Sunday, July 17, 2011

Monday?s Point After: Begun, the West wars have

Welcome to�Monday's Point After, your regular recap of all the weekend's CFL highlights and lowlights. Score links in each section go to video highlights of each game on the league's home page. If you've got suggestions for something you'd like to see here, contact me by�Twitter or�e-mail.

Quick links (to the respective section of this column; you can click "Back to top" at the end of any section to come back here):
? Calgary 34, B.C. 32
? Edmonton 28, Hamilton 10
? Montreal 39, Saskatchewan 25
? Winnipeg 22, Toronto 16

Calgary 34, B.C. 32: As mentioned earlier this weekend, the most important takeaway from this game may be what it says about the West Division as a whole. It suggests that both Calgary and B.C. are excellent teams, but both also have some significant flaws. When you throw in a Saskatchewan team that still has high expectations despite some awful losses and a surprising Edmonton team attempting to return to glory, but still carrying significant question marks, it looks like the West Division struggles for positioning are going to go on until late in the season.

This was a highly-entertaining game in its own right, though, particularly in the second half. Calgary led 7-6 at the half after a late second-quarter touchdown, but both teams came out firing after intermission, with the Stampeders putting up 21 points and the Lions adding 14 more in the third quarter. We saw a great finish down the stretch, including Joffrey Reynolds' final-minute fumble and Paul McCallum's 57-yard field goal attempt at the end. This was the most exciting game of the week, which is why the fans were quite right to vote it into TSN2's replay slot; the game will be shown again on TSN2 at 7 p.m. Eastern Monday.

What else did this game show us? Well, for one thing, both Calgary quarterback Henry Burris and B.C. pivot Travis Lulay are capable of putting on an aerial show, but they could probably both stand to be a little more efficient. Burris completed 19 of 36 passes (52.8 per cent) for 298 yards and three touchdowns, but also threw three interceptions. Lulay only completed 17 of 39 throws (43.6 per cent), but did put up 279 yards and two touchdowns; he was also picked off twice. That's not all on the quarterbacks; they didn't always get the best pass protection from their lines, and their receivers (including Shawn Gore, pictured fumbling above after a hit from Calgary's Brandon Smith and Greg Fassitt) and contributed some crucial drops. However, both of these guys are going to have to step their games up if they want their teams to go far this year.

It's also notable that neither team really established the run. B.C. continues to avoid the ground, giving the duo of Andrew Harris and Jamal Robertson just five carries all game; the Lions' leading rusher was Lulay, with four scrambles for 28 yards and a touchdown. You have to wonder if they regret ditching Jerome Messam in the offseason, as he picked up 104 yards and two touchdowns for Edmonton Saturday. Still, the Lions have talented backs; they're just not giving them the ball. Calgary was better, but the powerful ground tandem of Reynolds and Jon Cornish was held to just 63 yards on 12 carries. Part of the reason for avoiding the run might be the high-scoring nature of the second half, but both of these teams could probably stand to put a little more emphasis on the ground game in coming weeks, even if only to open up holes in the passing game.

The key word to describe Calgary and B.C. at the moment appears to be inconsistency. After this game, the Stampeders are 1-1, while the Lions are 0-2. Both have looked like teams near the top of the league's pecking order at times, both have looked like deserved basement-dwellers at times. There's a lot of talent on these two squads, and they're likely to keep going back and forth in what should be a close West Division race. Whoever eventually rises to the top is probably going to be the team that can figure out not only how to produce a good effort at times, but how to replicate and sustain that effort across entire games.

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Edmonton 28, Hamilton 10: Sustaining that effort across a whole game hasn't really been an issue for the Eskimos thus far, as they've delivered decisive victories over first the Riders and now the Tiger-Cats. However, it's still up in the air if their 2-0 start is an accurate reflection of where this team's at or just a collection of good bounces and lousy opposition performances.

By the numbers, though, the Eskimos have a lot to be happy about. Their ground-and-pound game got huge results with Messam (pictured at right battling Jason Shivers near the goal line) Saturday (Calvin McCarty was less successful, picking up 39 yards on 11 carries), and Ricky Ray absolutely shredded the Hamilton secondary, completing 21 of 31 passes (67.7 per cent) for 388 yards and a touchdown without an interception. Their defence may have been even more impressive, holding vaunted Hamilton running back Avon Cobourne to just 35 yards on nine carries and keeping Kevin Glenn and the aerial offence in check; Glenn was 21 of 33 for 219 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. This was a very good showing from Edmonton, and there isn't much to quibble with. If they can consistently play like this, they might be able to contend for top spot in the West instead of just playing spoiler. The question is if they can keep this up for a whole season, though.

The Tiger-Cats have far more questions to worry about after dropping their first two games. Nothing worked for them Saturday; the ground game was ineffective, the aerial attack got nowhere, and the defence was taken apart both on the ground and through the air. Considering the sky-high expectations for this squad, there's a lot of pressure on head coach Marcel Bellefeuille and his team to turn things around quickly. They haven't showed much to date that would suggest better things are to come, though.

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Montreal 39, Saskatchewan 25: Hamilton's next opponents are in a similar situation. The Saskatchewan Roughriders have also lost their first two games, and unlike B.C., they weren't particularly close in either. This one was notable for Anthony Calvillo tying Damon Allen's CFL career touchdown pass record, but it was also incredible to watch the way Calvillo dissected the Saskatchewan secondary. Calvillo completed 29 of 43 of his pass attempts (67.4 per cent) on the day for 419 yards and five touchdowns with an interception off a tipped pass that wasn't his fault. The Alouettes didn't get too far on the ground, especially after Brandon Whitaker got hurt, but apart from that, they dominated all aspects of this game and still look like the team to beat.

For Saskatchewan, the questions start with the defence, but they go beyond that. Darian Durant's totals (273 yards, a touchdown, no interceptions) weren't bad, but he only completed 22 of his 40 passes (55 per cent). The Riders found some success on the ground, with Wes Cates (pictured at right being tackled by Shea Emry) picking up 54 yards and a touchdown on only seven carries, but they had to abandon the ground game after Montreal started to pull away. There were some great moments from receivers, including Chris Getzlaf's highlight-reel grab, but the passing offence just couldn't click consistently. The return game had some bright moments, including two long kick returns from Tristan Jackson, but that might have been the team's best area Saturday. There's a lot of work to be done in Riderville.

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Winnipeg 22, Toronto 16: This game won't go on display anywhere as an example of good CFL football, as it was largely composed of incomplete passes, turnovers and other miscues. Still, you won't find the Blue Bombers complaining. They've gone from being the league basement dwellers to a 2-0 record and sitting in a tie atop the East Division. Despite their success in the standings, though, this still isn't an entirely positive game for them.

One element that has to be of concern for Winnipeg is their quarterback play. Yes, Buck Pierce has managed to stay healthy so far despite some huge hits, but he hasn't been terribly effective. His 316 passing yards over two complete games are the lowest of any starting quarterback, and he's only completed 55 per cent of his passes (better only than Lulay). He's also thrown two interceptions. Pierce completed 21 of 34 passes (61.8 per cent) for 165 yards with an interception Friday, and that kind of quarterbacking performance won't win you many games. Fortunately for the Bombers, they got a solid rushing performance from Fred Reid (65 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries), a great showing from their defence and a somewhat offensively-inept opponent in Toronto. They'll need to find a way to be better in the passing game if they want to keep the winning streak going though.

For Toronto, for once, it wasn't the quarterbacking that was a huge issue. Cleo Lemon (pictured under pressure, right) completed 23 of 33 passes (69.7 per cent) for 248 yards. Yes, he threw an interception, and yes, the vast majority of his passes were shorter ones (Toronto didn't try a deep ball until the fourth quarter), but at least he was completing them at a good clip; that hasn't always been the case. The Argonauts' offence needs to at least threaten deep shots, though; Lemon has the arm to make them, if not always the accuracy, and telling your opponent that you're only going to run or throw short allows them to stack the box and shut down your offence.

The bigger problem for Toronto was that one crucial part of their formula of running the ball, playing tough defence and making special-teams plays happen fell through. It wasn't the special teams, which had some great moments, including punter Noel Prefontaine's fake punt pass. It wasn't the defence, which restricted Reid's gains, was excellent against the pass and held the Bombers to just 22 points. It was the running game; star back Cory Boyd only got 14 yards on seven carries with a fumble before getting hurt, and the Argos didn't even try to run much after he left (although fullback Jeff Johnson was effective, getting 17 yards on two carries). With Boyd out for a few weeks, the Argonauts' running game looks to be in trouble. They'll have to either find some solutions or alter their offensive game plan.

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Sarah Wynter Jaime Pressly Ashanti Jennie Finch Lisa Snowdon

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