home that hasn’t provided for much of a home field advantage in either this or last season. With the Tiger Cats starting to hit a bit of a stride over the weekend, the Lions will need to find those answers fast, otherwise an 0-4 start is not out of the question.

For the Eskimos, week four offers up a bit of a challenge as they take their undefeated record into Calgary, a team that while struggling in the first three weeks has managed to eke out a couple of wins.

The records however can be put on the shelf for this week, the Alberta rivalry is one that has little time for wins and losses in the standings, but rather features the heated battle that always seems to rise to the boiling point whenever the two cities compete whether in football, hockey or any other sport that brings them together.

Of the four games to come on the weekend, Saturday nights Alberta match up could provide the most entertainment for your CFL viewing, should the Esks prevail at McMahon Stadium, we suspect we won’t hear much more about the “rebuilding year” and instead might begin to hear more questions as to who can take down the high flying Esks.

Globe and Mail-- Eskimos pummel Lions to stay undefeated
National Post-- Eskimos have room to improve
Vancouver Province-- Lions swoon simply hair-raising for Buono
Vancouver Sun-- Lions 'execution' has to be better
Edmonton Journal-- Esks in better place one year later
Edmonton Sun-- Esks too good to be true?

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