The lack of offence in the CFL this year has not been an asset for the games, but it is clear defence is king in 2014.
The incredible overall team speed of CFL defences has been too much to handle for the largely Canadian O-linemen as they face a barrage of stunts and full-on blitz schemes designed to exploit their large size and comparative immobility.
Teams have begun to use their fullbacks in tight end protection schemes designed to keep besieged quarterbacks out of orthopedic wards, but with fewer receiver options for the pivots. Even Ricky Ray has been off his game because his 2014 theme song is ‘Staying Alive’ behind a shaky O-line.
We begin the back nine of the season with traditional rivalries, along with a rekindled rivalry between old foes on Friday night when 1-7 Ottawa visits 1-7 Montreal. These teams have a long history renewed by this year’s resurrection of CFL football in the capital.
Both teams enjoy a tie for second and worst in the East with the equally inept 1-6 Ticats, so sole possession of second place is actually on the line for them. One would assume most Alouette fans will be led in at gunpoint to this game because the post-Anthony Calvillo era has been that bad for Montreal. However, the Als fans will leave happy because the Montreal defence will dominate the woeful RedBlack offence and win one for what is left of the vanishing hometown Alouette faithful.
I expected Ottawa to be competitive this year, but they are clearly a good example of a bad expansion team at this point. They do not look particularly well-coached and take many bonehead penalties in games. Henry Burris has lost his game and has little receiver talent at his disposal. It will be a long season for RedBlack fans.
Sunday will feature a clash between the 6-2 Roughriders and 6-3 Blue Bombers in Regina. The Labour Day game is always the biggest event of the year for both teams and their close records add more frenzy to the chaos. This year, the game boils down to defence and whether the ’Riders’ D can continue to exert enormous pressure on rival quarterbacks.
My guess is Saskatchewan will indeed win this game with defence. There are still big questions about the Winnipeg O-line and they will face heat from all directions in the game. You can double-team John Chick, but that leaves three other linemen to pursue Bomber quarterback Drew Willy. The x-factor will come from the secondary where safety Ty Brackenridge has more than enough speed and anger to reach Willy in a blitz package.
Toronto, 3-6, renews hostilities with Hamilton in their traditional Labour Day clash and there are more questions than answers for these two teams. Even the stadium is a question mark, let alone the Hamilton quarterback situation after the season-ending injury to Dan LeFevour. Hamilton has an improved defence and the big question is whether the Tabby defence can win this game against the Argos.
The simple answer is no. The Argos still have Ricky Ray, and even a slumping Ray will more than match the Ticat offensive counter-punch. Sure, Ray will face pressure from the Cat defence and may not be vintage Ricky Ray right now, but he is enough to win the game.
How many people envisioned a Labour Day clash between the 7-1 Eskimos and 7-1 Stampeders this year? Certainly not me, but the Battle of Alberta is real this year because first place is on the line for these provincial rivals. Sadly, both teams now live in the permanent darkness of the NHL shadow in this province, but, for one shining moment, they will get the spotlight.
The real football fans will be shoulder to shoulder with hordes of shallow event junkies in McMahon, but the result will be a Stamp victory.
Calgary have superstar Jon Cornish back into the lineup and he is ready to play. The Stamps have not exactly shot out the lights on offence this year and Cornish will change that dynamic as a run threat.
Calgary is tough defensively and well-balanced in all three phases of the game. I question Edmonton’s record thus far, but I do not question Calgary’s. Stamps in a romp to end the Labour Day weekend show.