Here's how I rank the Canadian Football League teams heading into Week 14:
- Record: 10-1-1
- Streak: Won 8
- Next: At Saskatchewan
While the league falls all over itself trying to stop head-hunting (hint: suspensions, not fines), the Stamps work out whether running back Jerome Messam will be available this coming week. B.C.'s Micah Awe hit him in the back of the helmet, leading Messam afterwards to call him out on Twitter.
Cheap shot 😡. I'll bounce back!— @JMessam
Yes, it was. The rule should be simple: lead with your helmet to a helmet, suspension. A week of strong defences included the White Stallions, who held the Lions to just 207 net yards, never allowing them to move the ball effectively. Alex Singleton is creating a legend; he had 11 tackles, making him the first in league history to have 10 or better three games in a row. Offence did enough to win. Note to league: We see you, editing controversial plays out of the recaps on your website.
- Record: 8-3
- Streak: Won 1
- Next: vs. Ottawa
Such a busy week, almost forgot these guys were sitting around out there watching their head coach make it into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. Good for Mike O'Shea, one of the finest Argonauts ever. Now back to work. Right now, that means making sure the offence keeps rolling along so you can keep the defence off the field as much as possible. Quarterback Matt Nichols operates an attack scoring 34.5 points per game, second best in the loop. They also are at 61.2 plays from scrimmage per (one play back of Ottawa), so possession time is excellent. Good thing, because the weekly stats from CFL guru Steve Daniel show this defence is struggling. Winnipeg is second last in average points allowed per game, eighth in yards allowed per game and last in quarterback pressures. Lots of squiggly numbers on the board.
- Record: 6-5
- Streak: Won 1
- Next: vs. Calgary
Best thing for QB Brandon Bridge is for somebody to toss a wrench into the hype machine before it raises expectations to impossible heights. Starting Canadian pivots have been so rare since Russ Jackson retired in 1969 they've long been declared nearly extinct. Reasons? Two: the ratio rules haven't been inviting and the QBs haven't been good enough. Bridge looks to be good enough, after a three-touchdown performance against an inconsistent Hamilton defence, but his 21-of-31 completions for 237 yards and 17 first downs were below average for any top-level performer. And the Riders scored just seven points in the second half, leaving them two plays from possible overtime. If the hype machine runs away, some will be disappointed without 30 completions and 350 yards every game. Let the youngster grow.
Streak: Lost 1
Next: vs. Hamilton
QB Jonathon Jennings had a first half out of an old country music song — his offensive line left him and he kept seeing red trucks coming his way. With his blocking collapsing faster than a bad marriage, the pivot was left to his own devices and there wasn't much there. The offence was out of tune all night, holding the ball for 28 minutes but not doing much with it. There were 77 yards rushing, 167 passing and no touchdowns. With four sacks allowed, the Calgary defensive seven spent more time in the B.C. backfield than its own. The defence played well, stopping the Stamps four out of five times in the red zone, holding QB Bo Levi Mitchell to just 16-of-31 for 240 yards. Solomon Elimimian had 11 tackles. They need what everyone does at times like this ... a good ol' dog. And some consistency.
Streak: Won 1
Next: At Winnipeg
Early returns say the prognosis on backup QB Drew Tate — in for Trevor Harris — is better than first believed, but he likely won't play this week. His replacement Ryan Lindley, a former NFL pivot who had been out a year, seemed a good choice as the log rollers basically ran an old-style National Football League offence most of the game. They opened with a 15-play, eight-minute drive for a touchdown and did it again late in the contest for a field goal. RB William Powell carried the ball 25 times for 144 yards in a crushing ball control outing. Long-ago Washington Redskins coach George Allen would have beamed. Defence gave up 151 net yards and 11 points .... outstanding. A trade could be in the offing for a QB. Edmonton for James Franklin? He's been rumoured to be going everywhere, so why not?
- Record: 7-5
- Streak: Lost 5
- Next: Bye
Down at the intersection of deep concern and sheer panic, Eskimos fans are hoping this club can simply blow the stop sign and keep going. Coming down the hallway to the dressing room after the Toronto loss, they looked either shocked or angry, depending on the sweater number. Shocked they've lost five after seven straight wins, and angry at pass interference/illegal contact fouls that never seem to go their way (note to Commissioner Ambrosie: Dump replay on passing plays before your fans rush the barricades). Hard to be surprised at this defeat when you give up 429 net yards, a 125-yard missed field goal return TD and 231 yards on the ground, including a 76-yard scamper that left the running back untouched. Getting through comes down to coaching and internal leadership.
- Record: 5-7
- Streak: Won 1
- Next: vs. Montreal
When QB Ricky Ray was crushed on the game's second play from scrimmage, fumbled, and it led to an Edmonton touchdown, one would be forgiven for thinking another shaky outing from the offensive line was ahead. Hah, wrong, you old fart. Under the microscope all season for it's inability to protect the team's most valuable asset, the front five came through gangbusters against Edmonton, drive blocking for 231 yards on the ground and pass blocking for 226. They did allow two other sacks, but just four quarterback pressures as Ray had the time to create something. James Wilder Jr. was sensational; his 190 on the ground and 67 receiving added up to the fourth-best day by an Argos running back in the 144-year history of the club. If the O-Line is strong, this is a dangerous team going forward.
- Record: 2-9
- Streak: Lost 1
- Next: At B.C.
One-yard line, zeros on the clock, Hamilton QB Jeremiah Masoli was told to stand five yards back in the shotgun. Two yards behind him was RB C.J. Gable. Masoli threw a ground ball to a prostrate receiver and the chance at a comeback versus the Riders, and a three-game winning streak, was gone. We're big fans of a pivot under centre and a dive by him or the running back, as Seattle didn't do in the 2015 Super Bowl. Still, there are good signs in the Hammer after a season of lost dreams, broken hearts and blah, blah, blah. New coach June Jones has these guys playing with some confidence. Masoli (28-of-48, 328 yards, TD, two picks) struggled at times but he showed a lot of guts in the late going. And his O-line allowed zero sacks. This club can upset a few apple carts and an ice cream truck the rest of the way.
Streak: Lost 5
Next: At Toronto
You have four mid-season coaching changes in five years. You have an ownership that tends to panic. You have a starting QB in Darian Durant with a great career behind him whose confidence is so shot he started 0-for-6 against Ottawa and was replaced. This could go on for pages, but the point is made. When your passing stats (83 yards) equal your rushing stats (83) and both are under 100, there is cause for the 22,596 who came out on a hot, sunny day to be disgruntled. The Larks had the ball for 19 minutes, partly because the offence was awful, partly because the defence couldn't get the ball back from an Ottawa attack using its second- and third-string pivots. GM and now coach Kavis Reed has to do the Chris Jones from last year in Regina and use the time left to find some folks who can play.