Thursday, August 13, 2015

Week Eight Picks

Season record: 14-14
Last week: 3-1

Edmonton (4-2) at Montreal (2-4)

This is likely the toughest game of the week to predict. While I think Edmonton has the best defence in the league, I have some serious questions about their offence without Adarius Bowman in the lineup. The Alouettes, meanwhile, are a much better team than their 2-4 record would indicate. Noel Thorpe's defence is one of the best in the league, while Rakeem Cato and the offence will only get better having Tyrell Sutton back in the lineup. I can't see Matt Nichols putting up all that many points without Bowman on the field, instead turning it over and giving Montreal's offence enough cracks against Edmonton's defence to eventually break through. 

Pick: Montreal 

Toronto (4-2) at Winnipeg (3-4)

Robert Marve will be making his first career start when the Argonauts visit Investors Group Field. Marve has shown flashes of potential in limited game action, though as a rookie, he is expected to make some mistakes. While the Argonauts as a team haven't impressed me in recent weeks, their defence has been particularly bad. Having national safety Jermaine Gabriel back in the lineup would be huge for the Argos, but they're still without Cory Greenwood at weak-side linebacker. The Bombers lost Paris Cotton and Darvin Adams last week, but will have Bryant Turner Jr., Greg Peach and Nick Moore back in the lineup. Cameron Marshall, meanwhile, will get his first start at running back despite earning more carries than Cotton in recent weeks. If Marve can play more conservative than he did in the pre-season and protect the football, I think the Bombers can pull it off at home. But that's a lot to ask from a rookie pivot, so I'll take the Double Blue in a close game. 

Pick: Toronto 

BC (3-3) at Hamilton (4-2)

This game is a no-brainer. I simply don't think the Lions are good enough to be the first team to snap Hamilton's undefeated streak at Tim Hortons Field. Andrew Harris appears to be BC's only weapon on offence, however with the number one run-defence, the Tiger-Cats will limit his impact. Hamilton's offence did capitalize on good field-position and turnovers in the first half, but didn't really seem to be clicking in the second half against Winnipeg. Expect a big game from Zach Collaros against a lesser defence in the Lions'.

Pick: Hamilton 

Ottawa (4-2) at Calgary (4-2) 

How will Ottawa perform outside of TD Place? All four of the Redblacks' wins have come on their home stomping grounds, and the last time they traveled out West was to Edmonton, a game in which they  via blowout fashion. Ottawa's defence has been good, but not great, this season, which would also describe the play of Bo Levi Mitchell. A fierce Ottawa pass-rush and play-making group of defensive backs got the better of the second year starter when these teams met in week five. Calgary's receivers versus Ottawa's secondary should once again be the matchup to watch, and while I think they'll both take their shots, Calgary's pass-catchers will ultimately get their pay-back on Sunday. The play of Henry Burris will go a long way, but I like Calgary playing at home after a bye week. 

Pick: Calgary 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

10 Thoughts I Have From Week Seven

The parity is still very much there, but the smoke is starting to clear in the CFL. All four of the Eastern teams seem to be very good, while the West is kind of top-heavy. That being said, BC's defeat of the Edmonton Eskimos reassures that anybody can beat anybody in this league, so we'll see how things shake out in the upcoming weeks. Here's 10 thoughts I had in week seven.

1. Automatic video review: what's the point?
Whether it's a touchdown pass or an extra point attempt, every scoring play is automatically reviewed by the command centre. There, the replay officials can review the play as many times as needed with numerous camera angles to ensure the ruling on the field was indeed correct. For those reasons, I simply don't understand how the replay officials have blown so many blatant calls this year when the ball-carrier was either down-by-contact or never even crossed the plain. First, it was Brian Brohm's touchdown run in week two. Then it was Tyrell Sutton stepping out of bounds before the ball crossed the plain in week three. Last week, Brandon Stewart clearly touched AJ Jefferson's knee after recovering an onside punt and in week seven, Manny Arceneaux stepped out of bounds at least once while tight-roping the sidelines on route to the end-zone. This is simply unacceptable and has to stop.

2. Andrew Harris for Most Outstanding Player
If the Edmonton Eskimos can't stop Andrew Harris, can anyone? The Canadian running back had his best game of the season on Thursday night, recording 175 total yards with two touchdowns, including the 31-yard game-winning catch-and-score. Harris now has a league-leading 807 yards-from-scrimmage and 6 touchdowns, with 519 of those yards coming on the ground. With or without the majority of the league's superstars being injured, Harris would likely still be the front runner for Most Outstanding Player after seven weeks of action.

3. Jones should've attempted the field goal
It was Edmonton's offence that ultimately cost them the game against the Lions, but they still had a chance to tie the game with under a minute to go on third-down with the ball on BC's 48 yard line. HC Chris Jones' decision to opt against the field goal and go for it, which resulted in another Matt Nichols interception, was absolutely the wrong one. Jones had the hottest kicker in the CFL, Grant Shaw, at his disposal, who is yet to miss a single field goal on the season and was 3/3 on the day. Meanwhile, Nichols and the offence hadn't scored a point in the half and were struggling to convert in medium passing situations. CFL kickers have made 60% of their attempts from the 48 and 68% from that distance in BC Place, so the numbers certainly don't support Jones either. I understand the ball was placed on the right hash, however Jones should've trusted Shaw to send the game to overtime.

4. Smith shows promise in second start
Brett Smith was impressive in his second career start against the Argonauts, completing 23/35 of his passes for 298 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, which was returned by Akwasi Owusu-Ansha for six points. Despite the loss, Smith should keep his head up. The rookie pivot from Wyoming carried the Riders with little assistance from his teammates, who continuously took stupid penalties that resulted in two touchdown passes being called back. And while Smith has played very good for a rookie, I think we should wait a little longer before anointing him as the next big thing. After witnessing Joey Elliott throw for 400 yards in his third career start only to get released at the end of season, I'm going to remain cautiously optimistic with Brett Smith. There's no Rakeem Cato effect here.

5. Bellefeuille does it again
Last time I wrote about Winnipeg's OC, I was both sad and disappointed with his offence. But this time around, after getting shellacked by the Tiger-Cats by 30 points in a game that saw Drew Willy take a beating and leave to injury, this paragraph is filled with much more anger. Bellefeuille's inability to put together basic protection schemes against Hamilton's blitz-heavy defence has come at the expense of Drew Willy, who's out for at least 6-8 weeks with a knee injury. It was the third time Willy had been knocked out of a ball game this season, and the second time against Hamilton. This isn't a personnel issue, either, as Winnipeg's offensive line is filled with enough individual talents. This is Bellefeuilles' fault for not solving Orlando Steinauer's defence in four tries and developing a serviceable pass protection. There's no changes, no improvement and no signs of hope.

6. Michael Sam makes debut
You'd think Michael Sam had notched a hat-trick of sacks and a big-man pick-six with how much the media focused on a rookie defensive end trying to cut his teeth in the CFL. Sam recorded zero tackles, however Sportscentre's highlight package of the Montreal-Ottawa game was still mostly filled with the Missouri alum chasing down the backside of plays. The only impact Sam had on the game was when he bit hard on Burris' play-fake leading to a touchdown pass, but I'll reserve final judgement on the rookie pass-rusher until I see more than a dozen snaps. He'll have to start making more of an impact soon, as teams almost never pay an international six figures to not contribute or be scratched.

7. The big guys get their due
Everybody loves seeing a 'Big Guy Touchdown', and we were fortunate to witness two this weekend. Hamilton guard Ryan Bomben caught a beautiful over-the-shoulder pass from Zach Collaros for six, while Argos' left tackle Wayne Smith got his due on a two-point convert. Even the fullbacks got into the fun, as Edmonton's Calvin McCarty made a highlight-reel one-handed catch and Ottawa's Patrick Lavoie caught an eleven yard touchdown. Fullbacks certainly see the football more than offensive lineman, but they don't get enough glory either. Until this week, of course.

8. Harris keeps on rolling
Everyone seems convinced that the Argos will be Ricky Ray's team the instant he returns from injury, but I'm not sure how they can bench Trevor Harris at point. He's been the league's top signal-caller this season and is on pace for 5,457 yards and 42 touchdowns. Harris just keeps on rolling, and his latest 316-yard, two touchdown performance against Saskatchewan assures us he's not sit slowing down anytime soon. He's the future of the Argonauts, so why bench him in favour of a 36-year old who might not be as effective as Harris? If anything, I think the Argos will handle the situation similarly to how BC gave Travis Lulay spot duty when Kevin Glenn was red-hot for the Lions. They'll run with Harris until he starts to slide, then they'll declare Ray good-to-go and give him a start.

9. The 'Cats are going to miss Gable
They didn't need him this week, but I have a feeling the Tiger-Cats are really going to miss having CJ Gable in their lineup sooner than later. Gable, who's on the six-game injured list, rushed for 135 yards in his debut in week five, but was hurt once again last week versus Toronto and will be out 2-3 months. In Sunday's game, the Ti-Cats' run-game was once again no where to be found with Ray Holley only picking up 25 yards on eight carries. The offence stalled in the second half, scoring no points and throwing two interceptions, but the damage was already done in the first half, where they capitalized on Winnipeg's mistakes and put up points. Not having a threat in the backfield might hurt Hamilton in the upcoming weeks.

10. Players of the week
Andrew Harris takes both Offensive and Canadian Player of the Week for his phenomenal game against the league's top defence. Harris rushed for 118 yards, gained 57 more through the air and had two touchdowns.

I was really tempted to give it to Keith Shologan, but Emmanuel Davis earned Defensive Player of the Week for contributing 12 points as a defensive player. Though his interceptions were nothing spectacular, it's extremely rare to see a player record two pick-sixes in the same game. Davis has three in total against the Bombers in 2015.

No one really stood out this week on special-teams. Dexter McCoil made some big plays and had three tackles, so he grabs this one.

Friday, August 7, 2015

CFL Best: Top Pass-Rusher and Shutdown Defensive Back

The third instalment of "Best in the League" comes down to three players: Patrick Watkins, Johnny Adams and Aaron Grymes.

In the latest instalment of "Best in the League", the writers on ask the fans who they believe is the league's top shutdown defensive back. In my mind, it comes down to three players: Aaron Grymes, Patrick Watkins and Johnny Adams. 

Due to the rule changes altering defensive backs' technique, it's not recommended to take players' performances in previous seasons into account all that much. Geoff Tisdale is a great example of why we should only evaluate play in 2015, as the eight year veteran was one of the top defensive backs last season, however his style didn't comply with the new rules and, as a result, Tisdale was out of work for five weeks to open the season. 

There's no doubt in my mind that Watkins, Grymes and Adams have been the best defensive backs in 2015. Watkins, who most viewed as the top DB heading into the season with Delvin Breaux departed, has had a great season at his familiar boundary-cornerback position for the Eskimos. He's recorded three interceptions- although only his pick-six against Saskatchewan was actually well-earned- and has continued to be a match-up nightmare for offences with his incredible height at 6'6", long wing-span and quick hips. 

Watkins' teammate, Aaron Grymes, is one of the most underrated players in the league. Playing at field-side halfback, Grymes sees a lot of action and can take any of the league's top slot-backs entirely out of the game. The Idaho product has multiple interceptions on the season and has displayed a stellar ability to use both his hands and physicality to force passes incomplete without drawing a flag. 

But while Grymes and Watkins have been great for Edmonton, I think there's a new top-dog in the CFL: first-year player from Winnipeg, Johnny Adams. 

Adams has come into the CFL as a rookie and started from week one at boundary cornerback, allowing the Bombers to move another lockdown defensive back, Chris Randle, to nickel linebacker. The former Michigan State Spartan, who's tied for the league-lead in interceptions with three, has been as good as advertised while, as a rookie, playing a position occupied by the teams' best cover-guy, which Adams obviously is. 

Adams has been outstanding against the league's top receivers on the short-side, most recently keeping Lions' All-Star wideout Manny Arceneaux off the stat-sheet until a meaningless final play with zeros on the clock and Adams lined up 20 yards deep in prevent coverage. He's done nearly the same to great players like Jeff Fuller, Kenny Stafford and Fred Stamps on a week-to-week basis.

Adams has tremendous ball-skills, and usually when quarterbacks actually do throw his way, it's because the 5'11", 190 lbs corner is daring them to test him so he can jump the route. Adams hasn't allowed a touchdown pass in man-coverage up to this point, further strengthening his case as the league's top defensive back. 

Watkins and Grymes certainly make strong cases too, and I wouldn't be bothered at all if either of them were crowned instead of Adams. And while there are some other great defensive backs out there- Brandon McDonald, Weldon Brown, Billy Parker, Jerald Brown, Jamar Wall, Abdul Kanneh, AJ Jefferson, Bruce Johnson, amongst many others, come to mind- the trio mentioned above are simply on another level. 

But the rookie, Johnny Adams, grabs my vote. 

Last week's "Best in the League" was all about the beloved quarterback sack; something no current player knows better than Charleston Hughes. 

The long-time Stampeders' defensive end gets my vote as the league's top pass-rusher, edging out Edmonton's Marcus Howard, Montreal's John Bowman and Saskatchewan's John Chick for the accolade. Hughes leads the league in sacks with six and even has three forced fumbles to boot. But most impressively, Hughes leads all active players with 50 sacks in his last five seasons. 

The self-proclaimed "Stamp Machine" is the best pass-rusher in the CFL. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Week Seven Picks

Season record: 11-13
Last week: 3-1

Edmonton (4-1) at BC (2-3)

The Eskimos are probably the hottest team in the CFL right now and are getting production from every position. Having not allowed a touchdown in 45 straight possessions, the Eskimos also own the league's top defence. That stout defence will be up against a struggling Lions' offence who only managed to put up a mere 13 points against a mediocre Bombers' unit, largely thanks to Travis Lulay's struggles leading to a league-worst passing-offence. The seven-year veteran is in a slump, and he won't have as good as of a rushing-attack or pass-protection against Edmonton to help him out. BC's defence, meanwhile, isn't playing much better, therefore even without Shakir Bell, I think Edmonton will find ways to put the ball in the end-zone.

Pick: Edmonton

Montreal (2-3) at Ottawa (3-2)

Expect another barn-burner at TD Place as two East Division foes clash on Friday Night. Both teams are anchored by solid defences, so I think Ottawa's defensive backs will be play a large role in the outcome of the game. The league's top secondary, as I've continuously proclaimed since the off-season, were spectacular in their last outing against Calgary and are matched up against a far less intimidating corps of receivers versus Montreal. Coming off a great showing before their bye week, Ottawa's offence will be faced with a tough task against Montreal's dominant defence. I doubt they'll find success with Chevon Walker on the ground against Noel Thorpe's unit, instead relying on Henry Burris and his bevy of receivers to move the chains through the air. It's hard to say if they'll be able to consistently do so, but if 'D-Block' can slow down SJ Green, they'll be getting the ball back to the offence enough for them to gain some traction.

Pick: Ottawa

Saskatchewan (0-6) at Toronto (3-2)

This game is a no-brainer. In their home-opener, the Double-Blue host a depleted Roughriders team undergoing some midseason changes and controversy. The Argos are a better team than they showed last week against Hamilton and will want to prove so at home in front of their fans. Trevor Harris and his dynamic group of receivers will have their way with Saskatchewan, while Brandon Whitaker will have a great opportunity to get back on track against a porous run-defence. Fortunately for the Riders, rookie pivot Brett Smith wont be dealing with a ferocious pass-rush every time he drops back and will have some time to find his weapons against an inexperienced Toronto secondary. Running the ball is no easy feat against the Argos, but they'll be without linebacker Cory Greenwood when these teams square up, opening up some space for whoever's toting the rock for Saskatchewan. Pending the play of Smith, the Riders' offence might do alright against Toronto, but they proved earlier in the season that it takes a whole lot more than a good offence to win football games.

Pick: Toronto

Winnipeg (3-3) at Hamilton (3-2)

In my mind, this game's simple and comes down to two things: the Ti-Cats' undefeated streak at Tim Horton's Field and Winnipeg OC Marcel Bellefeuille's proven inability to put together a game plan against a blitz-heavy defence. Drew Willy ranks last among quarterbacks with a 42% completion percentage versus the blitz, and that number will have to be much higher if the Bombers want to win in Hamilton. When these two teams met in week two, the Bombers' defence surrendered 37 points to the Ti-Cats' offence, however it might just be Richie Hall's unit that'll have to carry this Bomber team. The defence has come a long way since week two, while the Cats will also be without Andy Fantuz and CJ Gable on Sunday. Containing Zach Collaros and co. is still a tough task nonetheless, so I'll go on record and say the Tiger-Cats remain undefeated at Tim Hortons field with a win over the Bombers.

Pick: Hamilton

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Lulay's Struggles Holding Lions Back

Andrew Harris is supplying a running-game, but Travis Lulay isn't having the same success in the air. (Photo: Darryl Dyck, The Canadian Press)

With an award-winning quarterback, superstar running back, above-average offensive line and up-and-coming receiving corps, the BC Lions' offence should be one of the best in the league. But when the award-winning quarterback isn't playing to the level we're accustomed to seeing, the surrounding talent is sometimes good for not.

Travis Lulay hasn't played on the same level of his teammates. His season stats might say otherwise, but the league's former Most Outstanding Player in 2011 has been far from outstanding. Even in his finest hour- a 400-yard passing, three touchdown performance against Saskatchewan- I wasn't all that blown away. However, he did protect the football and guide his team to an overtime victory, so I'll credit him for that.

Lulay's completed 64.2 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and five interceptions. His 1,205 yards rank him seventh in the CFL, while the Lions' passing attack ranks dead-last at 241 yards-per-game. And still, those stats seem to flatter the Montana State alum.

Despite having a surprisingly-spectacular offensive line providing him time and a stellar rushing attack offering balance, Lulay isn't producing. He's making rookie mistakes: staring down receivers and throwing into double, and sometimes triple-coverage. Most recently, all of the above was on display against Winnipeg, where after a beautiful opening drive capped off with a touchdown pass, Lulay faltered and threw three consecutive interceptions, while there could have been more.

It's hard not to wonder if Lulay is still affected by his shoulder injury; one that's mostly kept him off the field for a year and a half. His deep-ball accuracy has been awful, while his arm strength has indeed been decent for the most part, but sometimes wavers. It's hard to entirely fault the injury for Lulay's play, as rather than starting rusty and improving as the weeks pass, his play has declined with each game.

The Lions are implementing a new offence under head coach Jeff Tedford and offensive coordinator George Cortez, and the learning-curve has undoubtedly played it's part in the lack of consistency in BC's passing game. But more times than not, Lulay's either missing on his throws or making the wrong read to begin with, which can't really be attributed to a new scheme. Meanwhile, Saskatchewan's offence also features a new system, yet they hadn't missed a beat until Kevin Glenn went down.

Prior to the season, many claimed the Lions' fate in 2015 rested on the shoulders of Travis Lulay. If he stayed healthy and, physically, wasn't limited, BC could contend for a playoff spot. But if he faltered to injury as many expected, the Lions' season would go down with their quarterback. Fact is, neither has been the case this season. Lulay's stayed healthy and really hasn't been very limited. He simply isn't producing.

In his season preview, CFL on TSN's Chris Schultz said that, mentally, Lulay wouldn't have forgotten how to play quarterback at an elite level. Unfortunately, it almost seems like he has with the rookie-level decision-making the seven-year veteran's displayed.

While their defence still leaves much to be desired, the Lions would be a much better team if their passing game could gain some traction. Andrew Harris and the offensive line are doing their part on the ground, now they need quarterback Travis Lulay and his receivers to get onto the same page and contribute to the cause. It'll need to happen quickly too, as the Bombers appear to be pulling away with the final playoff spot seeing as BC has only defeated Saskatchewan this season. I'm not saying the Lions need to make a change at quarterback, but they certainly need improvement.

I'm calling you out, Travis Lulay. Even Matt Nichols has been more impressive. Time to step up or step aside.

10 Thoughts I Have From Week Six

Another week is in the books and it was filled with some decent football games. Week five set the bar quite high with overtime games and fourth quarter fireworks, so as expected, the four games this week didn't really live up to that precedent. Nonetheless, here are ten thoughts I had in week six.

1. Home teams dominate
Having trouble setting your CFL Pick 'em for week seven? I'd recommend simply going with the home team, as their season record, excluding games played at Mosaic Stadium, is 16-4 on the season. With the Bombers topping the Lions, Eskimos taking care of Saskatchewan, Stamps edging the Alouettes and the Tiger-Cats defeating their rival Argonauts, the home teams engineered a clean sweep in week six.

2. Lulay's holding back his offence
Travis Lulay had his worst game of the season in Winnipeg, completing 22/33 passes for 255 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. Throughout most of the game, Lulay was given time in the pocket to progress through his reads, but instead often stared down his receivers or threw into double-coverage. His deep ball accuracy left much to be desired, and similarly to all the other flaws displayed versus the Blue Bombers, that's been the case all season. Lulay's play has declined as the season has gone on, and good quarterbacking is the missing piece of an otherwise explosive offence that features Andrew Harris, an up-and-coming receiving corps and surprisingly-dominant offensive line. At this time, the 2011 M.O.P. isn't playing on their level.

3. Bombers' defence is drastically improved
Winnipeg's defence has been steadily improving since their multi-interception outing against Rakeem Cato's Alouettes in week three, but they had their best performance to date against BC, holding the Lions' offence to a mere 13 points. The Bombers gave up 117 yards on the ground to Andrew Harris, which is concerning, but it took him 24 attempts to reach that total. Richie Hall's unit recorded three interceptions and forced four total turnovers, giving Drew Willy and the offence plenty of opportunities to put points on the board. The next step for this defence is to perform at this level on a more consistent basis.

4. Johnny Adams does it again
Winnipeg rookie Johnny Adams continues to make his case as the league's top shutdown cornerback. Adams locked-up Emmanuel Arceneaux this week, keeping the All-Star receiver off the stat-sheet until the final play of the game, where the Lions should've been kneeling down and ending the game. Adams notched his third interception of the season while also contributing six tackles to the Bombers' victory as well. I don't know of any other boundary cornerback that's been as good as the Michigan State product this season.

5. Nichols silences his critics
It's a well-known fact that Matt Nichols is nothing more than a backup quarterback, but he still has many critics out there and certainly silenced them with a great game against Saskatchewan. The Eskimos clearly made the right choice starting the six-year veteran over rookie pivot James Franklin. Nichols threw for 300 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions, improving his undefeated season record to 4-0 in the process. He's no Mike Reilly, but Nichols has proven to be a serviceable backup signal-caller in this league.

6. Disastrous play-calling by Chapdelaine
Bad coaching has hurt Saskatchewan plenty in 2015, and while the Riders only ever had an extremely marginal chance at beating Edmonton to begin with, they wound up having absolutely no chance with Jacques Chapdelaine's play-calling. With a rookie quarterback making his first career start and the number one rushing attack at his fingertips, Saskatchewan's offensive coordinator completely abandoned his fearsome run-game, giving Jerome Messam and Anthony Allen a combined five carries all game. It should've been a no-brainer for the Riders to feature their two-headed monster early and often, but Chapdelaine opted not to challenge Edmonton's stout run defence and instead put all the pressure on Brett Smith. Go figure, the Riders only managed to put five points on the board. Five.

7. No love for Calgary's offence
With five offensive lineman on the shelf, the Stampeders have no business competing in football games. Edwin Harrison, Garry Williams, Brander Craighead, Karl Lavoie and Dan Federkeil have all missed time, yet the Stamps have still won three of their last four games and share a hold of first place with a 4-2 record. This week, they beat the Montreal Alouettes and their fearsome front four with only Pierre Lavertu as their regular starter on the offensive line, miraculously rushing for 94 yards without star running back Jon Cornish, and only allowing two sacks despite playing the second half without back-up left tackle Garry Williams, who left with an upper-body injury. The Stamps aren't getting enough credit for running an effective offence with a make-shift offensive line, something only John Hufnagel's team could do. It's quite difficult for me to wrap my head around what Bo Levi Mitchell, Dave Dickenson and this offence have done while missing so many key pieces up front.

8. There are no free yards against Hamilton
Conversions on third-and-one are supposed to be automatic in the CFL, but nothing is guaranteed against Hamilton's defence. The 'Cats have remarkably forced five turnovers on third-and-short this season, prohibiting the offence from advancing a single yard required for a fresh set of downs, or worse, a touchdown. Largely thanks to Ted Laurent penetrating and plugging gaps, Hamilton stuffed the Argonauts twice on route to a 34-18 victory at Tim Hortons Field. Opposing coaches should think twice before testing Hamilton in short-yardage, as nothing's a 'gimme' against this defensive line.

9. Chad Owens is invisible
Has anybody seen Chad Owens recently? He's struggled mightily this season, recording only 10 catches for 97 yards in Toronto's last three games. The 32-year old's worst game came Monday against the Ti-Cats, where he finished with three receptions for 21 yards. With the emergence of Toronto's trio of rookie pass-catches in Vidal Hazelton, Tori Gurley and Kevin Elliott, it's becoming apparent that Owens is no longer the go-to receiver in the Argos' aerial attack.

10. Players of the Week:
Winnipeg QB Drew Willy takes Offensive Player of the Week for singlehandedly guiding the Bombers' offence to victory on an injured knee. Willy completed 17/25 passes for 269 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and also rushed for a career-high 72 yards.

Eskimos CB Pat Watkins snags Defensive Player of the Week for his big game against Saskatchewan. Watkins had a pair of interceptions- albeit one in garbage time on an errant throw- with five tackles and a sack. The All-Star corner did it all on Friday evening.

Canadian Player of Week goes to Andrew Harris for his 117-yard rushing game against Winnipeg, while Special Teams Player of the Week once again goes to Edmonton's Grant Shaw, who nailed all three of his field goal attempts and averaged nearly 45 yards-per-punt.

I thought Jovon Olafioye played a good game against Winnipeg, supplying his quarterback with plenty of time while often dealing with star pass-rusher Jamaal Westerman. BC's right tackle earned Offensive Lineman of the week.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Week Six Picks

Season record: 8-12
Last week: 1-3
BC (2-2) at Winnipeg (2-3)
The opening game of week six features two West Division teams coming off ugly losses the last time they took the field. Bombers' quarterback Drew Willy will get the start despite a knee injury suffered last week and will be up against the league's worst-ranked defence. The Lions' pass-rush hasn't been able take pressure off their inexperienced secondary and, as a result, the Lions rank last in total yards-per-game, passing yards-per-game and second last in rushing yards-per-game. Winnipeg's defence, meanwhile, have improved drastically since the start of the season and put together another solid effort against Edmonton, where they held the Eskimos' running game in check on a wet turf. Their focus this week should be solely on stopping Andrew Harris, as BC's passing-offence ranks second last and seems to be trending downward. Travis Lulay has been forcing too many passes and his receivers aren't making enough plays to help out. Just as we saw against Montreal in week three, I think the Bombers respond with a close win at home after an ugly defeat the week prior that saw them lose their starting quarterback.

Pick: Winnipeg

Saskatchewan (0-5) at Edmonton (3-1)

Saskatchewan could have Darian Durant at quarterback and I'd still take the Eskimos in this game. But instead, rookie pivot Brett Smith will make his first career start against a dreaded defence and, with that, goes any marginal chance the Riders previously had at winning this game. Edmonton's defence hasn't allowed a regular season touchdown at home since week 12 of 2014, and there's a chance that streak continues against Saskatchewan. Offensively, expect Eskimos' running back Shakir Bell to run all over the Roughriders' awful run-defence and quarterback Matt Nichols will do enough against a depleted secondary to get the job done. They won't have to put up very many points to get the win.

Pick: Edmonton

Montreal (2-2) at Calgary (3-2)

Last time these two teams met, the legend of Rakeem Cato was born. The Stamps had no film on Cato and were certainly caught off guard, losing 29-11 to a rookie quarterback. But Calgary had no excuse for their own performance offensively that night, and Montreal's defence has not lost a step since then. The Stamps are also without the majority of their offensive line and star running back Jon Cornish, influencing me to favour Montreal's defence even more in this match-up. Cato hasn't disappointed since his first game against Calgary and is up against a somewhat underachieving defence that allowed Henry Burris to complete 65 percent of his passes for 389 yards and three touchdowns in Ottawa's big upset win. The Alouettes are less one-dimensional than Ottawa with Tyrell Sutton in their backfield, leaving me to believe the Stamps will have an even tougher time this week against Montreal. It should be close, but I think the Als upset the Stamps for a second time this year.

Pick: Montreal

Toronto (3-1) at Hamilton (2-2)

In easily the most anticipated game of the week, the Battle of Ontario returns to Tim Hortons Field for Hamilton's home-opener. Largely thanks to overachieving quarterback Trevor Harris, the Argos have been the league's most impressive team so far, winning three of their four opening games of their Western road trip to start the season. The Ti-Cats are finally getting healthy and could have all of Luke Tasker, Eric Noorwood and Ted Laurent in the lineup on Monday night. Both offences are equally as dynamic, however Hamilton has the advantage with their stingy defence. They'll force the Argos' offence to be one-dimensional, and while I still think Trevor Harris will play good, the Cats will get the necessary stops for Hamilton to win.

Pick: Hamilton