Quite a bit happened in Week 4 in the CFL, from a pair of last-minute wins to… whatever Hamilton at Montreal was. We had the defending champs pull out another close one, watch the Riders find another way to lose, saw the Eskimos win the second game of a home-and-home with Ottawa and the witness the Als continue to vex the Ticats at Molson Stadium. Just another week in the Canadian Football League.
1st Down: Oh Chris Williams, where art thou?
He is in the top five in both catches and yards, and led his team in both last week, but does it feel to anyone else like Chris Williams just hasn’t made any impact in his first four games with the Redblacks? Despite his stats, it just doesn’t feel like his play has amounted to much. Williams was signed to much fanfare in the winter and a lot was expected of him, and I just haven’t felt like he has been the game breaker that he was when he last played in the CFL. So far his return to the CFL has been lacklustre, and I have to wonder if he will ever capture the form he had during his first two season in the league.
2nd Down: Stamps keep finding ways to win…
One year has no bearing on the next, and nowhere is that better exemplified than in Calgary. The Stamps ran roughshod over the league in 2014 en route to their first championship since 2008, but this year, they have had to scratch and claw for every win they have. They currently possess the league’s best record at 3-1, but those three wins have not come easy: a one-point win over Hamilton, a five-point win over Toronto and a one-point win over Winnipeg. Style points mean nothing, so kudos to the Stamps for finding ways to pull out the close ones. The true measure of a great team is how they perform when the going gets tough, and so far the Stamps have passed the test.
3rd Down: …Riders keep finding ways to lose
The inverse of the above is on full display in Saskatchewan. The Riders sit at 0-4, the sole winless team remaining in the CFL, and yet they possess the league’s highest scoring offense and a point differential of just -12. While it will be small consolation to the members of Rider Nation, the Riders seem to be better than their record would indicate. But better or not, things do not get any easier for Saskatchewan this summer. Their next six contest are as follows: versus Hamilton, at Edmonton, at Toronto, versus Calgary, at Ottawa, versus Winnipeg, at Winnipeg. While it is doubtful, it is entirely possible that by the time the Banjo Bowl ends, the Riders are still winless. And no matter how good or bad the team looks, if they get to 0-10, their season will be over.
1. Toronto Argonauts (Last Week: 1)
I didn’t drop the Argos last week after a loss and I am not dropping them after their bye (though it was very close). It is as simple as that. The Argos get a chance to keep their top spot when they travel to BC to take on the Lions on Friday.
2. Calgary Stampeders (Last Week: 3)
While I still remain somewhat skeptical of the defending champs, you cannot deny them their due just because they are winning close ones. In fact, that may be even more impressive than looking indestructible like they did last year. The Stamps did not deal with much adversity in 2014, but they have dealt with more than their fair share in 2015. Yet despite it all, they find ways to win. The Stamps will look to up their record to 4-1 when they head to Ottawa to take on the Redblacks on Friday.
3. Edmonton Eskimos (Last Week: 4)
There was a lot of angst in Edmonton after the Eskimos lost both the game and their starting quarterback in Week 1. A couple games against the Redblacks seemed to cure the Esks of what ailed them and they are looking more like the complete team that made it all the way to the West Final last year. It is hard to say if Edmonton is all the way back — Ottawa looked a lot like their old selves the last two weeks — but you can only play who you are scheduled against. The Eskies no longer have Ottawa to beat up on, so they will have to prove they can defeat other teams, starting on Saturday when the Blue Bombers head to the Alberta capital.
4.Montreal Alouettes (Last Week: 6)
While I sensed a lot of people were sick of TSN talking about Rakeem Cato, they were doing so with good reason. While he is still learning and growing, he has been pretty impressive in his first three starts. He had his share of troubles against a really good Tiger-Cats defense, but he was able to do just enough to get the win. Cato has looked better in three starts than injured-starter Jonathan Crompton did all last season, so it seems as if the former Marshall star is now the man in Montreal. We will have to wait a week to see if Cato can continue his recent run of success as the Als are on their bye this week.
5. Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Last Week: 2)
I have already said my piece on the debacle in Montreal, but the Ticats still have the talent to be one of the league’s best, and Montreal has been a house of horrors for the Tabbies for over a decade. While they did all they could to lose the game, they still had a chance to win it with under a minute left. Another poor performance will see the Ticats sink further, and will also probably see some panic induced in Steeltown. The Ticats can try to put their ugly Week 4 performance behind them when they head to Regina for a matchup with the Roughriders on Sunday night.
6. Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Last Week: 5)
The Bombers have been a roller coaster so far this season, winning one week and losing the next. Week 4 saw the Bombers drop a close one to the Stampeders in Calgary and it is hard to knock a team too much for losing to the defending champs in their barn (the Stamps are 3-0 at home this year, and have lost just twice in their last 21 regular season games at McMahon Stadium). The Bombers find themselves against the other Alberta team in Week 5 as they meet the Eskimos in Edmonton on Saturday.
7. BC Lions (Last Week: 7)
Not a lot was expected from BC entering the season. Questions surrounding their quarterback and new head coach left many wondering if the Lions 18-year playoff streak would come to an end in 2015. Three games in and the QB and coach questions seem to be gone, but it is to judge how good the Lions are since their two wins have come against the league’s sole winless team. The Lions have looked good, but I still want to see more. A date with a rested Toronto team on Friday night will give us a good indication of where the Leos stand at this early juncture of the 2015 season.
8. Ottawa Redblacks (Last Week: 8)
The first two weeks seem like a distant memory for the Redblacks. Back-to-back losses to Edmonton have many wondering if the Redblacks are reverting to their 2014 form. Ottawa will try to avoid a three-game losing streak when they host the Stampeders on Friday.
9. Saskatchewan Roughriders (Last Week: 9)
They are 0-4. Period. No matter how well they have played or how close their losses have been, they haven’t won. Until that changes, the Riders will find themselves at No. 9 in these rankings. They get the opportunity to pick up their first win of the season when they welcome the Ticats to the friendly confines of Mosaic Stadium on Sunday.
Players of the Week
Offensive: Shakir Bell, RB, Edmonton Eskimos
There were some great offensive performances in Week 4, but Shakir Bell’s may have been the most awe-inducing of them all. After making waves in training camp, the Edmonton rookie spent the first two games on the practice roster before an injury to starter Chad Simpson opened the door for Bell. All he did in his first action in the CFL was rush for 144 yards on 18 carries. Bell did not look out of place and he may have relegated Simpson to the bench for good.
Defensive: Kyler Elsworth, LB, Montreal Alouettes
Picking a defensive player of the week was pretty difficult. Marcus Howard had two sacks to secure the win for the Eskimos, Chip Cox set the tone early for the Alouettes with a first quarter interception, while teammate Jonathan Hefney had an interception of his own to go along with a game-high seven tackles. But it was Hefney’s and Cox’s teammate Kyler Elsworth who gets the distinction this week. In his second start since Bear Woods was lost for the year with an injury, Elsworth showed hustle late in the game and stripped Ticats receiver Terrence Toliver with 30 second left to go to seal the win for the Als. Elsworth finished the game with six tackles and a sack, but it was his game-clinching forced fumble that put him above the rest of the competition in Week 4.
Special Teams: Boris Bede, K/P, Montreal Alouettes
Rarely do punters get credit for what they do, but the job Montreal’s Boris Bede did in limiting Brandon Banks’ impact is something that deserves recognition. Bede punted eight times, which is usually a recipe for disaster against a player who has five return touchdowns in his last six games, but he was nearly perfect on his directional punting and Banks, who famously burned the Als for two punt return touchdowns in last year’s East Final, was held to just 33 yards in the return game. It was a masterful punting job by the rookie from Laval against the league’s most dangerous weapon.
Canadian: Andrew Harris, RB, BC Lions
This may have been the hardest choice this week. Do you go with Jon Cornish, who finally broke out against Winnipeg to the tune of 120 yards on 15 carries? What about Zach Evans, who had two sacks against the Eskimos? Perhaps the choice is Jerome Messam, who is turning into the league’s premier dual-threat running back, rushing for 62 yards and catching seven passes for 75 yards against BC? In the end, I decided to take Andrew Harris for the second straight week. Harris had 118 total yards (94 rushing and 24 receiving) and one touchdown and was a major contributor for the Lions in their three-point win over the Riders in Week 4.