Give our loyal commenter ‘als rule’ some credit. This weekly column jumped the gun a little bit by proclaiming last week the halfway mark of the 2013 season. In reality, we’ve only now reached the midway point of the year and we feel safe in proclaiming that. And, despite a pair of teams that face a huge uphill climb to contention ahead of them, there’s still a lot to play for with the six likely playoff teams.
There’s no doubting who the two teams setting the pace are right now, both by their record and on-field performance. The Saskatchewan Roughriders and Calgary Stampeders truly are the two best teams in this league right now, and other than their records, it’s tough to set the two teams apart.
|Related: Week 10 Action|
Hamilton at BC
Winnipeg at Saskatchewan
Edmonton at Calgary
Montreal at Toronto» Recap: Alouettes get it done on the road
» Video: Montreal at Toronto Recap
» View Game Stats
» Images: MTL at TOR
» Video: Emry Scoops and Scores vs. Argos
It’s tough to say one team is truly better than the other at this point.
In head-to-head meetings, both teams have an impressive home win to their name. The Riders put up 36 on the Stamps in week two, while Calgary answered back with 42 of their own in a Week 7 victory. The only other Stamps loss came to the BC Lions, who Saskatchewan has yet to play.
Looking only at the schedule, there’s not a whole lot to differentiate. Their recent outings have been strong, with the Riders winning three straight games since their loss at McMahon Stadium. In those three games, they’ve won close (Edmonton), big (this weekend against Winnipeg), and crazy (Montreal).
Things remain pointed in a positive direction for the Riders, which is scary when you think about it. Against the Bombers on Sunday, Darian Durant continued his masterful work, throwing four touchdowns and just his first interception of the year. Even more promising continues to be how many weapons he is utilizing in a deadly manor.
We know what type of receiver Weston Dressler is, and therefore we know the type of coverage he’s going to attract every game. To a slightly lesser extent, we can say the same about Chris Getzlaf, despite his 112-yard performance against Winnipeg. The vast array of weaponry beyond those two in the passing game is where stopping this green machine gets tough.
I’ve been really impressed with how Geroy Simon has integrated himself into the Saskatchewan offence, and we’ve seen his comfort level with Durant improve game to game the last number of weeks.
Quietly, second year Syracuse product Taj Smith is on pace for more than 1100 yards and he’s already tripled his touchdown total from his freshman CFL campaign.
These two guys could be primary threats on a lot of other teams, but they’re very much just in the mix for the Riders. That’s a good problem to have.
As for the Stampeders, their recent body of work remains strong as well. Yes, they let the Eskimos get back into Monday’s Labour Day Classic in a somewhat alarming fashion, but from afar I’m really not all that worried about it. Calgary was dominant for 45+ minutes and let their foot off the gas rather noticeably. Going from a 30 point fourth quarter lead to a three point cushion in a matter of minutes is a pretty strong wakeup call heading into Friday’s rematch at Commonwealth.
Calgary has gotten strong quarterback play from Kevin Glenn and can rely upon Bo Levi Mitchell if they need to. The Riders have a pretty darn good crop of receivers, but the Stampeder arsenal is pretty formidable in itself even without their biggest gun in Nik Lewis.
Maurice Price isn’t always going to bust off 165 yards and three touchdowns, but he’s a viable threat with great physicality and breakaway speed. Marquay McDaniel is on pace to come close to his career numbers of 2010 while former quarterback Brad Sinopoli has turned himself into a pretty viable receiver.
Without Lewis, Calgary doesn’t boast the same type of star power that the Riders can in the passing game. However the Stamps receivers have shown that they can get the job done at an impressive rate regardless of who is throwing them the ball.
Is anyone else excited for October 26th when these two teams play for the final time?
It’s tough putting the BC Lions and Toronto Argonauts in the middle tier category, mainly because they’ve won the last two Grey Cups. However, from what we’ve seen from them through one half of the season, I can’t confidently put them in the same category as the Stamps and Riders.
Do they have the ability to be at that same level? Absolutely.
The biggest concerns I have with the Lions stem from consistency and the ability to open and close games strongly on the same night. We’ve written in this column previously about how BC’s habit of flipping the switch in the fourth quarter. Well-built teams have the ability to do that, but we’ve also seen them leave it too late. Having that happen in the regular season is annoying. Having that happen in the playoffs is deadly.
More recently, however, it’s been closing efforts from the Lions that have hurt them. We’re talking specifically about their loss to the Alouettes in Week 9, where BC had plenty of opportunity to bury their opposition but didn’t. That’s why I think this weekend’s win over Hamilton was so important.
A rapidly improving Tiger Cats squad gave the Lions the motivation they needed to make sure they were ready from the start. A strong in game performance from Hamilton where they never once went away made sure BC didn’t slump after halftime.
As such, I think Head Coach Mike Benevides got a really good look at what his team can do when playing start to finish. It’s a good example to fall back on as the second half of the year progresses.
The biggest worry for Toronto is defensively, where they continue to give up far too many yards in between the 20’s. They’ve done a pretty good job in the red zone defensively, finding themselves in the middle of the pack when it comes to points allowed. Unfortunately, they’re getting torched in the middle of the field, allowing more yards than anyone in the CFL by a pretty substantial margin.
Offensively, they’ll be just fine. When Ricky Ray returns at quarterback, there’s no reason to believe they won’t be all systems go. And, despite a rough outing against Montreal on Tuesday night, I still think Zach Collaros can get the job done in the interim.
Collaros ran into a really strong Als defense in that 20-9 loss, and while he wasn’t stellar himself, I think he’s more than effective enough to keep Toronto above water. That means Chris Jones has a lot of work to do as defensive coordinator in the second half of the season. The “bend but don’t break” philosophy might get you first in the East Division, but it may not net the Argos a second straight title.
At this point, you can’t sleep on either the Tiger Cats or Alouettes. Hamilton played some really good football against the Lions this weekend, and they boast one of the league’s most potent aerial attacks. I don’t think there’s any doubt that they’re an improved defensive group from where they were last year, and even where they were to start the season.
As for Montreal, the quarterback situation is an easy one to point to when it comes to concerns. We’ve talked about it plenty this year, so we won’t again this week.
This team has a lot going for it defensively, and while they have given up a lot of points this year, they’ve also been below their season average in points against two for the last three games.
Let’s be honest: stalled drives has often left Montreal in a lot of tough defensive situations, which is kind of the antithesis of Toronto. While the Argos have had their offence hide some worries defensively, it’s been the Als offence that has hurt their defensive group. That said, Shea Emry is having another strong season and John Bowman has flown right under the radar for what how he’s lead that front four.
They’re not the powerhouse Als they were, but they can still jump up and bite you if opportunities aren’t taken advantage of.
Reset for the second half
Both the Bombers and Eskimos will hope to forget the first half of their 2013 campaigns, there’s no doubt about that. But does either team have a chance of getting back into it? At this point, I really can’t see it. It’s too bad in reality, because eight teams still in the mix is preferable to just six, but the Monday Morning Quarterback won’t ever knowingly tell lies.
Justin Goltz had some highlight reel moments against the Riders on Sunday, but those can’t really hide the fact that no Bombers quarterback has shown the ability to truly lead this offence this year. They have also given up 35 points or more in five of their last six games.
For either Winnipeg or Edmonton to get back in it, they’re going to need to string three or four wins together in a row.
The Eskimos are playing close football with seemingly EVERYONE, but they keep falling just short of their second win. Monday’s 37-34 loss to Calgary saw a courageous comeback lead by quarterback Mike Reilly, but once again saw a victory escape them by three points.
Edmonton has lost five straight games by five points or less, and four straight by less than a field goal. They know they’ve been doing things the right way by and large, and the elusiveness of that victory becomes even more crushing in these circumstances.
With how Edmonton has played, and for how close they’ve been, I think accentuating the positives and building on the fourth quarter should be the message heading into Friday’s rematch with the Stamps.
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.