3Downs: Week 1 Wrap Up

crop_21470070849Today I present what I hope will be my new weekly feature, 3Downs. This is where I will give three thoughts — three thoughts, 3Downs, get it? — on the week’s games and goings on around the CFL. I will also use this space to publish a power rankings (that I am sure most people will vociferously disagree with) and give you my players of the week (which you will also probably disagree with).

So with that, let’s snap the ball and get this thing going.

1st Down: Injuries

The biggest story to come out of Week 1 is the number of injuries to star players, especially at the game’s most important position. The Edmonton Eskimos lost Mike Reilly indefinitely with a knee injury, the Montreal Alouettes will be without Jonathan Crompton for an undetermined length of time and Dan LeFevour for the season thanks to a pair of shoulder injuries, the Argos’ Swayze Waters left the game against Edmonton with a quad injury, and Darian Durant of the Saskatchewan Roughriders is out for the year after rupturing his Achilles tendon. These are some big blows to not only these individual teams, but also to the league itself. Durant and Reilly are star players, and losing star players for any length of time is not good for the league. You want to see the best players out there, and now thanks to injury, two of the best will be missing time.

2nd Down: Young Guns Shine

While some stars were knocked down, others picked their games up, and nowhere was that on display more than on Saturday in Fort McMurray, Alberta and Regina, Saskatchewan. Not many, including myself, expected all that much from Trevor Harris as he filled in for future Hall of Famer Ricky Ray. Maybe he would captain the good ship Argonaut and keep them afloat while Ray recovered from offseason shoulder surgery, but no one could have seen what was coming when the final whistle blew at Shell Place. Harris finished the game 24 of 27 for 347 yards and three touchdowns and guided the Argos to a stunning 26-11 upset victory over the Edmonton Eskimos. Harris proved he can play in this league, and it will be interesting to see what he does in Week 2 against a deflated Roughriders squad.

In Regina, Drew Willy made a lot of his doubters look silly, going 22 of 25 for 325 yards and three touchdowns in helping the Blue Bombers defeat the Roughriders in Saskatchewan for the first time since 2004. The Bombers spent money and draft picks in the offseason to keep Willy upright, and those investments paid off. Stanley Bryant, who the team lured away from Calgary, and Sukh Chungh, who the team drafted second overall in May, both made an impact. The Bombers, who allowed over 70 sacks last season, allowed just one sack against a very good Saskatchewan front four. With time to throw, Willy proved why the team invested so much in him this offseason. He was great, period, and the hounds should be kept at bay for at least one week.

It is also worth noting that for the first time since 2010, a Canadian quarterback took snaps in a regular season CFL game. Mississauga’s Brandon Bridge got into the game for the Montreal Alouettes after the injuries to Crompton and LeFevour. He did not light the world on fire, but after some early jitters, he played effectively down the stretch, finishing 5 of 10 for 62 yards and one interception. You cannot expect much from a rookie, third-string quarterback who saw limited reps leading up to the game, but Bridge showed the skills that made him a fourth-round draft pick this past May. Whether Bridge starts going forward or the Als make a move to add a veteran quarterback, the South Alabama product proved in limited time on Thursday that he has the skills to one day become a starting quarterback.

3rd Down: Road Teams Came to Play… and Win

Winning on the road is never easy — as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats can attest — but two road teams picked up hard-fought victories in Week 1, as did one team that was considered the home team, but played over 3,700 km from their home city. The Bombers, Redblacks and Argos, the aforementioned “home” team, all won away from their home field. Add in that the Ticats nearly pulled off the win in Calgary, only to lose on a last-second field goal, and the road teams really showed up in Week 1. Whether it is a one-week outlier or a harbinger of things to come, it was surprising to see so many road teams play so well in the first week of the season.

Power Rankings

Let me start off by saying that I know that power rankings are inherently stupid and pointless. But if I didn’t delve into the stupid and pointless, I would have nothing to write about. In any event, these are just for fun and should in no way be taken as seriously as some might want to take them. So with that, here are my first power rankings of the 2015 CFL season

1. Toronto Argonauts

I went back and forth between the Argos and the No. 2 team on my list, but in the end I decided to put the Ticats hated rival in top spot. I already talked about Harris, but the rest of the team looked pretty good as well. The Argos defense shockingly held the Eskimos offense in check, and running back Brandon Whitaker had a great game after signing with the team a little over a week ago. It was only one week, but the Argos look like they are going to be a lot better than many predicted.

2. Winnipeg Blue Bombers

As I stated earlier, winning on the road is not easy. Winning in Saskatchewan, though, might be the hardest thing to do. That crowd is raucous and provides the Riders with one of the best home-field advantages in sports. Winnipeg deserves all the credit in the world for stemming the green wave and pulling out the 30-26 victory. It was as impressive a win as Winnipeg has had in a long time.

3. Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Call me a homer, but I was more impressed with what the Ticats did in Calgary than I am with the team that beat them. This is not a “Who Won” ranking, so I will not necessarily put a team that won over the team they beat. The margin of victory between the two teams was razor thin, and I think the Ticats were, for the most part, the better team on Friday night.

4. Calgary Stampeders

I am sure people will disagree with the Stamps not being at the top of the rankings, but did they really look like the best team in the league in Week 1? Not to me they didn’t. Obviously the Stamps are still a great team, and whatever problems they had against the Ticats will be fixed, but they looked out of sync for most of the contest and hardly resembled the 15-win juggernaut they were a season ago.

5. Ottawa Redblacks

Ottawa’s win rivals Toronto’s as the biggest surprise of the weekend. It was a tale of two halves, and Ottawa came to play after falling behind after 30 minutes. Last year, they would have wilted and lost the game, but this year they regrouped and played a great second half of football to secure their first road victory in franchise history. Whether Ottawa can keep this momentum rolling is in question, but the members of RNation must be pretty happy after Thursday’s outcome.

6. BC Lions

Simply put, the Lions won this week by not playing. They opened their season with a bye and saw two of the teams above them in the standings last year lose their franchise quarterbacks to injuries. The Lions are no stranger to quarterback injuries themselves, but they escaped Week 1 with their team still intact, which is a victory in and of itself. The Lions open the season Saturday evening in Ottawa.

7. Saskatchewan Roughriders

The only thing keeping the Riders from sinking further down is that their backup quarterback situation a lot more stable than the two teams below them this week. The Riders now turn to Kevin Glenn, arguably the best backup quarterback in the CFL, after Durant’s injury, and while signing Glenn seems to put a curse on whomever the starter of the team is at the time, he has no problem coming in and leading his new team to the playoffs. He did it in Hamilton, Calgary and BC, and might be able to pull off the same magic yet again. While losing Durant hurts, the impact is mitigated by the presence of Glenn.

8. Edmonton Eskimos

A team that many predicted could be a Grey Cup finalist has its season hanging in the balance after Toronto’s Cleyon Laing once again knock Mike Reilly out of a game. The Eskimos have a bye this week, so that will give the team plenty of time to get Matt Nichols ready should Reilly be out, as expected, for a significant length of time. Nichols, in the final year of his contract, will get to showcase his skills to the rest of the league. Edmonton has a lot of talent surrounding Nichols, but the team will no doubt see a drop off from their 12-win total of 2014 if Reilly is out for an extended period of time.

9. Montreal Alouettes

They lost their top two quarterbacks and became the first team to lose at home to the Redblacks. As of now, rookie Brandon Bridge is the starter, but expect the team to sign someone soon. The Als just did not look good in Week 1, with very little positives coming out of their opening game, and deservedly bring up the rear in this rankings.

Players of the Week

Offensive: Trevor Harris, QB, Toronto Argonauts

Drew Willy deserves an honourable mention, but not even the most ardent Argos supporter expected Harris to dice up one of the league’s best defenses the way he did on Saturday. He threw as many incompletion as he did touchdown passes (three) and looked very comfortable piloting the complex Argos offense. It was a great second start for the fourth-year man from Waldo, Ohio and it will be interesting to see if he can build of his fabulous Week 1 performance.

Defensive: Johnny Sears, Jr., DB, Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Three tackles, two interceptions, one sack and one defensive touchdown. Sears, who played five seasons with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, had one heck of a Tiger-Cats debut. What will he do for an encore?

Special Teams: Brandon Banks, WR/KR, Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Brandon Banks picked up right where he left off. With his first touch of the football in 2015, he made a couple guys miss and took a punt 67 yards to the house. This will not be the only time that Brandon Banks’ name will show up in this space this season.

Canadian: Jerome Messam, RB, Saskatchewan Roughriders

There were a couple of good performances by Canadians, but no standout stat lines from any National talents. Messam was the flashiest of the bunch, rushing for 75 yards on just four carries, including a 53-yard scamper for a score, while adding another 36 yards on three catches. It was a good first game for the Lion, Eskimo and Alouette, and could be just a taste of things to come from the Brampton, Ontario native this season.

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.