Big weekend for CFL East teams

September 13, 2018 - 1:56pm

In Riderville, the universal reaction seemed to be,"Did I just see/hear that as the Riders beat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 32-27 in the Banjo Bowl?"

For Rider fans leaving Dollarama Field, their beer was made more palatable by the bitter tears of Bomber fans who thought their Grey Cup titles in June, July and August would continue in September and maybe lead to a real Grey Cup title in November.

The goat of the game for Bomber fans was Matt Nichol, the sensitive quarterback who was touted as an elite CFL quarterback at the start of the season but who served up two interceptions for touchdowns that essentially clinched the win for the Riders. Nichols turnovers were the result of a quarterback feeling the pressure to try to do anything to turn around a three game losing streak.

Nichols was not helped by the Riders putting Andrew Harris under wraps for the game, forcing the Bombers to go their receiving corps, which is not amongst the leagues most impressive. The Bomber defense for its part, which was taken apart by Calgary and Winnipeg, played well, but was worn down by a Rider offense that with the exception of an early pick six, managed to put a lid on the Bombers ability to make big plays.

The win by the Riders has set the stage for the last third of the season, with the Riders still in second by playing one less game than Edmonton, but now in a position to perhaps host a home playoff game. The Riders share second with Edmonton who is at 7-5 and both teams find themselves two games behind Calgary, who is now 9-2 after losing to Edmonton in the Labour Day rematch, now has to retool its receiving corps and deal with other injury concerns.

The most impressive part of the Rider win was the play of the defense in making two clutch pick sixes, especially as Winnipeg was driving deep into Rider territory for at least six points from two field goals or perhaps touchdowns. The Riders defense also stood out in correcting the major problem from the Labour Day game – the ability of running back Andrew Harris to run through the Riders like grass through the proverbial.

Harris had been knocked about in the second half of the Labour Day game and while he had his moments, he had been slowed down. The Riders then took advantage of the Bombers changes on the offensive line to dictate what the Bombers would be allowed to do in the Banjo Bowl.

While the Rider defense was playing at an unworldly level, the Rider offense did not score a touchdown, but other than a pick six given up early in the game, the Riders offensive strategy appeared to revolve around taking as much time off the clock through a running game, then taking the field goals when it forcing a touchdown was not feasible.

Rider fans gulped heavily when Collaros was knocked out of the game by a hit from Winnipeg safety Jeff Hecht and was forced from the game, leaving Brandon Bridge at the helm. Bridge, whose four game stint as starting quarterback made it painfully obvious neither he nor offensive coordinator Stephen MacAdoo had any idea of how to approach the situation.

For the Banjo Bowl, the game plan seemed simple, hand off to Tre Mason and not force any throws. Bridge came out with a 3/6 performance for 32 yards and one run for 2 yards. Best of all, he didn’t turn the ball over.

Collaros has come through the concussion protocol and will start this week, but in Ottawa, Collaros is facing the team that knocked him out in Week 2. Ottawa’s 40-17 win was highlighted by the Riders turning the ball over four times, with three interceptions, two of them in the end zone.

That game was Ottawa’s first of the season, following a Week 1 bye and it was the Riders first look at Ottawa’s defense under Noel Thorpe. For good measure, Ottawa added three sacks in their conquest of the Riders.

This time Ottawa does not have the element of surprise and following a big win over Winnipeg, Ottawa had a bye week and returned with two giant eggs being laid – 21-11 to Montreal and then 26-14 to BC. Ottawa’s offense seems to be suffering from the same thing Winnipeg is now experiencing – a streaky quarterback.

Around the league it seems like there is some fine-tuning going on as teams prepare to either try to make the playoffs or improve their standing. With Montreal going on a two game winning streak, they are suddenly in playoff contention as Winnipeg starts to slide beneath the waves of competition.

In BC the soap opera involving running back/returner Chris Raney appears to be over as Raney is back in the lineup after being shopped around for potential trade talks. The BC offense will be further helped by DeVier Posey, the MVP of the Grey Cup last year, signing with the Lions. This is a big signing for BC who are looking to fill the loss of Manny Arceneaux to injury (although Arceneaux is dropping hints he might be back at the end of the season).

With the addition of Posey, the Lions released receiver Kevin Elliot, the former Argo, balancing things out. While the news of Posey gave a shot in the arm to the Lions, the Lions discovered that Maxx Forde, traded to Ottawa, had the trade voided because of a failed physical.

On top of that, Solomon Elimimian said his wrist injury will keep him out of the lineup for another four to five weeks. The Lions defense, with the addition of Shawn Lemon, seems to have become up for the challenge although their pass defense can still be questionable.

The Edmonton Eskimos in their drive to play in their home stadium for the 2018 Grey Cup, took a big step towards that end by beating the Calgary Stampeders in the Labour Day rematch. That was helped by a big play by the Edmonton defense on the last play of the game, ensuring no Calgary catch for a touchdown, but Edmonton still has some holes to fill on their roster due to injuries and they swung a trade with Toronto to pick up Martese Jackson and a conditional sixth round 2019 draft pick in exchange for a third round 2019 draft pick.

Edmonton has a bye and will use that to try to get as many players back from the injury list as possible while tinkering with the weapons available for Mike Reilly. In good news for the Eskimos, running back CJ Gable is expected back in the lineup next week after being forced out due to a wrist injury.

In Calgary, the Stampeders added linebacker Cory Greenwood who missed the entire 2017 season with a knee injury, The Stamps may have a few holes on their defense, again due to injuries, but they addedefensive lineman Chris Casher and Armanti Foreman, a receiver, to their practice roster. The Stampeders got some good news with running back Don Jackson back at practice.

In Riderville, the Riders released wide receiver Lonnie Outlaw, one of the great names for fans looking for a name to put on the back of their jersey, and signed receivers KD Cannon and Jordan Smallwood. Linebacker Derrick Moncrief is expected to be back on the roster and in town for an appearance at the University of Regina Presidents’ Breakfast, former Rider quarterback Darian Durant said there were no hard feelings on his part in being traded from the Riders and he left the door open for a potential return as a quarterback. Durant retired from the Bombers after signing with them in the off-season and then taking a signing bonus before retiring.

Speaking of quarterbacks, in Winnipeg the Bombers are spending the week evaluating the play of their quarterbacks as they try to figure out what went wrong in the last four games. The Bombers should have their lineup bolstered with the return of JarMarcus Hardrick to the offensive line which may help deal with the running game and perhaps providing Nichols or back up Chris Shreveler with better protection.

While Nichols has a pretty solid record, his folding like a cheap suit at crucial times of the game indicates his problem may be more psychological. When he was in Edmonton, he had been touted as a starting quarterback when in the first exhibition game against the Riders, he threw an interception and blew out a knee attempting to make a tackle.

That opened the door for Mike Reilly to step in and show the mental toughness and leadership that makes him if not the best quarterback in the CFL, then definitely the second best. Nichols was traded because Reilly is also durable and his arrival in Winnipeg for the Banjo Bowl led to a Bomber win and the departure of then starter Drew Willy to Toronto.

Winnipeg’s problem appears to be their import receiving ranks and perhaps a problem of trying to find qualified players who can fit under Winnipeg’s salary cap. This may explain why they haven’t signed Bakari Grant, who at least has the ability to get open. The Bombers now find themselves in a dog fight for BC for fourth place, and if Toronto and Montreal get their act together, a cross over berth may not be in the cards.

For Toronto, the loss of Marcus Bell on the six game injury list may open the door for Jeff Knox Jr. to step in and give their defense a jolt of passion. The Duron Carter experiment didn’t do much for Toronto, who might need this bye week to try to better integrate him into the offense and get set up for a visit from the Riders.

A lack of deep passing threat and a defense lacking direction are not ingredients for making the playoffs and Toronto is trending down while Montreal, surprise, surprise, is trending upwards.

In Hamilton, the Tiger-Cats are trying to deal with injuries to their receiving corps by signing former Tiger-Cat and Calgary Stampeder Marques Daniels and former Most Outstanding Player Chad Owens. Daniels was coaching receivers at McMaster University while Owens, a workout fiend, was keeping active and hoping for another shot.

The ironic thing with Owens is for a receiver with such talent and work ethic, he gets injured a bit and in his first practice, he ended up rolling his ankle. He might be able to get into the lineup against Calgary, and Daniels may be a better choice, but at least Hamilton is trying to put as many pieces together as possible for a playoff run. Adding another element of uncertainty is the status of Brandon Banks, who ignites the Hamilton offense and will need as many complementary pieces to prevent Calgary from zeroing in on him on Saturday.

In Ottawa the silence has been deafening as Ottawa is struggling to overcome their inconsistent label and being, well, inconsistent about it. Ottawa’s problems seem to come from their offensive line which has allowed quarterback Trevor Harris to get folded, spindled and mutilated while tossing up turnovers at inopportune times.

In Montreal Johnny Manziel missed his third practice in a row with the flu and that seems to set Antonio Pipkin up for another appearance. Having gone 2-0 in his starts so far this season, Pipkin is obviously the hotter hand and with a better demeanour than Manziel, which has raised the question that Manziel’s time in Montreal might be done at the end of this season.

Manziel’s contract goes up next season, but if Manziel is not playing on a regular basis, then the cost benefit of him in Montreal does not work, especially with Montreal trading away all their draft picks. The Als welcomed back wide receiver TJ Graham who they let go earlier and if Montreal slips out of playoff contention, they might be tempted to trade of their current receiving corps and get some assets back.

Does that mean Kavis Reed has run out nine lives? He has a contract that may go through next season, but if it doesn’t, Montreal may want to jettison him, find local owners, and try to rebuild yet again.

So on Friday we have BC at Montreal and while BC is coming off a win and Montreal two wins, BC has a hole in their offensive line where Cory Husband is out for injury and BC had to activate draft pick Peter Godber. BC also has a problem where they have yet to win on the road and this game may represent their best opportunity to do so.

The Lions have two games on Winnipeg, even though they lost the season series, so picking up games like these will be crucial if the Lions want Wally Buono to go out as at least a playoff contender this year. For Montreal they play better on the road than at home with a 1-4 record, so something has got to give.

The Lions may be about to start their run for the playoffs, and the interesting thing is how Montreal responds to the story that Johnny Manziel is ticked at not starting, even though he has had the flu for three days and was taking fluids. Manziel may be the textbook example of the talented guy who doesn’t work for it and whose ass will be out the door. Manziel is not moving that many jerseys.

The problem with this is that Montreal appears to respond better to Pipkin and so, this should be a tight game, but if BC is going to win a road game, they might as well win in where Montreal is anything but a home team. BC 28-21.

On Saturday Calgary goes to Hamilton and well, this should be an interesting game. Hamilton is just as inconsistent as Ottawa, although they seem to have a better excuse with injuries, and you can’t help but admire how Jeremiah Masoli handled the whole Johnny Football signing.

Hamilton’s receiving corps has taken some hits, so it could be old timers’ day on Saturday afternoon as Calgary comes in and tries to stop losing two games in a row. Calgary has gone through its share of injuries, which may level the field, but in the end, and this score could easily go the other way, but Hamilton wins 27-24.

Finally we have Ottawa (Miss Inconsistency) come to Mosaic Stadium to play the Riders. Ottawa’s offense has become marginally better than the Riders, but the thing to keep in mind with Ottawa is that Trevor Harris, although in a lull at the moment, can turn streaky and burn the Riders.

The problem for Ottawa comes when trying to keep Harris upright against the Rider defense. In the Ottawa papers they were talking about Ottawa has to do a better job on a Cover Zero defense (more defensive players are sent on a blitz with receivers and backs getting single man coverage) but that isn’t what Ottawa has to worry about for this game.

They are going to have to figure out how to deal with the motion on the Riders defense, which prevents Harris from reading coverage until the ball is snapped, if then. By flipping flopping positions and angles, it’s tough to get a read on the Rider defense unless you hit a seam with say, William Powell.

The other thing is throwing quick passes to their receivers and hoping the Riders miss a tackle and so they can pick up big yardage. The problem is Ottawa’s offensive line is not the best, and just like the Riders exploiting Patrick Neufeld of the Bombers last week, there are opportunities to be had with Ottawa.

This will be a tight game because the stakes are raised for Ottawa, especially if Hamilton wins earlier in the day. Ottawa and the Riders have played relatively tight games and this one should be no exception. Riders 28-27.

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