August 31, 2017

Who Woulda Thought?: Landry picks five first half surprises

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

Here we are again, football fans. Mark’s Labour Day Weekend has arrived already. As we make the turn towards fall and the stretch drive towards the playoffs, it’s time to take stock of a few things that have – to varying degrees – caused eyebrows to arch in Spock-ian fashion up to this point.

Who woulda thought… the West would’ve dominated THAT much?

Sure, the West is generally, historically, the division that enjoys the advantage when there is imbalance in the CFL family. In fact, no East team has ever crossed over into the West for a playoff spot, it’s true.

However, even if you figured the West would hold the upper hand this season, did you really believe the division would have a cumulative record of 19-3-1 over the East? 19-3-1! For the record, those East wins are: Montreal over Saskatchewan, Montreal over Calgary and Ottawa over BC.

Both Ottawa and Hamilton looked pretty good on paper heading into this season and my expectation was that they would each be formidable opponents, with Montreal not far behind and the Argos lagging until the later stages of the season. So, a Western advantage over the East would not have been a surprise. But not far off from pitching a shutout? Come on.

Who woulda thought… the Argos would be in first place?

I didn’t say that it was super-impressive that they are ruling the Eastern roost with a record of merely 4 and 6 but, still, would you have predicted they’d be there at this point in the season? It has a little to do with Toronto’s faster than anticipated improvement after a 5 and 13 season and late-to-the-dance front office and coaching appointments but also with the struggles of the rest of the East as well, of course.

Still, the Argos hit the turn with a fix on top spot and after their Monday date in Hamilton, followed with a bye, they will play each and every one of their remaining seven games on Saturdays. That kind of scheduling consistency ought to be a boon for head coach Marc Trestman.

That is, if the Argos can withstand an injury plague that is almost Edmonton-esque.

Who woulda thought… the Eskimos could get out to a 7-0 start?

It’s not that they didn’t head into the season as a competitive favourite. It’s that they suffered key injuries even before the pre-season began, with linebacker Cory Greenwood being lost for the season, as an example. It was a harbinger for the incredible amount of roster distress the Eskies were about to face and their ability to keep it together week in and week out in order to muster seven wins in a row was surprising and impressive. The injury list swelled to unimaginable proportions and there was little discrimination. Linemen, linebackers, running backs, receivers, defensive backs…

Edmonton was hit everywhere, except for one very important place and that was at quarterback. Mike Reilly led a chorus of strong wills over those seven games and Edmonton won them all, even though they could have been forgiven for dropping a bunch of those games. It’s only in their last two where things have finally caught up to them. Like the Argos, if the Esks have seen the worst and get to keep returning stars in their line-up over the second half, that will be huge.

Who woulda thought… that Zach Collaros would crash to earth?

You know, some predicted the Hamilton Ticats would be in the Grey Cup game this year (looking at you, Landry) and that supposition was based on a number of things. For me, by far the most important factor in jumping to that conclusion was a faith in the skill and daring of one Zach Collaros, a quarterback who has shown great flashes of brilliance, over the years, when not spending time on the injured list.

It seemed that odds were another injury could not possibly happen to keep Collaros from his manifest destiny of challenging for a Most Outstanding Player Award. Well, I was right on one thing, anyway; it was not an injury that sees Jeremiah Masoli inserted as the starter on Marks Labour Day Weekend but rather Collaros’ own struggles at the controls of the Hamilton offence.

Last among CFL starters in QUAR, with a rating of 40.9 (compare to the leader, Winnipeg’s Matt Nichols at 88.9), Collaros has struggled all season long and now must stand a healthy back-up for the first time since he and Trevor Harris were Ricky Ray’s understudies in Toronto.

Who woulda thought… that Travis Lulay would become the BC Lions starter?

It’s a surprise in that Lulay will be the starter, when the Lions return to action next week, based on a coach’s decision and not an injury. It’s not that I didn’t believe that Travis Lulay could start and shine at the age of thirty-three. In fact, I will categorically insist that I do not find that shocking in the least and don’t believe anyone should be surprised at his level of play.

At the beginning of the season, though, the Lions were firmly in the hands of 25-year-old Jonathon Jennings and there was no such thing as a quarterback controversy in Lotusland. Even after Lulay’s stellar play as an injury replacement for four games – in which the Lions went 3 and 1 – BC coach Wally Buono went back to the younger pivot when Jennings was healthy again. However, three losses in succession heading into the break have the Lions just two points out of the basement and that, too, would be considered a surprise for a team that was touted as quite possibly the powerhouse of the division in 2017.

Other quick surprises:

S.J. Green being exactly what he was prior to devastating knee injuries.  Not sort of what he used to be, not just a reasonable facsimile. Exactly what he was. Surprise.

Hamilton Head Coach Kent Austin firing himself. Surprise.

A punt actually being blocked before the kicker’s foot contacted the ball (Winnipeg’s Derek Jones, Week 5). Surprise.

Winnipeg scoring two touchdowns in the final forty-four seconds to beat Montreal (Week 6). Surprise.

The league’s sack leader (Toronto’s Victor Butler, seven) playing only four and a half games up to this point. Surprise.

Ed Gainey coming up with five turnovers in one game. Surprise.

If you thought Ricky Ray, Kevin Glenn and Odell Willis were past their “best before” dates, surprise, surprise, surprise.