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CFLDivision finals preview

Posted: Friday, November 18, 2011 | 10:21 PM

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Keron Williams and the B.C. pass rush could make life difficult for the Edmonton offence. (Liam Richards/Canadian Press) Keron Williams and the B.C. pass rush could make life difficult for the Edmonton offence. (Liam Richards/Canadian Press)

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CFL analyst Greg Frers breaks down both matchups for this week's division finals, and makes his predictions for which teams will play for the Grey Cup.
There are only so may chances that people get to taste what it feels like to be considered the best at what they do. As a football player, the challenge each year is to contribute to the success of your team in hopes that as a group you can be considered the best. Over the course of a long career, you quickly realize that you need to seize the opportunities when they present themselves because they may never come around again.

East: Final chances

This Sunday's CFL East Division final brings two players full circle back to their old stomping grounds where they led their team to the Grey Cup, but have never gotten a chance to taste victory.

Two players will arrive in Winnipeg this week who gave their heart and soul to the Bombers organization, only to be kicked to the curb because the organization did not believe that they had what it took to take them where they wanted to go.

Hamilton offensive co-ordinator Khari Jones and quarterback Kevin Glenn come into this game hungry for a championship and with a chip on their shoulder knowing that this is a great opportunity to show Bomber fans that they still have what it takes to be a champion.

Although Jones would love to be calling the plays from behind centre, he will be calling the plays from the sideline to his starting quarterback, Glenn.

Glenn has had an up-and-down season with the Tiger-Cats this year. I find that when Glenn comes into a game with an angry "edge," eager to silence his critics, he plays at his best. Last week against the Als was a perfect example of this.

The Bombers have had their way with the Ticats this year, sweeping the season series and completely frustrating Glenn in two of the three matchups. However, just when critics start questioning Glenn's abilities, he tends to show up and have a monster performance.

However, I don't believe that the success of Hamilton will rest with Glenn, but rather with the performance of running back Avon Cobourne. It is crucial for the Hamilton offence to keep out of second-and-long situations against the Bombers defence. If Cobourne can get 4-6 yards on first down, Glenn then has the luxury of executing high percentage short passes rather than asking him to make the extraordinary throws downfield. If Cobourne can get that, the effectiveness of Cobourn will allow Glenn to avoid the pressure of having to be extraordinary.

Last week against Montreal, Cobourne rushed 14 times for 97 yards and caught five passes for 48 yards. The power running that Cobourne brings to Hamilton's offensive attack also helps to slow down the pass rush and gives some extra time for receivers to get downfield. Hamilton did a very nice job last week by including Chris Williams and Marucs Thigpen into the rushing attack. If you include their rushing touches, the Ticats ran the ball 20 times against the Alouettes.

The Bomber defence led the league this year in both sacks and interceptions. I anticipate that Hamilton will introduce some creative misdirection offensive plays with Cobourne, Williams and Thigpen in order to keep the Bombers' pass rush in check.

The scary thing about Winnipeg is that its offence really doesn't need to be very good for them to win this game. Back in Week 1, Buck Pierce threw for only 151 yards and the Bombers still beat the Ticats 24-16.

What makes them even more challenging for the Ticats is that their offence has steadily improved through the season. The emergence of receivers Clarence Denmark and Greg Carr have complimented the performance of Terrence Edwards, which now forces defences to cover the entire field, creating space for Pierce to complete passes.

The key for Hamilton in this game will be for them to stop the play before it has a chance to get started. It is critical for Hamilton to find a way to get pressure on Pierce and make it a very uncomfortable game for him. The only way that I have seen Hamilton consistently get pressure on quarterbacks this year is by introducing their linebackers into the pass rush. The gamble that they face by doing this is that they take a player out of the secondary to cover ground or they replace the linebacker with a dropping defensive lineman who does not have the lateral movement to cover space.

It will be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Corey Chamblin attacks the Bombers offence, because the Ticats secondary has shown to be vulnerable. Although the Cats won last week, they also gave up 44 points and 513 passing yards.

Prediction: Winnipeg

West: Battle in the trenches

The team that wins the battle in the trenches will win the West final.

If the Edmonton offensive line can not handle the pass rush of B.C.'s defensive line, then Edmonton will not be advancing to the Grey Cup - plain and simple.

Last week the Edmonton offensive line really struggled to pick up the four-man pressures that the Stamps were bringing. This forced the Eskimos into a quick passing attack and rushing the football with Jerome Messam.

I believe the main reason why the decision was made to play Messam in spite of his obviously not being healthy had more to do with his ability to improve their pass protection than it did for him to carry the football.

I would be very surprised to see Messam in the lineup this week. If he is, don't expect him to be pounding the football like he was able to do through the year. At 245 pounds, the Eskimos can definitely benefit from his being in the backfield to help slow down the B.C. pass rush. The last time these two teams met, Messam touched the ball only nine times for 17 yards. The lack of production in these statistics has less to do with how B.C. was able to stop the run and more to do with how Edmonton was choosing to use him.

If Edmonton is forced to enter this game with Hugh Charles and Calvin McCarty in the backfield, they will need to introduce several misdirection plays in order to slow down the B.C. pass rush.

The Lions defensive line has been really good of late. The rotation of Aaron Hunt, Kalif Mitchell and Eric Taylor in the interior of the defensive line was too much for Montreal to handle in the regular-season finale, which led to plenty of pressure on Anthony Calvillo and four sacks. Although Brent Johnson filled in amazingly well last game, Wally Buono now has the luxury of getting Keron Williams back into the lineup.

For Edmonton to have a shot at this game, their defence if going to have to play "lights out" football like last week. The addition of Greg Peach to Marcus Howard on the edges of the line has increased their ability to get pressure on quarterbacks, but they are coming up against an offensive line that gave up the fewest number of sacks this year.

I anticipate that B.C. will once again include a number of players in their rushing attack to try to slow down the Edmonton pass rush. Against Montreal, B.C. had five different players other than the quarterback touch the ball from their backfield.

The Lions have proven to be a disciplined team this year. B.C. has taken the fewest number of penalties all season. With a solid defensive performance by B.C., it will be tough for Edmonton to win this game. I believe that we will continue to enjoy watching this amazing turnaround story of the B.C. Lions for one more week.

Prediction: B.C.

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