- FREE AGENCY
Berg vs. Ferg is back for 2019 as columnists Pat Steinberg and Marshall Ferguson debate over some of the league’s most contentious storylines. This week’s question: What’s the biggest storyline on Mark’s Labour Day Weekend?
TORONTO — There’s a lot to watch for on Mark’s Labour Day Weekend, from three traditional rivalries to a growing list of stars across the league.
On Sunday, all eyes will be on the league-leading Bombers, who will try to continue their ways without the services of Matt Nichols (injured) and Andrew Harris (suspended). It won’t be easy though, especially against a Riders team seeking a CFL-best sixth straight victory.
The next day brings an exciting double-header, as the Argos visit the Ticats at 1 p.m. ET followed by the Battle of Alberta between Edmonton and Calgary at 4:30 p.m. ET.
While Bo Levi Mitchell’s status remains in the air, the Stamps are trying to snap out of a two-game mini-slump as the fight for positioning in the West heats up.
In Hamilton, Dane Evans has won three consecutive starts, but the Ticats have their skeptics after wins over BC and Ottawa. Yet at 8-2, the Ticats have earned their status as a CFL powerhouse heading into the final eight games of the season.
What’s the biggest storyline on Mark’s Labour Day Weekend? Steinberg and Ferguson debate in the latest Berg vs. Ferg.
|BERG VS. FERG: LAST TIME’S RESULTS
Last time, Berg and Ferg debated over ‘no lead is safe’ moments.
Poll Result: Which ‘no lead is safe’ moment was better?
Last Week’s Poll:
Steinberg: Argos’ 2017 Grey Cup (63%)
Ferguson: Masoli comes off the bench (37%)
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers own the West Division’s best record and they deserve to be sitting at the top of the mountain. But as they enter Mark’s Labour Day Weekend, the Bombers face their biggest challenge of 2019. Not only are they taking on a hard-charging, well-rounded opponent in archrival Saskatchewan, they’re also doing it minus two central figures. The leading candidate for this season’s Most Outstanding Player leads that list of absentees.
Star running back Andrew Harris will miss this weekend’s Labour Day showdown and the Week 13 rematch after violating the CFL/CFLPA drug policy earlier this week. I’m not sure there’s a player in this league whose absence makes a bigger impact than Harris’s does on the Bombers. He’s the most important non-quarterback in the league and was on pace to shatter career highs and set new league records. You just can’t replace what Harris means to Winnipeg.
Harris touches the ball about 20 times per game on average, he’s the CFL’s leading rusher, and remains extremely viable as a pass-catching option. With Matt Nichols, the Blue Bombers were able to have success without needing a quarterback to be their central offensive figure. The same was true when Chris Streveler stepped in for the injured Nichols last week; Streveler completed just seven passes in Winnipeg’s win over Edmonton. I’m not sure that can be the case the next two weeks.
Without Harris, I’m skeptical the Bombers can beat another elite team like the Riders without solid play at quarterback. As such, I don’t think they have the option to use Streveler like they did against the Eskimos. In the end, Streveler threw the ball just 17 times but ran it on 14 occasions; without a foil like Harris, I’m not sure that tactic will be anywhere near as effective.
Winnipeg deserves to have the West’s best record at the midway mark of the 2019 season. However, this week was going to be a big enough test facing a very good Saskatchewan team. I’m not saying they can’t beat the Riders without Harris and Nichols. I’m just saying doing so will likely be their biggest challenge of the season. That’s why it’s the number one story to watch on Mark’s Labour Day Weekend.
It happens in every conference, division or league.
That one team you just need to get past. The one team that continues to be a thorn in your side. The one team you need to prove to not only your fan base but also yourself that you can beat.
For the Edmonton Eskimos I believe that team is the Calgary Stampeders.
You can use whatever timeline you’d like and extrapolate dates to prove or disprove the value of the above argument, but I’m more focused on recent history than anything else.
Last season in Mike Reilly’s final year with the Eskimos and a great team all around him, Bo Levi and the Stamps split the Labour Day and Labour Day rematch with the Edmonton victory requiring a grand total of 48 points to get over the top.
Earlier this season, with Bo sidelined due to that nagging pectoral injury, and with Trevor Harris firing on all cylinders, not to mention the grand overhaul of Calgary’s defence in free agency, it seemed natural that a passing of the torch was ready to occur for Albertan supremacy.
Nick Arbuckle and the Stamps were able to get the victory yet again, this time by a final of 24-18 in what was largely a defensive battle determined by a long kick return.
For Edmonton to get over the hump and feel they really are ready to contend in the West and CFL as a whole they must send a message over the next two games. In order to do so they’ll have to finish drives with majors, not field goals.
Overcoming both the Stamps and score zone inefficiencies before the calendar tuns to October would be massive for Edmonton’s self belief.
While both sides are pretty convincing, someone’s got to take it. Whose argument convinced you the most?
The winner will be revealed in the following week’s Berg vs. Ferg.