CFL Power Rankings
Stampeders, Mitchell survive brutal Week 1 for QBs
Here's how I rank the Canadian Football League teams after Week 1:
1. Calgary Stampeders
Streak: Won 1
Next: at Montreal
Not sure what was better news in Calgary — someone won $193,323 in a record 50/50 draw at McMahon Stadium, or Bo Levi Mitchell made it through opening week without joining the list of quarterbacks in the hospital. More on the latter problem below. This battle with the Cats was a great scratch-and-kick game between two clubs whose offences aren't up to mid-season speed yet. Stamps gave up two early touchdowns, but neither was on the defence as the first came on a Pick Six and the other on a return by Brandon Banks. After that, nothing but field goals and singles while the defenders kept Hamilton in check on the ground, forcing air routes. Mitchell threw for 263 yards but also three picks. Jeff Fuller caught nine passes for 148 and he's going to be a key weapon again. Have to feel good for kicker Rene Paredes, who had to fight for his job in camp, nailing the winner at the buzzer.
2. Toronto Argonauts
Streak: Won 1
Next: at Saskatchewan
Sing a song for Trevor Harris, playing tough with a pocket full of rookies in front of a "home crowd" of 5,000 in Fort McMurray. (Note: Who thought those ticket prices were a good idea in a struggling town?) Like Zach Collaros before him, Harris is caddying for an injured Ricky Ray (at least six games) and showing he has more than a few good clubs in his bag. The Edinboro University grad (it's in Pennsylvania, south of Erie) was merely outstanding against Edmonton, going 24-of-27 for 347 yards and three majors. That 88.9 per cent rate is second best ever, behind Ray. Grizzled veteran Brandon Whittaker, signed by GM Jim Barker after he was cut in Montreal, carried 14 times for 117 yards and a fumble. Strong defence. Trouble: Kicker Swayze Waters was hurt and receiver Dave Stala took the job in emergency. Bad guy to lose.
3. Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Streak: Won 1
Next: vs. Hamilton
You'll forgive Winnipeg fans if they hold their opinions until the mid-season mark, after last year's club started so quickly and then collapsed. For now, however, this was great fun as the Bombers beat the Riders for the first time at Regina since September of 2004. And didn't that offensive line, led by Stanley Bryant and Dominic Picard, look good? QB Drew Willy, no longer running for his life, completed 22 of 25 passes for 325 yards and three majors, two of them bringing the club back from behind in the third and fourth quarters respectively. Paris Cotton had 168 total yards, including 108 on the ground. Winnipeg did not seriously outplay the Riders in this one — the two teams were pretty close statistically — but they did score the points necessary, and make the stops when needed, to come up with the victory.
4. Hamilton Tiger-Cats
Streak: Lost 1
Next: at Winnipeg
What struck you about the Cats in Week 1 was the way they came out to play at Calgary in one of those faux "Grey Cup rematches" the schedule maker, who doesn't believe in building suspense, likes to toss out there early. Hamilton has a lot of injuries but showed up ready to make the point they may have just missed the ring in 2014, but they're back to grab it this time. There was nothing to choose between the Kitties and White Stallions, and what can you do when the other guy's kicker nails a 50 yarder on the zeroes to win it? Something to be concerned about was the lack of a running game as Ray Holley only came up with 24 yards. CJ Gable won't be back until late July, so somebody has to haul the mail. As with the Stamps, there is an aura around the Cats — they know they're good and they know they're going to get even better as the season goes on.
5. Ottawa Redblacks
Streak: Won 1
Next: vs. B.C.
Henry Burris squared his 40-year-old shoulders in the halftime interview at Montreal and took responsibility for three interceptions in the opening quarters ("I was overthinking.") Bad Henry had himself a half. But with his defence putting both the Als' regular pivots out of the lineup by early in the third, he only had to worry about scoring enough points to win. Enter Smilin' Hank, who did more than that, tossing 13 of 18, 149 yards and three touchdowns in 30 minutes, using all of his new, and veteran, receiving corps of Mo Price, Ernest Jackson, Greg Ellingson, Chris Williams and Brad Sinopoli. He also led a thoroughly professional final drive from his five that killed almost four minutes off the clock, ending the Montreal chances and giving the RBs their first-ever road win. Still, this goes to the defence, one that came back ready to earn the accolades they finished 2014 with.
6. B.C. Lions
Next: at Ottawa
As the Leo defence waits patiently to sink its claws into the Redblacks, the offence looks furtively at QB Travis Lulay, wondering if he can stay healthy for the season. Coach Jeff Tedford worked his new club hard at camp and expects to be in good shape headed to Ottawa. Lulay is coming off two shoulder surgeries and each time he gets hit this year Lion fans' stomachs will head north to the throat. Superb runner Andrew Harris would also like an injury free season as well. The offence is going to a no-huddle hurry up hustle designed to keep defences tired. Small point — the O Line gets tired too. B.C. still features that excellent group of defenders, led by Solomon Elimimian and Adam Bighill and good DBs. Let's see if the Left Coast Leos can stop the roller coaster and find consistency in 2015.
7. Saskatchewan Roughriders
Streak: Lost 1
Next: vs. Toronto
What is there to say? Regular readers know the way this column feels about Darian Durant as a QB, and to see him blow his left Achilles was one of those times when sports really sucks. He'd just fought back from last season's serious elbow injury. Now, out for the year. In comes Kevin Glenn, a smart free agent signing returning to the prairie for the first time since 2003. He's been through Winnipeg, Hamilton, Calgary and B.C. since, always doing a strong job. Still, just because you bought an insurance policy, doesn't mean you want to use it. This is the third-straight year Glenn has had to come in when a starter went down for a long period. The defence gave up too many yards to the Bombers (470), and allowed TDs in the third and fourth after the club had built leads. Your correspondent picked the Riders to win it all this year, but without Durant that's going to be a stretch.
8. Edmonton Eskimos
Streak: Lost 1
Cleyon Laing, who is from Edmonton, may not be able to go home again after putting QB Mike Reilly on the DL for who knows how long by accidently falling on the pivot's leg. Or purposely low-bridging him with minutes to go in a game already decided. You might buy Laing's Who, Me? explanation if he hadn't already concussed Reilly two seasons back. Then there was last year, when the defensive lineman went into a pile with Reilly only to see the QB mysteriously emerge with an injured thumb. Backup Matt Nichols is a good player with his own injury history, but if Reilly is out for a long time, Edmonton's in trouble. And right now there's no running attack (they lost John White in an exhibition game) also hurt. Defensively, far too many passing yards (347) and total yards (484) were given up and there was poor coverage, especially in the short flats. This messy game produced 41 penalties.
9. Montreal Alouettes
Streak: Lost 1
Next: vs. Calgary
Opening night fans at McGill watched their club run out of experienced pivots a minute into the second half. That brought Toronto-born, Mississauga-raised rookie Brandon Bridge into the contest. The club's fourth-stringer, he completed five of 10 passes, plus a pick as the Als scored just three points in that 30 minutes. Not that No. 1 Jon Crompton was any better, going five for 17 in the first half before being chased to the sidelines by a couple of hard hits. Crompton may be back sooner than later, but Bridge has to do the job this coming week with only a rudimentary grasp of the playbook and a few days of reps in practice. QB Dan LeFevour, just signed, lasted one play and is out for the year. Tanner Marsh is on the six-game injured list. So … find another quarterback. Tino Sunseri? Troy Smith? (Kidding about that one). Wonder if Anthony Calvillo's in shape?
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