Week 15 of the CFL season gave us very little drama, to be honest. In fact, only one of the games was really in doubt heading into the fourth quarter. That said, the results we saw set us up very nicely for all kinds of jockeying down the stretch.
While both divisions likely have their regular season champs in place, there’s still plenty to be decided in the other playoff spots.
|Related: Week 15 Action|
Saskatchewan vs. BC
Montreal vs. Edmonton
Winnipeg vs. Calgary
It seems like the Montreal Alouettes pay attention to the standings as much as you and I do. I don’t think there is a coincidence involved with the timing of Montreal’s resurgent play over the last two weeks.
It was just a couple of columns ago we were talking about the Eskimos catching the Als for a crossover playoff spot. Now, not only is that not going happen, but Montreal is also eying a home playoff date all of a sudden.
Give full marks to the Als for their performances the last two weeks. They made their way through the muck of their Week 14 meeting with the Riders and then snuffed out any talk of the Eskimos crossing over with authority one week later.
Rolling into Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday afternoon, Montreal built up a 32-3 third quarter lead before easily sealing a 47-24 win in Edmonton.
There are some pretty clear reasons as to why the Alouettes are playing much better football of late. First and foremost, they truly have cut down on their penalties. In both of their recent wins, Montreal has been penalized less than their opposition and have kept their overall penalty count in the single digits.
Compare that to their frustrating Week 13 loss to Hamilton where they took 16 penalties and you can tell things are progressing on that front.
The play of Josh Neiswander on Saturday was encouraging as well. There’s no sugarcoating the fact that Montreal would really like to have Anthony Calvillo calling the signals. However, there are no indications that AC will be back anytime in the near future, so they don’t have a choice other than to make the best of what they have.
Tanner Marsh is on the nine game, and Troy Smith isn’t ready for full time snaps, so Neiswander is going to be the guy for the next few weeks.
Against the Eskimos, the second year CFLer threw four touchdowns on just 25 passing attempts and looked pretty decent in doing so. Neiswander spread the ball to six different receivers while doing a nice job of using S.J. Green as a red zone factor even as the talented receiver was smothered effectively in between the twenties.
The Als are going to be a playoff team and it seems truly unknown whether they’ll have Calvillo back at any point or not. Neiswander got the job done in the second half against the Riders and then all game long in Edmonton.
Knowing Neiswander might be the guy taking playoff snaps in a few weeks; this has to be viewed as a positive sign.
But more than anything, the Alouettes came to play defensively once again. So much has been made about their troubles at under centre and on the offensive side of the ball this season, but so little has been talked about elsewhere this season.
The fact is, Montreal boasts one of the best defensive units in the league, and they were on display against the Eskimos.
Yeah, they ended up with five interceptions, which is what was getting most of the headlines, and rightfully so. But it goes a little deeper than that for Montreal. All year long they’ve gotten great work on their defensive line, lead by John Bowman’s nine sacks.
They’ve got one of the quickest, most punishing crew of linebackers going and they don’t give up much after initial contact. The Als are in the top three in virtually every important defensive category, and you could really tell why against the Eskimos.
Help is on the way
While it wasn’t their biggest area of need, you can’t help but like Saskatchewan’s pickup of Alex Hall this weekend. To bring in the CFL’s sack leader is going to give any team a boost, and it brings in an edge rusher with more sacks than John Chick, Ricky Foley, and Keith Shologan combined.
That sound tackling allowed ears to be pinned back on passing downs, and as a result we saw as good a pass rushing effort as we’ve seen all year from Hamilton. They finished with five sacks, which is almost three times what they average on a per-game basis.
Seeing Brandon Isaac and Simoni Lawrence shut down Kackert in the run game was impressive to see, but the sound tackling wasn’t just seen in this area. The Argos weren’t allowed to break very many big plays while passing YAC just were too hard to come by. Other than a 40-yard Andre Durie pickup, Toronto wasn’t able to complete a passing play longer than 30 yards all game long.
So why is this frustrating? Well, mostly because we saw them have some trouble in virtually every area the week prior against Calgary. Two weeks prior to that, they lost a game they probably shouldn’t have against that same Stampeders team.
In reality, this team could very well have built a much bigger cushion between themselves and Montreal for second in the East Division.
Make no mistake: Hamilton is a vastly improved team from what they were at the beginning of the season. Games like this weekend’s in Toronto are why people understand how much of a handful they might be come playoff time.
Pat Steinberg is the co-host of the drive home program on Sportsnet Radio FAN 960 in Calgary. He also reports on the CFL and the Stampeders and hosts pre and post-game programs for the team. He looks forward to traveling to the Grey Cup every year. Follow Pat on Twitter @Fan960Steinberg.