It was another stellar week of CFL action, with a second overtime classic in as many weeks, a tight battle in Winnipeg and the Alberta teams finding success against a pair of Ontario foes. We saw more masterful offensive performances, some stellar defensive play and the first signs of a return to greatness for a former MOP-winning quarterback. All in all, it was a great week of football for fans of the CFL.
1st Down: Corey Chamblin on the hot seat
It has not been a great start to the season for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Three tough losses, the last two in overtime, have the 2013 champs sitting as the lone winless team remaining in the CFL. And it begs the question: is Corey Chamblin in jeopardy of losing his job? Firing a coach during the season is never a good idea, and the Riders have lost their three games by a combined nine points, but it bears pointing out that Chamblin, despite a Grey Cup championship on his résumé, is barely above .500 as a head coach, posting a 29-28 record since becoming the head man in Regina in 2012. The 2013 title is looking more and more like an outlier, and let’s not forget that general manager Brendan Taman loaded up on veterans like Geroy Simon and Ricky Foley, and exceeding the salary cap in the process, in order to ensure that the Riders would win the Grey Cup on home soil. Chamblin probably will not, nor he should, be fired during the season, but if the Riders continue to lose, and their remaining schedule up to Labour Day is not an easy one, there could be a new man calling the shots in Saskatchewan in 2016.
2nd Down: Western Redemption
A week after the East Division skunked the West Division in head-to-head matchups, the West returned the favour in Week 3. The Edmonton Eskimos beat down the visiting Ottawa Redblacks, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers squeaked out a two-point win over the Montreal Alouettes and the Calgary Stampeders completed the 3-0 sweep by downing the Toronto Argonauts. We all knew that proclaiming the East the superior division after just two weeks was silly, so no one should be surprised that the West teams, all of which were playing at home, rebounded in Week 3.
3rd Down: Questionable Officiating
Officials are easy targets, and ragging on the refs is not something I particularly enjoy doing, but there were some downright egregious mistakes in Week 3, with more than a few of them occurring in Monday night’s Toronto-Calgary contest. The foul on Jeff Fuller for illegal interference downfield, which wiped out a 19-yard catch-and-run by Eric Rogers that would have set the Stamps up with 1st-and-goal at around the six-yard line, was one of the worse calls I have ever seen. When the talking heads at TSN say it is a bad call, you know it is a bad call. Also in that game, Kevin Elliott used the old Deacon Jones head slap to knock a Calgary defender down on the game’s first touchdown with no flag thrown for offensive pass interference. In the offseason, the league flirted with making OPI reviewable, but eventually decided against it. With flags up and fans bemoaning the fact that penalties are affecting the outcome of games, it is hard to stand on a soap box and call for more flags to be thrown. But if the officials cannot get the obvious calls right, what is the point of even having rules to begin with?
1. Toronto Argonauts (Last Week: 1)
A five-point loss to the defending champions on their turf when the visitors had a chance to win the game at the end is hardly enough to knock the Argos of their perch at the top of the rankings. While many, including myself, predicted hard times for the Boatmen at the start of the season, the double blue are making many of us look pretty silly during the early part of the season. The Argos get a rest this week, as they are on their bye before heading to BC for a showdown with the Lions in Week 5.
2. Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Last Week: 2)
The Ticats were on a bye in Week 3 and therefore had the luxury of being the only East team not to suffer a loss. The Ticats looked every bit the two-time East champs in dispatching Winnipeg a week ago, and no team below them looked impressive enough to knock the Ticats down. Hamilton travels to Montreal to take on the Als. The Ticats have not won in Montreal in the regular season since 2002.
3. Calgary Stampeders (Last Week: 4)
While things still seem amiss in Cowtown, a win is a win, and past success does give the Stamps the benefit of the doubt. But the problems in Calgary are now compounded by the insane number of injuries suffered along the offensive line in their win over Toronto. The Stamps are kind of lucky that the rest of the West has started somewhat poorly or else they could be in serious trouble. A matchup with Winnipeg looms, on a short week no less, so the Stamps will be in tough while players get healthy and they look to find their championship-calibre stride.
4. Edmonton Eskimos (Last Week: 6)
After what can be generously described as a subpar performance in Week 1, the Eskimos came off their bye and drubbed the visiting Ottawa Redblacks. It was a dominating performance, where Edmonton was superior in all three phases of the game. The rematch this week in Ottawa will tell us if the Eskimos can find their 2014 mojo or if it was just a one-off performance.
5. Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Last Week: 8)
The Bombers rebounded from a tough loss to Hamilton by beating the Alouettes. The much-maligned Bombers defense played pretty well, save for maybe Demond Washington, and held flavour-of-the-week quarterback Rakeem Cato mostly in check, picking off two passes and returning one for a touchdown. The 2-1 Bombers head to Calgary to take on the fellow 2-1 Stamps, where a win would see Winnipeg claim sole possession of first in the West.
6. Montreal Alouettes (Last Week: 5)
Everyone went gaga over quarterback Rakeem Cato in Week 2, but he fell down to earth a bit in Week 3. He passed for over 300 yards, but 180 of those yards came from one S.J. Green, and Cato failed to throw a touchdown and was picked off twice. It was a somewhat rough second outing for the Marshall product, and things won’t get any easier with the Ticats and their ferocious defense next up on the schedule.
7. BC Lions (Last Week: 9)
The Lions snatched victory from the jaws of defeat against the Roughriders in Week 3. Trailing by 11 with less than three minute in the game, Travis Lulay orchestrated a touchdown drive, the Lions defense stopped the Riders on 3rd-and-short, and rookie kicker Richie Leone nailed a 55 yarder to send the game to overtime. In overtime, the Lions held the Riders to a field goal on the opening possession and countered with a game winning touchdown from Lulay to Emmanuel Arceneaux. It was the type of victor that can propel teams, and it will be interesting to see how the Lions build off that momentum in their rematch with the Riders in Week 4.
8. Ottawa Redblacks (Last Week: 3)
Quite the fall for the Redblacks. After notching wins in their first two games, Ottawa came crashing down hard in Edmonton. The Redblacks could get noting going, with an early interception by Henry Burris — one of the worst interceptions I have ever seen any quarterback throw — starting the avalanche of scoring by Edmonton. The Redblacks just looked sluggish, but will get a chance to return the favour to the Eskimos in Ottawa this weekend.
9. Saskatchewan Roughriders (Last Week: 7)
What to say about the Riders? Their offense has done enough to win — scoring 26, 40 and 32 points so far in their three games so far this season — only to have the defense let them down on multiple occasions. The schedule does not get any easier for Saskatchewan and we could be looking at a repeat of their disastrous 2011 season if they don’t find a way to win soon.
Players of the Week
Offense: Travis Lulay, QB, BC Lions
A hat tip to Weston Dressler and S.J. Green for great performances, but the return to form, for at least one game, of 2011 MOP Travis Lulay was the offensive performance of the week. Lulay threw for 404 yards and three touchdowns in BC’s come-from-behind win over the winless Roughriders. It was the type of performance that reminded you that Lulay, when healthy, can be one of the league’s best quarterbacks.
Defense: Chris Randle, DB, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
While the stats were not otherworldy, just four tackles, Randle sealed the Winnipeg win with back-to-back great plays in the game’s dying moments. The converted defensive back did have an interception early in the game, but it was his coverage on Nik Lewis and S.J. Green on the game’s final two plays that earns him this nod.
Special Teams: Richie Leone, K, BC Lions
No Brandon Banks this week, so no return touchdowns were scored, which means I have to find another player to bestow this award on. BC Lions kicker Richie Leone, based almost solely on his clutch 55-yard field goal at the end of regulation that sent the game into overtime, is that player. It was the longest field goal in Lions history and it showed why the team was ready to move on from Paul McCallum. In recent years, BC left points on the board because McCallum’s leg was no longer big enough to make most 50+ yard kicks, but in just his second game, Leone nailed the biggest kick of his young career and helped get the BC Lions their first win of 2015.
Canadian: Andrew Harris, RB, BC Lions
While this award could have gone to Matt Bucknor, who is quietly having a magnificent season with the Blue Bombers, Andrew Harris’ 144 total yards on 18 touches paces him just head of Bucknor for the week. Harris looked displeased on the sideline during parts of the game, but got the ball in his hands when it matter most. When healthy and a large part of the gameplan, Harris can be a dominate player and he showed that in Week 3.