CFL Power Rankings: A bad year keeps getting worse for Montreal
(Because we didn't want to put the powerhouse Stampeders in the headline again)
Here's how I rank the Canadian Football League teams heading into Week 16:
1. Calgary Stampeders (unchanged)
- Record: 12-1-1
- Streak: Won 10
- Next: Bye
When there's an injury and the Stamps call for next rider up, out of the barn will invariably come another stud we haven't heard much about. Star RB Jerome Messam was out this week, so they put Terry Williams into the saddle and he was merely fabulous, carrying 16 times for 156 yards and three touchdowns as the home side pummeled Montreal. Depth has been what separates the Calgarys from everyone else — great scouting and development mean injuries can be covered without too much of a difference. Williams is out of tiny Kutztown University, a Division II program, and he spent time with the Jets in the NFL. The defence held the visitors to 11 points in the first half, none in the second and wasn't in any trouble. Time to rest for a week.
2. Winnipeg Blue Bombers (unchanged)
- Record: 10-3
- Streak: Won 3
- Next: Hamilton
Justin Medlock missed three field goals and a convert. Winnipeg won anyway on the road in Edmonton. That's how it rolls when your season is rolling. Medlock is the most accurate kicker in league history, so seeing that must have thrown the coaches for a loop. The rest of the team kept working, built a lead and then relied on an interception by Chris Randle to sew up a victory. Matt Nichols completed 24-of-32, 238, two majors and no picks, and running back Andrew Harris continues to be so much fun for fans. He ran for 54, caught for 81, and has 1,511 yards from scrimmage. Defence has played better for two games in a row, and that's good timing. First is out unless Calgary collapses, so the trick is to keep this home playoff game. Six points up with five matches to play looks good from here.
3. Saskatchewan Roughriders (unchanged)
- Record: 7-6
- Streak: Won 1
- Next: At Toronto
From almost the first possession the conversation on TV and Twitter turned to Brandon Bridge, the backup QB. At halftime, nothing on the board, the fans were screaming for coach Chris Jones to make the change from Kevin Glenn. Score one for the coach, who ignored everyone, stuck with the veteran and was rewarded with a comeback victory on the road in Ottawa. Jones also chose not to try a field goal late in the game and instead punted it into a bobble and the winning single point. Glenn went 20-for-32, 252 yards and a pick. Veteran receiver Rob Bagg caught one pass all night, for 30 yards, and it happened to be the biggest, setting up a huge late three-pointer to tie. Great halftime work by the defensive coaches, whose scheme shut down the Redblacks and tossed a second half shutout.
4. B.C. Lions (unchanged, bye)
- Record: 6-7
- Streak: Lost 2
- Next: Ottawa
Lions come out of the break hoping to work out how to get from here to there. As in over the goal line. Too many yards gained are ending in too few points. This is a good team making mistakes that hurt them. Leos are last in turnover ratio at minus-10, as an example. A team that has a tremendous defensive history is second last in sacks and last in quarterback pressures. Another: tops in punting average. Great. Second last in net punting yards. Lousy. Must tackles on special teams. All fixable in the moment, so don't give up on B.C. This is off-topic, but something new commissioner Randy Ambrosie should consider is making sure his teams don't drop off the media landscape when they go on a bye week. Make people available for stories.
5. Toronto Argonauts (unchanged)
- Record: 7-7
- Streak: Won 3
- Next: Saskatchewan
Facing third and 17 with under a minute on the wonky clock* Ricky Ray pulled a rabbit out of his helmet and hit Devier Posey for the first down. Then Posey for a touchdown. Then Posey again in overtime. Third win in a row. Coach Marc Trestman was his honest self in the halftime interview at Hamilton, saying his team had to be better as they hadn't played well in the first 30. Actually, they were awful. Two halves in a game, however, and when the Cats started protecting their lead instead of lengthening it, Ray and his offence struck while the defence became stalwart. Posey now has five TDs vs. Hamilton and this was the first win by the Double Blue at Tim Hortons Field since it opened in 2014.
*Somewhere between the end of play 137 and the end of 138, a full minute was lost.
6. Edmonton Eskimos (unchanged)
- Record: 7-6
- Streak: Lost 6
- Next: At Montreal
Postmedia's Terry Jones pointed out on Sunday that each loss the Eskimos have taken since starting 7-0 has been a matter of backing off expectations. No chance at first place. Then no chance at hosting a playoff game. Now no playoffs? Perhaps, though, a look at the schedule shows opportunity ahead including a trip this week to awful Montreal, and a match at B.C. three weeks hence for what could be a berth. After a defensive first half by both teams, QB Mike Reilly kept his team competitive in the second 30 vs. Peg with a five-possession string that went TD-punt-FG-FG-TD. Trailing by two, they had a chance late until the pivot mixed up his colour schemes and threw a pick-6. Still, 418 yards should have produced more than 19 points.
7. Hamilton Tiger-Cats (up from 8)
- Record: 3-10
- Streak: Lost 1
- Next: At Winnipeg
It's bad journalism to open a story with a question. So we'll wait til this second sentence: How? How does a team that played so well into the fourth quarter against Toronto, give up a two touchdown lead in the final 12 minutes, and then another TD in overtime for the loss? Kitties came out with a good idea of how to stop the newly discovered Toronto running game – cut off lanes, put linebacker Larry Dean on the back, and keep QB Ricky Ray under attack. Worked. On offence, they wanted to force man to man as much as possible and rely on big plays to move the ball. Worked. Until everything unraveled late when the Cats started playing like a bad team protecting an unexpected lead. So disappointing for Kitty fans, who were screaming their heads off all night.
8. Ottawa Redblacks (down from 7)
- Record: 5-9-1
- Streak: Lost 2
- Next: At B.C.
One of those nights when a team dominates the first half, doesn't score enough points for the hard work, and you know something bad may be coming. With a backup QB still learning the offence, Rick Campbell simplified his game plan by unleashing running back William Powell, who powered his way to 187 yards. Ryan Lindley, making his second start while Trevor Harris and Drew Tate are out, was asked to toss shorties for a ball control approach and his 17-for-31, 164 yards, one TD and one pick numbers were about what you'd expect in this game plan. It went wrong because Saskatchewan adjusted at halftime to stop the run, and the passing game couldn't open up. The defence and kick coverage let them down. Now just three left, and they'll need two to earn a post-season berth.
9. Montreal Alouettes (unchanged)
- Record: 3-11
- Streak: Lost 7
- Next: Edmonton
A couple of weeks back, Tyrell Sutton told the Montreal Gazette it was time to "put up or shut up." Since then the Larks have been crunched by Toronto and crumpled by Calgary for a combined total of 94-31. Things thus may be fairly quiet out of the Als camp over the next week. Remember when GM Kavis Reed believed back in camp that Montreal's defence was so deep at linebacker it didn't need Bear Woods? They've given up 425 points in just 13 games and cannot stop the run at all. Stamps' 523 total yards this week included 216 on the ground after 154 vs. the Argos. They're not bad against the pass, but why pass when you can roll over Montreal like this? Reed is now also head coach, of course, and he has to find players who can tackle in the coming weeks.