August 25, 2014

Steinberg’s MMQB: Things starting to get interesting

To this point, the 2014 CFL season has been marked by inter-division matchups dominated by the West. 

Now, however, things are starting to get really interesting.  While there are still a few more East-West showdowns, the vast majority of the remaining schedule will be played within the divisions.  That means things will even out on both sides, as some of those powerhouse West teams will start to lose, while East teams will finally start to move forward.

Collision course

Related: Week 9 Action

Montreal vs. Winnipeg
» Recap: Bombers edge Alouettes
» Highlights: WPG 26, MTL 14
» Willy, Bombers back on track
» View Game Stats
» Images: MTL at WPG
» Video: Unamba scoops and scores

Saskatchewan vs. BC
» Recap: Riders win fifth straight
» Highlights: SSK 20, BC 16
» View Game Stats
» Images: SSK at BC
» Video: Clark Lays Out For Major
» Video: Brown Blazes for Six
» Video: Durant Sidelined with Injury
» Durant leaves game with injury
» Skulsky guarantees a Lions win

Calgary vs. Ottawa
» Recap: Calgary pulls away late
» Highlights: CGY 32, OTT 7
» View Game Stats
» Images: CGY at OTT
» West overcomes tragedy
» Video: Burris Climbs Passing List
» Video: Williams Rumbles for TD

Toronto vs. Edmonton
» Recap: Esks power past Argos
» Highlights: EDM 41, TOR 27
» View Game Stats
» Images: TOR at EDM
» Reilly exits early with injury
» Video: Willis Does it All For TD
» Video: Lawrence Jets 61 yards for Major

Fans in Alberta are in for a treat the next couple weeks.  With road wins out east this weekend, the Edmonton Eskimos and Calgary Stampeders have set up a marquee showdown like we haven’t seen in years.

Both the Stamps and Eskimos enter their annual Labour Day home-and-home set with 7-1 records.  There is no question these have been the two best teams all season long, and they already have a pretty heated matchup in the books this season. 

Now, they get to lock horns for consecutive weeks, and both teams have a chance to take a stranglehold on the West Division heading into the stretch drive.
Edmonton’s 41-27 win over Toronto on Saturday wasn’t picture perfect by any means.  Yet, despite losing starting quarterback Mike Reilly very early on, the Esks scored 31 first half points and coasted to their seventh win of the season.  The fact they did what they did minus some key personnel makes their triumph even more impressive.
Not only was Edmonton missing Reilly for the majority of Saturday’s win, but they also played their second-straight game without running back John White. 

Yet, they didn’t really miss a beat. 

Thrust into action at quarterback, Matt Nichols was fine in managing the offence.  More notable, though, was the run game, which remained effective thanks to Kendial Lawrence’s 61-yard touchdown run.
However, what needs to be highlighted once again is Edmonton’s defensive group.  The Eskimos added three more interceptions to their league-leading total of 13 while upping their sack total to 29, good for second in the CFL. 

These guys are fast, period. 

They fly to the football when it’s in the air, and they swarm ball carriers as soon as they’ve got their hands on it.  There are lots of reasons Edmonton sits 7-1, but their defensive unit deserves as much credit as anyone else.
The Stampeders, on the other hand, did things in reverse.  While the Eskimos opened up a huge halftime lead on Saturday, the Stamps put the final nail in their 32-7 win in Ottawa on Sunday in the fourth quarter.  The REDBLACKS put up a pretty stiff challenge in the opening 30 minutes and trailed 8-7 at halftime.  The Stamps dominated from there on out, however, scoring 24 unanswered second half points.
Sunday’s win gave Stamps fans a few things to feel good about heading into Labour Day.  First off, Jon Cornish’s return puts a smile on any fan of the Red and White.  The reigning Most Outstanding Player ran for 74 yards on 16 carries and looked just fine in his first game since Week 1.  Having him back for two straight against the Eskimos is pretty good timing.
But it was Joe West who stole the show in Ottawa, making four catches, a few of them of the highlight reel variety, to finish with 129 yards through the air.  We all know West has the physical tools to be one of the CFL’s top receivers, but his consistency has always left something to be desired.  He’s had issues holding onto footballs, which was not an issue whatsoever in Ottawa.
They call the annual Stampeders-Eskimos showdown at McMahon Stadium on the first Monday of September the “Labour Day Classic”.  In 2014, that moniker could very well be as accurate as it has been in quite some time.  However, knowing the two teams meet twice in the span of six days, we could call these next two games potential mid-season classics.

All those options

There’s no such thing as too much depth in this league.  Right now, the Saskatchewan Roughriders are a testament to that, in one position specifically.
The Riders bumped their record to 6-2 on Sunday night, taking a hard fought 20-16 win over the Lions at BC Place.  The story for many was quarterback Tino Sunseri stepping in for Darian Durant at halftime and throwing his first CFL touchdown.  However, I was more impressed with how deep the defending Grey Cup champs are at another backfield position.
It was just over two weeks ago that Jerome Messam ran for 126 yards against the Bombers, which was heralded as yet another solid performance from a Saskatchewan running back.  On Sunday against BC, it was not one but two backs who tore it up.
Will Ford and Anthony Allen combined for 191 rushing yards, as yet another tailback tandem got the job done in a big way.  We hadn’t really seen Allen and Ford used like they were against BC prior to this week, but both were extremely dangerous.

But more importantly, both were very steady.

Allen was the workhorse, averaging just less than five yards per carry on 17 touches.  Ford, on the other hand, added a little more flash, including a 40-yard scamper that pushed his final tally to 108 yards.  It really was an impressive performance, and it leaves offensive coordinator George Cortez with so many options heading into their home-and-home series with Winnipeg.

Maybe the Riders will decide to give Messam the bulk of the carries like they did the last time they played the Bombers.  Why not? We already know what he did last time against them, so there’s plenty of reason to go back to that well.  Or perhaps Saskatchewan rides the hot hands of Ford and Allen in a similar way.

Or – and this it he best part – maybe the Riders do something a little different once again.  Right now, Saskatchewan has three extremely capable running backs that can be used in a variety of different ways.  For a team that lost a player the caliber of Kory Sheets, you’d expect a lot more drop off on the ground.  Thanks to some savvy pickups and an always strong offensive line, that hasn’t been the case whatsoever.

Revolving door

A constant turnover at runnin gback seems to be working wonders for the Riders.  The same cannot be said when it comes to the turnstile-like nature of the Montreal Alouettes at quarterback.
I can’t say I’m overly shocked things didn’t go in an outstanding fashion for Alex Brink against the Bombers.  I know many would think I’m not a fan of his if they’ve been reading this column this season, but that’s not the case.  I do believe, however, Brink has topped out as what he is in this league: A backup quarterback who can do a passable job when called upon in relief.
But right now Montreal is looking for someone they can loosely rely on for more than just one game at a time.  That’s why they made the decision to give Jonathan Crompton a try, and he probably deserves another shot next week against Ottawa.
Yeah, Crompton failed to throw a touchdown against three interceptions in his Montreal debut, but he moved the ball decently well. The fact that he had the Alouettes moving, and helped re-engage SJ Green in the offence, is a positive sign.
I’ll go broken record on you, because I still don’t know why the team is so reticent to use Tanner Marsh.  He’s still got the highest ceiling of any pivot on the roster and has CFL starting experience.  Knowing this season for the Als, though, Marsh probably will start. 

And then so will you and I.