CALGARY — When it comes to momentum, it’s clear who’s got it going into the Western Final.
While the Edmonton Eskimos have won six straight games, the league-leading Calgary Stampeders backed into the post-season with three consecutive losses — including two straight at McMahon Stadium. All things considered, the visiting Esks should be a clear-cut favourite to go to the Grey Cup, right?
Not so fast. The Stampeders have gotten some time to re-group, and after falling in the Grey Cup last season, they’ve waited a long time to make their post-season return.
The Battle of Alberta is back for the fourth time this season, and this is the one for all the marbles.
CFL.ca breaks down who has the edge in the Western Final, position by position.
Two of the league greats in Mike Reilly and Bo Levi Mitchell duel for the fourth time this season. Mitchell has enjoyed another strong season for the Red and White, yet hasn’t always seemed himself following an MOP 2016 season. Mitchell has had more career success than Reilly but this year, the Eskimos quarterback has been the better of the two, getting the nod over his provincial counterpart.
Jerome Messam has averaged 3.5 yards per carry his last four games, faling to eclipse more than 43 yards in any game over that span. While the Stamps workhorse may be having the better season, C.J. Gable has been the better back of late, carrying the Eskimos on his shoulders ever since being acquired last month.
If it’s not Brandon Zylstra or Derel Walker, it’s Adarius Bowman. All three are playing an integral role for the Eskimos from week to week, with the veteran No. 4 Bowman looking rejuvenated late in the season. The Stampeders have really good receivers too, with DaVaris Daniels and Kamar Jorden leading the charge.
Behind the brute force of their O-line, the Eskimos surrendered the fewest sacks in the CFL (29 this season) while ranking second in the CFL in rushing yardage (96.3 yards per game). Calgary’s offensive line has been equally impressive no matter who’s in the game, with Ucambre Williams the latest to emerge as a big name.
The Stamps have arguably the best defensive lineman in all of football in Micah Johnson, while Charleston Hughes still has the ability to track down opposing quarterbacks. Calgary also leads the CFL in sacks (50) and quarterback pressures (125). But that’s not to avoid Edmonton’s vaunted unit. Euclid Cummings and Almondo Sewell may be the best combination of interior defensive linemen around.
After season-ending injuries to JC Sherritt and Cory Greenwood out of the gate, the Eskimos’ depth has been remarkable at the linebacker position. Adam Konar and Korey Jones have done a nice job stepping in, while Kenny Ladler may be the best SAM linebacker in the game. The Stamps’ linebackers are just a bit better though, led by Most Outstanding Defensive Player nominee Alex Singleton. Rookie Jameer Thurman has also been terrific.
The Stampeders rank No. 1 in the league with only 254.6 passing yards per game against their defence. They’re a savvy veteran group with no glaring weaknesses, while Josh Bell and Jamar Wall are a veteran duo that’s been almost impossible to beat this season. The Esks’ DBs are coming along nicely but aren’t there with Calgary just yet.
While Jamill Smith is a slippery returner for the Eskimos, this battle comes down to one man and one man only: Roy Finch. The Stamps’ return man has been lights out in 2017, ranking fifth in the league in all-purpose yards at 2,161 — despite missing time due to injury. Finch can change a game in the blink of an eye.
While the Eskimos are happy to have Sean Whyte back, Stamps kicker Rene Paredes has quietly gone about his business this season, nailing 53 of 58 attempts and surpassing Justin Medlock as the CFL’s all-time most accurate kicker. If there’s a captain clutch in the CFL, that may be Paredes.
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