There are two different twists this week for the B.C. Lions.
The Lions (3-1) are home Friday night to Winnipeg (2-1) following three straight road wins over East Division rivals, and they’ll likely have a different starting quarterback under centre when they face the Blue Bombers.
Veteran backup Travis Lulay came off the bench to throw for a record 436 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-26 decision against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Saturday night. Lulay entered the game on B.C.’s opening possession after starter Jonathon Jennings suffered a reported shoulder injury.
Lulay, the 2011 CFL and Grey Cup MVP, is expected to start against Winnipeg. The 33-year-old has completed 63.4 per cent of his passes over nine CFL seasons with almost twice as many TD strikes (107) as interceptions (59).
Lulay also boasts a gaudy 6.9-yard rushing average over that time. But B.C.’s defence is also playing well, allowing just 21.3 points per game, tied with Montreal for fewest in the CFL.
By comparison, Winnipeg’s unit is allowing 27.3 offensive points per contest. Lulay will lead a Lions offence that’s second in offensive points (29 per game) and third in time of possession (32 minutes, seven seconds).
That could put the onus on Winnipeg’s offence — ranked seventh in time of possession at 28:39 — to not only score but take its time doing to keep the Lions’ unit off the field as much as possible.
A solid ground game would certainly help. Former Lion Andrew Harris ran for 81 yards on 17 carries and scored two TDs in last week’s 33-25 home win over Toronto. The good news for Winnipeg is B.C.’s defence is allowing 5.6 yards per rushing attempt.
Conversely, Winnipeg’s defence is ranked first against the run (41.7 yards per game) and defensive back T.J. Heath has a league-leading four interceptions.
Both teams sport solid kickers. Winnipeg’s Justin Medlock hasn’t missed in 2017 (10-of-10 on field goals, eight-of-eight on converts) while B.C.’s Ty Long has made 10-of-11 field goals and six-of-eight converts.
Long has a CFL-best 45.9-yard punting average with Medlock not far behind (44.5-yard average). Winnipeg and B.C. are also very disciplined, standing first and second, respectively, in fewest penalties.
All of which suggests a very close, tight contest.
Montreal Alouettes versus Ottawa Redblacks (Wednesday night)
It’s been a rough start for Ottawa (0-3-1), which has lost its games by a combined six points. What’s more, the club is in the midst of playing three games within 11 days, which gives it precious time to heal and practise. The Redblacks held Mike Reilly to 265 passing yards in last week’s 23-21 road loss to Edmonton but Tavon Van ran for 103 yards on 18 carries against his former team. Montreal (2-2) is coming off a 30-23 home win over Calgary, its fourth straight victory at Molson Stadium against the defending West Division champion. Darian Durant threw for 296 yards and a TD against the Stampeders but also had two interceptions.
Edmonton Eskimos versus Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Thursday night)
Edmonton (3-0) has earned its three wins by a combined nine points. While quarterback Mike Reilly, the CFL’s passing leader last year, has completed 71.8 per cent of his throws, the Eskimos’ defence is tied with Saskatchewan for fewest yards allowed (306 per game) and allowed a league-low two TD passes. But rival offences have run for four TDs, one behind league-worst Hamilton (0-3). The Ticats are also coming off being torched by Lulay and are ranked last in scoring (15.7 offensive points per game) and points allowed (35 offensive points per game).
Saskatchewan Roughriders versus Calgary Stampeders (Saturday night)
Saskatchewan (1-2) has had two weeks to savour its 37-20 victory over Hamilton. Veteran Kevin Glenn threw for 380 yards and two TDs against Hamilton while Roosevelt Naaman had 10 catches for 167 yards. But the Riders’ defence was solid, allowing just 216 net yards. Calgary (2-1-1) is coming off a 30-23 road loss to Montreal. It was just the eighth career regular-season loss for Bo Levi Mitchell, last year’s league MVP who threw for 379 yards and a touchdown. Kamar Jorden was the club’s receiving leader with nine catches for 140 yards. Defensive end Charleston Hughes (leg), one of the CFL’s premier pass-rushers, could be back in the lineup.
Ottawa Redblacks versus Toronto Argonauts (Monday night)
The Redblacks (0-3-1) will end a tough stretch at BMO Field. Ottawa quarterback Trevor Harris has thrown a league-high eight touchdown passes but will face a rested Argos defence that’s recorded a CFL-best 14 sacks. Toronto (2-2) last played July 13 in a 33-25 road loss to Winnipeg. Argos starter Ricky Ray enters action as the CFL’s passing leader, having thrown for over 300 yards in each of the club’s four games. Veteran S.J. Green, who missed much of last year with a knee injury, is the league’s top receiver with 24 catches for 452 yards and a TD.
Last week: 3-1.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press