July 14, 2014

Steinberg’s MMQB: New faces, old faces take centre stage

Through three weeks of the 2014 season, we’ve got two surprising, yet very promising, unbeaten teams.  And while there are a few new faces doing a good job establishing themselves, there’s also a good number of familiar faces we’re used to seeing in the headlines as well.  

All things considered, it’s been a pretty fun first three weeks!

Leading the way

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Edmonton Eskimos have each kicked off their seasons in perfect fashion. 

Related: Week 3 Action

Calgary vs. Toronto
» View Game Stats
» Video: Stamps open their bag of tricks
» Video: Sanders Electric Return
» Images: Calgary vs. Toronto

BC vs. Saskatchewan
» View Game Stats
» Video: Harris eats up yards
» Images: BC vs. Saskatchewan

Edmonton vs. Ottawa
» View Game Stats
» Images: Edmonton vs. Ottawa
» Video: Bowman’s one-handed TD
» Video: Walker’s 65-Yard Scamper

Montreal vs. Winnipeg
» View Game Stats
» Images: WPG at MTL
» Video: Johnson’s First CFL TD
» Video: Dunns’ Fumble Return Touchdown
» Feoli-Gudino makes good at home

In 2013, these two teams combined for just seven wins, and through three weeks of 2014, they’ve combined for six.  

It’s a long season and there’s a lot that could still happen, but that right there paints a pretty clear picture.
We’ll start with the Bombers, who are showing us they can score points.  After their 34-33 win over the Alouettes on Friday night, Winnipeg is averaging more than 38 points per game.  

That’s more than 18 more points per game than their 2013 campaign which was marked by instability at basically every major position.
That is already different three games into 2014.  Drew Willy will have bad games this year, and three games are not enough to solidify a quarterback as a legit starter in this league.  However, he’s given Bombers fans more than enough reason to feel very hopeful.  

Willy has put together three consecutive impressive performances, as he got the job done once again in Montreal.
But Willy isn’t the only key position looking a whole lot better year-to-year.  Winnipeg couldn’t settle on a running back in 2013, but they don’t have to make a choice this year thanks to Nic Grigsby essentially making it for them.  

The Arizona product didn’t put up huge numbers on Friday night, but he brings two things the Bombers haven’t had in a while.

First, he’s a factor that opposing defences truly have to game plan for.  And second, he has the ability to bust something big whenever he touches the ball, whether it be on the ground or through the air.
Finally, the defensive front looks really good, and the fact all four starters are returnees is a big reason why.  Greg Peach and Jason Vega have been speedy and dangerous off the edge, and I’ve really liked the work of Bryan Turner Jr. and Jake Thomas in the middle.  

As for Edmonton, much like Winnipeg, it all comes back to the quarterback.  The difference here, though, is that Mike Reilly’s body of work is far larger than Willy’s.  

In a 27-11 Eskimos win over Ottawa on Friday, Reilly was on point once again, completing almost 67 per cent of his passes while throwing three touchdowns.
And, as we’ve mentioned numerous times already, a big reason for this is because Edmonton is allowing Reilly to be a star.  The Eskimos offensive line surrendered just two sacks against the REDBLACKS. Overall, Edmonton has allowed seven sacks against, or about 2.3 per game.  

That’s already down one full sack from 2013 when they allowed 60, the second worst total in the league.
Reilly also has two dynamic targets to throw to in Fred Stamps and Adarius Bowman.

Stamps made just one catch against Ottawa, but that was because Bowman saw seemingly every ball.  Bowman finished with 140 yards receiving and three touchdowns, but I still see Stamps as a threat on any given night.  

He may not be explosive now as he was, say, two years ago, but he still extremely reliable and tough to take down.  And don’t forget University of Calgary product Nate Coehoorn, as he’s already being targeted more this year than any other time in the past.
Oh, and the best part? These two teams will meet for the first time to kick off Week 4 on Thursday night.  The game is in Winnipeg, where the Bombers saw their attendance rise by more than 3000 from Week 1 to Week 2.  Let’s hope they can get another bump like that with their solid start to the season.

Allergic to losing

Jeff Garcia started his Calgary Stampeders career with seven straight victories, a team record.  Well, thanks to a near-flawless performance on Saturday night in Toronto, Bo Levi Mitchell is closing in on that mark.  

Calgary’s third year quarterback is now 5-0 as a starter and doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of slowing down.
What Mitchell did in this weekend’s 34-15 win over the Argos was even more impressive because of the circumstances.  Let’s not forget the Stampeders were playing without three key offensive players in running back Jon Cornish and receivers Maurice Price and Nik Lewis.

 That’s a lot to put on the shoulders of a 24-year-old making his fifth CFL start!
Yet, Mitchell wasn’t fazed whatsoever, and instead made dangerous targets out of Anthony Parker and Jeff Fuller.  Anyone who has watched Mitchell go about his business over the last three years isn’t surprised.  

As the third string or the starter, Mitchell has always been calm, composed, and confident.  That’s exactly what we’ve seen through two games this season.
Oh yeah, and the guy can straight up ball.  Mitchell has terrifying arm strength and could put a hole through a receiver if he wanted.  But he’s relying on his cannon of an arm a whole lot less and has made significant improvements in how he delivers the ball.  

There is a time for a rocket, but there is also time for the right touch, which he had on his 58-yard strike to Fuller in the first half.

The MMQB was very opinionated earlier in the season, feeling Drew Tate was the correct choice to install as Calgary’s starter to kick off the season.  

We don’t know how Tate would have done, but we do know what his counterpart has done.  Through two games, Mitchell has done plenty to make us look awkwardly at our shoes.

Don’t forget these guys

How cool was it to see Andrew Harris tear things up for the BC Lions to finish off the week on Saturday night?

The BC Lions tailback looked like the guy who was neck-and-neck with Jon Cornish in 2012, finishing with 203 all-purpose yards and one touchdown.  Harris saw a slight dip in his numbers in 2013, but man did he look good in Regina on Saturday.
Part of the reason why Harris wasn’t as big a story last year was the work of Cornish, who put up historic numbers for Calgary.  But in 2012, these two Canadian were on virtually equal footing all season long, setting up a showdown in the Western Final.
Already averaging 5.6 yards per carry, Harris is going to be relied upon in a huge way until Travis Lulay is ready to come back.  Kevin Glenn was better and made fewer mistakes in his third Lions start, but he needs a running back to take some of the pressure off.  

The dual threat ability of Harris, coupled with the way he’s played thus far, makes him the perfect guy to fill that role.
On the other side of that game was Hugh Charles, who is back with the Riders after being cut by the Eskimos prior to the season.  He had a nice re-debut in green, running for 86 yards on 13 carries in a losing effort.  I’ve always been a fan of Charles and I think it was a smart move for Saskatchewan to bring him in.
Kory Sheets was a true superstar in this league and was integral in a 2013 Riders Grey Cup win.  But he’s gone and Saskatchewan still needs a viable threat on the ground.  

Will it be Charles solely? Likely not, but the combination of him and Georgia Tech product Anthony Allen should be very interesting.
Allen got moved down the depth chart in Week 3 thanks to some ball security issues, but as he works on those, I think he and Charles should complement one another nicely.  

Charles is 5’8 and 193 pounds while Allen is 6’1 at 220 pounds.  I really want to see these two guys utilized as a tandem as things move forward.