Thursday, August 13, 2015

Week Eight Picks

Season record: 14-14
Last week: 3-1

Edmonton (4-2) at Montreal (2-4)

This is likely the toughest game of the week to predict. While I think Edmonton has the best defence in the league, I have some serious questions about their offence without Adarius Bowman in the lineup. The Alouettes, meanwhile, are a much better team than their 2-4 record would indicate. Noel Thorpe's defence is one of the best in the league, while Rakeem Cato and the offence will only get better having Tyrell Sutton back in the lineup. I can't see Matt Nichols putting up all that many points without Bowman on the field, instead turning it over and giving Montreal's offence enough cracks against Edmonton's defence to eventually break through. 

Pick: Montreal 

Toronto (4-2) at Winnipeg (3-4)

Robert Marve will be making his first career start when the Argonauts visit Investors Group Field. Marve has shown flashes of potential in limited game action, though as a rookie, he is expected to make some mistakes. While the Argonauts as a team haven't impressed me in recent weeks, their defence has been particularly bad. Having national safety Jermaine Gabriel back in the lineup would be huge for the Argos, but they're still without Cory Greenwood at weak-side linebacker. The Bombers lost Paris Cotton and Darvin Adams last week, but will have Bryant Turner Jr., Greg Peach and Nick Moore back in the lineup. Cameron Marshall, meanwhile, will get his first start at running back despite earning more carries than Cotton in recent weeks. If Marve can play more conservative than he did in the pre-season and protect the football, I think the Bombers can pull it off at home. But that's a lot to ask from a rookie pivot, so I'll take the Double Blue in a close game. 

Pick: Toronto 

BC (3-3) at Hamilton (4-2)

This game is a no-brainer. I simply don't think the Lions are good enough to be the first team to snap Hamilton's undefeated streak at Tim Hortons Field. Andrew Harris appears to be BC's only weapon on offence, however with the number one run-defence, the Tiger-Cats will limit his impact. Hamilton's offence did capitalize on good field-position and turnovers in the first half, but didn't really seem to be clicking in the second half against Winnipeg. Expect a big game from Zach Collaros against a lesser defence in the Lions'.

Pick: Hamilton 

Ottawa (4-2) at Calgary (4-2) 

How will Ottawa perform outside of TD Place? All four of the Redblacks' wins have come on their home stomping grounds, and the last time they traveled out West was to Edmonton, a game in which they  via blowout fashion. Ottawa's defence has been good, but not great, this season, which would also describe the play of Bo Levi Mitchell. A fierce Ottawa pass-rush and play-making group of defensive backs got the better of the second year starter when these teams met in week five. Calgary's receivers versus Ottawa's secondary should once again be the matchup to watch, and while I think they'll both take their shots, Calgary's pass-catchers will ultimately get their pay-back on Sunday. The play of Henry Burris will go a long way, but I like Calgary playing at home after a bye week. 

Pick: Calgary 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

10 Thoughts I Have From Week Seven

The parity is still very much there, but the smoke is starting to clear in the CFL. All four of the Eastern teams seem to be very good, while the West is kind of top-heavy. That being said, BC's defeat of the Edmonton Eskimos reassures that anybody can beat anybody in this league, so we'll see how things shake out in the upcoming weeks. Here's 10 thoughts I had in week seven.

1. Automatic video review: what's the point?
Whether it's a touchdown pass or an extra point attempt, every scoring play is automatically reviewed by the command centre. There, the replay officials can review the play as many times as needed with numerous camera angles to ensure the ruling on the field was indeed correct. For those reasons, I simply don't understand how the replay officials have blown so many blatant calls this year when the ball-carrier was either down-by-contact or never even crossed the plain. First, it was Brian Brohm's touchdown run in week two. Then it was Tyrell Sutton stepping out of bounds before the ball crossed the plain in week three. Last week, Brandon Stewart clearly touched AJ Jefferson's knee after recovering an onside punt and in week seven, Manny Arceneaux stepped out of bounds at least once while tight-roping the sidelines on route to the end-zone. This is simply unacceptable and has to stop.

2. Andrew Harris for Most Outstanding Player
If the Edmonton Eskimos can't stop Andrew Harris, can anyone? The Canadian running back had his best game of the season on Thursday night, recording 175 total yards with two touchdowns, including the 31-yard game-winning catch-and-score. Harris now has a league-leading 807 yards-from-scrimmage and 6 touchdowns, with 519 of those yards coming on the ground. With or without the majority of the league's superstars being injured, Harris would likely still be the front runner for Most Outstanding Player after seven weeks of action.

3. Jones should've attempted the field goal
It was Edmonton's offence that ultimately cost them the game against the Lions, but they still had a chance to tie the game with under a minute to go on third-down with the ball on BC's 48 yard line. HC Chris Jones' decision to opt against the field goal and go for it, which resulted in another Matt Nichols interception, was absolutely the wrong one. Jones had the hottest kicker in the CFL, Grant Shaw, at his disposal, who is yet to miss a single field goal on the season and was 3/3 on the day. Meanwhile, Nichols and the offence hadn't scored a point in the half and were struggling to convert in medium passing situations. CFL kickers have made 60% of their attempts from the 48 and 68% from that distance in BC Place, so the numbers certainly don't support Jones either. I understand the ball was placed on the right hash, however Jones should've trusted Shaw to send the game to overtime.

4. Smith shows promise in second start
Brett Smith was impressive in his second career start against the Argonauts, completing 23/35 of his passes for 298 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, which was returned by Akwasi Owusu-Ansha for six points. Despite the loss, Smith should keep his head up. The rookie pivot from Wyoming carried the Riders with little assistance from his teammates, who continuously took stupid penalties that resulted in two touchdown passes being called back. And while Smith has played very good for a rookie, I think we should wait a little longer before anointing him as the next big thing. After witnessing Joey Elliott throw for 400 yards in his third career start only to get released at the end of season, I'm going to remain cautiously optimistic with Brett Smith. There's no Rakeem Cato effect here.

5. Bellefeuille does it again
Last time I wrote about Winnipeg's OC, I was both sad and disappointed with his offence. But this time around, after getting shellacked by the Tiger-Cats by 30 points in a game that saw Drew Willy take a beating and leave to injury, this paragraph is filled with much more anger. Bellefeuille's inability to put together basic protection schemes against Hamilton's blitz-heavy defence has come at the expense of Drew Willy, who's out for at least 6-8 weeks with a knee injury. It was the third time Willy had been knocked out of a ball game this season, and the second time against Hamilton. This isn't a personnel issue, either, as Winnipeg's offensive line is filled with enough individual talents. This is Bellefeuilles' fault for not solving Orlando Steinauer's defence in four tries and developing a serviceable pass protection. There's no changes, no improvement and no signs of hope.

6. Michael Sam makes debut
You'd think Michael Sam had notched a hat-trick of sacks and a big-man pick-six with how much the media focused on a rookie defensive end trying to cut his teeth in the CFL. Sam recorded zero tackles, however Sportscentre's highlight package of the Montreal-Ottawa game was still mostly filled with the Missouri alum chasing down the backside of plays. The only impact Sam had on the game was when he bit hard on Burris' play-fake leading to a touchdown pass, but I'll reserve final judgement on the rookie pass-rusher until I see more than a dozen snaps. He'll have to start making more of an impact soon, as teams almost never pay an international six figures to not contribute or be scratched.

7. The big guys get their due
Everybody loves seeing a 'Big Guy Touchdown', and we were fortunate to witness two this weekend. Hamilton guard Ryan Bomben caught a beautiful over-the-shoulder pass from Zach Collaros for six, while Argos' left tackle Wayne Smith got his due on a two-point convert. Even the fullbacks got into the fun, as Edmonton's Calvin McCarty made a highlight-reel one-handed catch and Ottawa's Patrick Lavoie caught an eleven yard touchdown. Fullbacks certainly see the football more than offensive lineman, but they don't get enough glory either. Until this week, of course.

8. Harris keeps on rolling
Everyone seems convinced that the Argos will be Ricky Ray's team the instant he returns from injury, but I'm not sure how they can bench Trevor Harris at point. He's been the league's top signal-caller this season and is on pace for 5,457 yards and 42 touchdowns. Harris just keeps on rolling, and his latest 316-yard, two touchdown performance against Saskatchewan assures us he's not sit slowing down anytime soon. He's the future of the Argonauts, so why bench him in favour of a 36-year old who might not be as effective as Harris? If anything, I think the Argos will handle the situation similarly to how BC gave Travis Lulay spot duty when Kevin Glenn was red-hot for the Lions. They'll run with Harris until he starts to slide, then they'll declare Ray good-to-go and give him a start.

9. The 'Cats are going to miss Gable
They didn't need him this week, but I have a feeling the Tiger-Cats are really going to miss having CJ Gable in their lineup sooner than later. Gable, who's on the six-game injured list, rushed for 135 yards in his debut in week five, but was hurt once again last week versus Toronto and will be out 2-3 months. In Sunday's game, the Ti-Cats' run-game was once again no where to be found with Ray Holley only picking up 25 yards on eight carries. The offence stalled in the second half, scoring no points and throwing two interceptions, but the damage was already done in the first half, where they capitalized on Winnipeg's mistakes and put up points. Not having a threat in the backfield might hurt Hamilton in the upcoming weeks.

10. Players of the week
Andrew Harris takes both Offensive and Canadian Player of the Week for his phenomenal game against the league's top defence. Harris rushed for 118 yards, gained 57 more through the air and had two touchdowns.

I was really tempted to give it to Keith Shologan, but Emmanuel Davis earned Defensive Player of the Week for contributing 12 points as a defensive player. Though his interceptions were nothing spectacular, it's extremely rare to see a player record two pick-sixes in the same game. Davis has three in total against the Bombers in 2015.

No one really stood out this week on special-teams. Dexter McCoil made some big plays and had three tackles, so he grabs this one.

Friday, August 7, 2015

CFL Best: Top Pass-Rusher and Shutdown Defensive Back

The third instalment of "Best in the League" comes down to three players: Patrick Watkins, Johnny Adams and Aaron Grymes.

In the latest instalment of "Best in the League", the writers on ask the fans who they believe is the league's top shutdown defensive back. In my mind, it comes down to three players: Aaron Grymes, Patrick Watkins and Johnny Adams. 

Due to the rule changes altering defensive backs' technique, it's not recommended to take players' performances in previous seasons into account all that much. Geoff Tisdale is a great example of why we should only evaluate play in 2015, as the eight year veteran was one of the top defensive backs last season, however his style didn't comply with the new rules and, as a result, Tisdale was out of work for five weeks to open the season. 

There's no doubt in my mind that Watkins, Grymes and Adams have been the best defensive backs in 2015. Watkins, who most viewed as the top DB heading into the season with Delvin Breaux departed, has had a great season at his familiar boundary-cornerback position for the Eskimos. He's recorded three interceptions- although only his pick-six against Saskatchewan was actually well-earned- and has continued to be a match-up nightmare for offences with his incredible height at 6'6", long wing-span and quick hips. 

Watkins' teammate, Aaron Grymes, is one of the most underrated players in the league. Playing at field-side halfback, Grymes sees a lot of action and can take any of the league's top slot-backs entirely out of the game. The Idaho product has multiple interceptions on the season and has displayed a stellar ability to use both his hands and physicality to force passes incomplete without drawing a flag. 

But while Grymes and Watkins have been great for Edmonton, I think there's a new top-dog in the CFL: first-year player from Winnipeg, Johnny Adams. 

Adams has come into the CFL as a rookie and started from week one at boundary cornerback, allowing the Bombers to move another lockdown defensive back, Chris Randle, to nickel linebacker. The former Michigan State Spartan, who's tied for the league-lead in interceptions with three, has been as good as advertised while, as a rookie, playing a position occupied by the teams' best cover-guy, which Adams obviously is. 

Adams has been outstanding against the league's top receivers on the short-side, most recently keeping Lions' All-Star wideout Manny Arceneaux off the stat-sheet until a meaningless final play with zeros on the clock and Adams lined up 20 yards deep in prevent coverage. He's done nearly the same to great players like Jeff Fuller, Kenny Stafford and Fred Stamps on a week-to-week basis.

Adams has tremendous ball-skills, and usually when quarterbacks actually do throw his way, it's because the 5'11", 190 lbs corner is daring them to test him so he can jump the route. Adams hasn't allowed a touchdown pass in man-coverage up to this point, further strengthening his case as the league's top defensive back. 

Watkins and Grymes certainly make strong cases too, and I wouldn't be bothered at all if either of them were crowned instead of Adams. And while there are some other great defensive backs out there- Brandon McDonald, Weldon Brown, Billy Parker, Jerald Brown, Jamar Wall, Abdul Kanneh, AJ Jefferson, Bruce Johnson, amongst many others, come to mind- the trio mentioned above are simply on another level. 

But the rookie, Johnny Adams, grabs my vote. 

Last week's "Best in the League" was all about the beloved quarterback sack; something no current player knows better than Charleston Hughes. 

The long-time Stampeders' defensive end gets my vote as the league's top pass-rusher, edging out Edmonton's Marcus Howard, Montreal's John Bowman and Saskatchewan's John Chick for the accolade. Hughes leads the league in sacks with six and even has three forced fumbles to boot. But most impressively, Hughes leads all active players with 50 sacks in his last five seasons. 

The self-proclaimed "Stamp Machine" is the best pass-rusher in the CFL. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Week Seven Picks

Season record: 11-13
Last week: 3-1

Edmonton (4-1) at BC (2-3)

The Eskimos are probably the hottest team in the CFL right now and are getting production from every position. Having not allowed a touchdown in 45 straight possessions, the Eskimos also own the league's top defence. That stout defence will be up against a struggling Lions' offence who only managed to put up a mere 13 points against a mediocre Bombers' unit, largely thanks to Travis Lulay's struggles leading to a league-worst passing-offence. The seven-year veteran is in a slump, and he won't have as good as of a rushing-attack or pass-protection against Edmonton to help him out. BC's defence, meanwhile, isn't playing much better, therefore even without Shakir Bell, I think Edmonton will find ways to put the ball in the end-zone.

Pick: Edmonton

Montreal (2-3) at Ottawa (3-2)

Expect another barn-burner at TD Place as two East Division foes clash on Friday Night. Both teams are anchored by solid defences, so I think Ottawa's defensive backs will be play a large role in the outcome of the game. The league's top secondary, as I've continuously proclaimed since the off-season, were spectacular in their last outing against Calgary and are matched up against a far less intimidating corps of receivers versus Montreal. Coming off a great showing before their bye week, Ottawa's offence will be faced with a tough task against Montreal's dominant defence. I doubt they'll find success with Chevon Walker on the ground against Noel Thorpe's unit, instead relying on Henry Burris and his bevy of receivers to move the chains through the air. It's hard to say if they'll be able to consistently do so, but if 'D-Block' can slow down SJ Green, they'll be getting the ball back to the offence enough for them to gain some traction.

Pick: Ottawa

Saskatchewan (0-6) at Toronto (3-2)

This game is a no-brainer. In their home-opener, the Double-Blue host a depleted Roughriders team undergoing some midseason changes and controversy. The Argos are a better team than they showed last week against Hamilton and will want to prove so at home in front of their fans. Trevor Harris and his dynamic group of receivers will have their way with Saskatchewan, while Brandon Whitaker will have a great opportunity to get back on track against a porous run-defence. Fortunately for the Riders, rookie pivot Brett Smith wont be dealing with a ferocious pass-rush every time he drops back and will have some time to find his weapons against an inexperienced Toronto secondary. Running the ball is no easy feat against the Argos, but they'll be without linebacker Cory Greenwood when these teams square up, opening up some space for whoever's toting the rock for Saskatchewan. Pending the play of Smith, the Riders' offence might do alright against Toronto, but they proved earlier in the season that it takes a whole lot more than a good offence to win football games.

Pick: Toronto

Winnipeg (3-3) at Hamilton (3-2)

In my mind, this game's simple and comes down to two things: the Ti-Cats' undefeated streak at Tim Horton's Field and Winnipeg OC Marcel Bellefeuille's proven inability to put together a game plan against a blitz-heavy defence. Drew Willy ranks last among quarterbacks with a 42% completion percentage versus the blitz, and that number will have to be much higher if the Bombers want to win in Hamilton. When these two teams met in week two, the Bombers' defence surrendered 37 points to the Ti-Cats' offence, however it might just be Richie Hall's unit that'll have to carry this Bomber team. The defence has come a long way since week two, while the Cats will also be without Andy Fantuz and CJ Gable on Sunday. Containing Zach Collaros and co. is still a tough task nonetheless, so I'll go on record and say the Tiger-Cats remain undefeated at Tim Hortons field with a win over the Bombers.

Pick: Hamilton

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Lulay's Struggles Holding Lions Back

Andrew Harris is supplying a running-game, but Travis Lulay isn't having the same success in the air. (Photo: Darryl Dyck, The Canadian Press)

With an award-winning quarterback, superstar running back, above-average offensive line and up-and-coming receiving corps, the BC Lions' offence should be one of the best in the league. But when the award-winning quarterback isn't playing to the level we're accustomed to seeing, the surrounding talent is sometimes good for not.

Travis Lulay hasn't played on the same level of his teammates. His season stats might say otherwise, but the league's former Most Outstanding Player in 2011 has been far from outstanding. Even in his finest hour- a 400-yard passing, three touchdown performance against Saskatchewan- I wasn't all that blown away. However, he did protect the football and guide his team to an overtime victory, so I'll credit him for that.

Lulay's completed 64.2 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and five interceptions. His 1,205 yards rank him seventh in the CFL, while the Lions' passing attack ranks dead-last at 241 yards-per-game. And still, those stats seem to flatter the Montana State alum.

Despite having a surprisingly-spectacular offensive line providing him time and a stellar rushing attack offering balance, Lulay isn't producing. He's making rookie mistakes: staring down receivers and throwing into double, and sometimes triple-coverage. Most recently, all of the above was on display against Winnipeg, where after a beautiful opening drive capped off with a touchdown pass, Lulay faltered and threw three consecutive interceptions, while there could have been more.

It's hard not to wonder if Lulay is still affected by his shoulder injury; one that's mostly kept him off the field for a year and a half. His deep-ball accuracy has been awful, while his arm strength has indeed been decent for the most part, but sometimes wavers. It's hard to entirely fault the injury for Lulay's play, as rather than starting rusty and improving as the weeks pass, his play has declined with each game.

The Lions are implementing a new offence under head coach Jeff Tedford and offensive coordinator George Cortez, and the learning-curve has undoubtedly played it's part in the lack of consistency in BC's passing game. But more times than not, Lulay's either missing on his throws or making the wrong read to begin with, which can't really be attributed to a new scheme. Meanwhile, Saskatchewan's offence also features a new system, yet they hadn't missed a beat until Kevin Glenn went down.

Prior to the season, many claimed the Lions' fate in 2015 rested on the shoulders of Travis Lulay. If he stayed healthy and, physically, wasn't limited, BC could contend for a playoff spot. But if he faltered to injury as many expected, the Lions' season would go down with their quarterback. Fact is, neither has been the case this season. Lulay's stayed healthy and really hasn't been very limited. He simply isn't producing.

In his season preview, CFL on TSN's Chris Schultz said that, mentally, Lulay wouldn't have forgotten how to play quarterback at an elite level. Unfortunately, it almost seems like he has with the rookie-level decision-making the seven-year veteran's displayed.

While their defence still leaves much to be desired, the Lions would be a much better team if their passing game could gain some traction. Andrew Harris and the offensive line are doing their part on the ground, now they need quarterback Travis Lulay and his receivers to get onto the same page and contribute to the cause. It'll need to happen quickly too, as the Bombers appear to be pulling away with the final playoff spot seeing as BC has only defeated Saskatchewan this season. I'm not saying the Lions need to make a change at quarterback, but they certainly need improvement.

I'm calling you out, Travis Lulay. Even Matt Nichols has been more impressive. Time to step up or step aside.

10 Thoughts I Have From Week Six

Another week is in the books and it was filled with some decent football games. Week five set the bar quite high with overtime games and fourth quarter fireworks, so as expected, the four games this week didn't really live up to that precedent. Nonetheless, here are ten thoughts I had in week six.

1. Home teams dominate
Having trouble setting your CFL Pick 'em for week seven? I'd recommend simply going with the home team, as their season record, excluding games played at Mosaic Stadium, is 16-4 on the season. With the Bombers topping the Lions, Eskimos taking care of Saskatchewan, Stamps edging the Alouettes and the Tiger-Cats defeating their rival Argonauts, the home teams engineered a clean sweep in week six.

2. Lulay's holding back his offence
Travis Lulay had his worst game of the season in Winnipeg, completing 22/33 passes for 255 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. Throughout most of the game, Lulay was given time in the pocket to progress through his reads, but instead often stared down his receivers or threw into double-coverage. His deep ball accuracy left much to be desired, and similarly to all the other flaws displayed versus the Blue Bombers, that's been the case all season. Lulay's play has declined as the season has gone on, and good quarterbacking is the missing piece of an otherwise explosive offence that features Andrew Harris, an up-and-coming receiving corps and surprisingly-dominant offensive line. At this time, the 2011 M.O.P. isn't playing on their level.

3. Bombers' defence is drastically improved
Winnipeg's defence has been steadily improving since their multi-interception outing against Rakeem Cato's Alouettes in week three, but they had their best performance to date against BC, holding the Lions' offence to a mere 13 points. The Bombers gave up 117 yards on the ground to Andrew Harris, which is concerning, but it took him 24 attempts to reach that total. Richie Hall's unit recorded three interceptions and forced four total turnovers, giving Drew Willy and the offence plenty of opportunities to put points on the board. The next step for this defence is to perform at this level on a more consistent basis.

4. Johnny Adams does it again
Winnipeg rookie Johnny Adams continues to make his case as the league's top shutdown cornerback. Adams locked-up Emmanuel Arceneaux this week, keeping the All-Star receiver off the stat-sheet until the final play of the game, where the Lions should've been kneeling down and ending the game. Adams notched his third interception of the season while also contributing six tackles to the Bombers' victory as well. I don't know of any other boundary cornerback that's been as good as the Michigan State product this season.

5. Nichols silences his critics
It's a well-known fact that Matt Nichols is nothing more than a backup quarterback, but he still has many critics out there and certainly silenced them with a great game against Saskatchewan. The Eskimos clearly made the right choice starting the six-year veteran over rookie pivot James Franklin. Nichols threw for 300 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions, improving his undefeated season record to 4-0 in the process. He's no Mike Reilly, but Nichols has proven to be a serviceable backup signal-caller in this league.

6. Disastrous play-calling by Chapdelaine
Bad coaching has hurt Saskatchewan plenty in 2015, and while the Riders only ever had an extremely marginal chance at beating Edmonton to begin with, they wound up having absolutely no chance with Jacques Chapdelaine's play-calling. With a rookie quarterback making his first career start and the number one rushing attack at his fingertips, Saskatchewan's offensive coordinator completely abandoned his fearsome run-game, giving Jerome Messam and Anthony Allen a combined five carries all game. It should've been a no-brainer for the Riders to feature their two-headed monster early and often, but Chapdelaine opted not to challenge Edmonton's stout run defence and instead put all the pressure on Brett Smith. Go figure, the Riders only managed to put five points on the board. Five.

7. No love for Calgary's offence
With five offensive lineman on the shelf, the Stampeders have no business competing in football games. Edwin Harrison, Garry Williams, Brander Craighead, Karl Lavoie and Dan Federkeil have all missed time, yet the Stamps have still won three of their last four games and share a hold of first place with a 4-2 record. This week, they beat the Montreal Alouettes and their fearsome front four with only Pierre Lavertu as their regular starter on the offensive line, miraculously rushing for 94 yards without star running back Jon Cornish, and only allowing two sacks despite playing the second half without back-up left tackle Garry Williams, who left with an upper-body injury. The Stamps aren't getting enough credit for running an effective offence with a make-shift offensive line, something only John Hufnagel's team could do. It's quite difficult for me to wrap my head around what Bo Levi Mitchell, Dave Dickenson and this offence have done while missing so many key pieces up front.

8. There are no free yards against Hamilton
Conversions on third-and-one are supposed to be automatic in the CFL, but nothing is guaranteed against Hamilton's defence. The 'Cats have remarkably forced five turnovers on third-and-short this season, prohibiting the offence from advancing a single yard required for a fresh set of downs, or worse, a touchdown. Largely thanks to Ted Laurent penetrating and plugging gaps, Hamilton stuffed the Argonauts twice on route to a 34-18 victory at Tim Hortons Field. Opposing coaches should think twice before testing Hamilton in short-yardage, as nothing's a 'gimme' against this defensive line.

9. Chad Owens is invisible
Has anybody seen Chad Owens recently? He's struggled mightily this season, recording only 10 catches for 97 yards in Toronto's last three games. The 32-year old's worst game came Monday against the Ti-Cats, where he finished with three receptions for 21 yards. With the emergence of Toronto's trio of rookie pass-catches in Vidal Hazelton, Tori Gurley and Kevin Elliott, it's becoming apparent that Owens is no longer the go-to receiver in the Argos' aerial attack.

10. Players of the Week:
Winnipeg QB Drew Willy takes Offensive Player of the Week for singlehandedly guiding the Bombers' offence to victory on an injured knee. Willy completed 17/25 passes for 269 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and also rushed for a career-high 72 yards.

Eskimos CB Pat Watkins snags Defensive Player of the Week for his big game against Saskatchewan. Watkins had a pair of interceptions- albeit one in garbage time on an errant throw- with five tackles and a sack. The All-Star corner did it all on Friday evening.

Canadian Player of Week goes to Andrew Harris for his 117-yard rushing game against Winnipeg, while Special Teams Player of the Week once again goes to Edmonton's Grant Shaw, who nailed all three of his field goal attempts and averaged nearly 45 yards-per-punt.

I thought Jovon Olafioye played a good game against Winnipeg, supplying his quarterback with plenty of time while often dealing with star pass-rusher Jamaal Westerman. BC's right tackle earned Offensive Lineman of the week.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Week Six Picks

Season record: 8-12
Last week: 1-3
BC (2-2) at Winnipeg (2-3)
The opening game of week six features two West Division teams coming off ugly losses the last time they took the field. Bombers' quarterback Drew Willy will get the start despite a knee injury suffered last week and will be up against the league's worst-ranked defence. The Lions' pass-rush hasn't been able take pressure off their inexperienced secondary and, as a result, the Lions rank last in total yards-per-game, passing yards-per-game and second last in rushing yards-per-game. Winnipeg's defence, meanwhile, have improved drastically since the start of the season and put together another solid effort against Edmonton, where they held the Eskimos' running game in check on a wet turf. Their focus this week should be solely on stopping Andrew Harris, as BC's passing-offence ranks second last and seems to be trending downward. Travis Lulay has been forcing too many passes and his receivers aren't making enough plays to help out. Just as we saw against Montreal in week three, I think the Bombers respond with a close win at home after an ugly defeat the week prior that saw them lose their starting quarterback.

Pick: Winnipeg

Saskatchewan (0-5) at Edmonton (3-1)

Saskatchewan could have Darian Durant at quarterback and I'd still take the Eskimos in this game. But instead, rookie pivot Brett Smith will make his first career start against a dreaded defence and, with that, goes any marginal chance the Riders previously had at winning this game. Edmonton's defence hasn't allowed a regular season touchdown at home since week 12 of 2014, and there's a chance that streak continues against Saskatchewan. Offensively, expect Eskimos' running back Shakir Bell to run all over the Roughriders' awful run-defence and quarterback Matt Nichols will do enough against a depleted secondary to get the job done. They won't have to put up very many points to get the win.

Pick: Edmonton

Montreal (2-2) at Calgary (3-2)

Last time these two teams met, the legend of Rakeem Cato was born. The Stamps had no film on Cato and were certainly caught off guard, losing 29-11 to a rookie quarterback. But Calgary had no excuse for their own performance offensively that night, and Montreal's defence has not lost a step since then. The Stamps are also without the majority of their offensive line and star running back Jon Cornish, influencing me to favour Montreal's defence even more in this match-up. Cato hasn't disappointed since his first game against Calgary and is up against a somewhat underachieving defence that allowed Henry Burris to complete 65 percent of his passes for 389 yards and three touchdowns in Ottawa's big upset win. The Alouettes are less one-dimensional than Ottawa with Tyrell Sutton in their backfield, leaving me to believe the Stamps will have an even tougher time this week against Montreal. It should be close, but I think the Als upset the Stamps for a second time this year.

Pick: Montreal

Toronto (3-1) at Hamilton (2-2)

In easily the most anticipated game of the week, the Battle of Ontario returns to Tim Hortons Field for Hamilton's home-opener. Largely thanks to overachieving quarterback Trevor Harris, the Argos have been the league's most impressive team so far, winning three of their four opening games of their Western road trip to start the season. The Ti-Cats are finally getting healthy and could have all of Luke Tasker, Eric Noorwood and Ted Laurent in the lineup on Monday night. Both offences are equally as dynamic, however Hamilton has the advantage with their stingy defence. They'll force the Argos' offence to be one-dimensional, and while I still think Trevor Harris will play good, the Cats will get the necessary stops for Hamilton to win.

Pick: Hamilton

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Former CFLers are Going Camping

Former Alouettes' receiver Duron Carter will be trying his luck in the NFL with Indianapolis. (Photo: Brian Spurlock)

A different group of CFL players try their luck down south every off-season. This year, nine former CFL players from 2014 are going camping in the NFL.
Brett Jones (Giants), Delvin Breaux (Saints), Brian Peters and Jalil Carter (Vikings), Matt O'Donnell (Bengals), Ian Wild and Shawn Lemon (Steelers) and, finally, Duron Carter and Ben Heenan (Colts) all earned invites to main training camp with their respective teams.
But they aren't all expected to make it past training camp, of course. Only a select few make the final roster, and even fewer become a starter at some point in their career. And then there's the rarest bunch, and they are the Cameron Wake's and the Brandon Browner's, who go from CFL stars to NFL Pro Bowlers.  
As it stands right now, there's only three players that almost certainly won't be back in the CFL any time soon: Breaux, Jones and Duron Carter. While nobody's spot is guaranteed, the remaining six will need an outstanding training camp in order to make the 53-man roster or the practice squad.
For his inspiring story on his comeback from a broken neck, Breaux is already well-known to the more passionate fans of his hometown New Orleans Saints. But they're also aware of his talent, and some are already going as far as calling him one of team's biggest finds in recent history.
The former Tiger-Cat has a great chance of not only making New Orleans' final roster, but starting in week one as well. The Saints had Breaux start at nickel cornerback in mini-camp as they like his size at 6'1", ball skills and quick hips. In that case, Breaux would be the third or fourth cornerback on the depth chart, seeing significant playing time while covering slot receivers. An All-Star at boundary-corner in the CFL, Breaux joined a poor Saints' secondary in 2014 and is a lock to make the 53-man roster.
While he isn't a lock to make the team like Breaux, Brett Jones has a good chance of sticking around with the New York Giants for awhile. The Giants have plenty of question marks regarding the interior of their offensive line, and while they have plenty of potential starting candidates, the door is still wide open for players like Jones to step up. With Weston Richburg expected to take over the team's starting centre role, expect the CFL's 2014 Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman award winner to battle with Dallas Reynolds for back-up duties while also seeing time as a reserve guard.
Jones, a native of Weyburn, Saskatchewan, has been praised by Giants' coaches for his work ethic and high football I.Q. New York's offensive line had a season to forget last year, putting the 2013 Stampeders' second round pick in a great opportunity to tag along with the Big Blue. Jones might have a long NFL career ahead of him.
And last, but certainly not least, to much fanfare from Colts Nation, former Montreal Alouettes' wide receiver Duron Carter will be with the Indianapolis Colts for training camp. The son of Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter, Duron is slated as the fifth receiver on Indianapolis' depth chart, which is impressive given that it's one of the deepest receiving corps' in the NFL. Carter is a physical freak with undeniable talent, as shown by his CFL pedigree that includes 1,939 receiving yards with 12 touchdowns in two seasons.

Carter can contribute to this team as a red-zone target behind veteran Andre Johnson and also on special-teams as a returner, where he got some looks during mini-camp. He has little competition for the fifth spot at receiver and could even move up to no. four, where he'll battle for reps with 2015 first round draft pick Philip Dorsett.

Carter could have been in the NFL already if it weren't for some off-field issues, but if he's left those issues in the past, he'll have found a place to stay in Indianapolis.

The future's much more cloudy for the remaining bunch of former CFL players looking for employment down south. With a good pre-season, I thought former Stampeder Shawn Lemon had a chance to stick around in Pittsburgh due to his versatility at outside linebacker, however he'll open up training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list, further affecting his marginal chances of making the team.

The chances of Jalil Carter, John Chiles or Brian Peters of making it past the first round of cuts aren't very promising either, while I'm almost certain current Steelers' safety Ian Wild will be back in Winnipeg with the Blue Bombers for the Banjo Bowl. Offensive linemen Matt O'Donnell and Ben Heenan have a good opportunity with their new clubs, but I won't be surprised if either are cut before September.

If this is the case, Labour Day weekend could include an in-season free agent frenzy.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

10 Thoughts I Have From Week Five

We're five weeks into the 2015 CFL season and it's still almost impossible to seperate each team from another. Four teams have three wins while another four have two wins, and we've learned that everyone is capable of beating everyone. Parity- or mediocrity- was the story of the week once again.

1. How can you hate the 'New CFL'?
The league has been under much scrutiny for their recent rule changes, but the on-field product in week five should silence a lot of critics. Penalties continue to decrease, as I said they would, and Friday night's doubleheader included the best consecutive games the CFL's had in years. And those fans who claimed the new rules take away the integrity of the game and a defender's ability to defend should stop, as week five displayed plenty of good defensive plays and pass break-ups (see Ottawa's 'DBlock', who officially registered seven, though there were more). The adjustment period for defensive backs is seemingly taking less time than expected and, as a result, defences are holding their own. Nearly every game is close this season and so many have come down to the wire. Are you not entertained?

2. DBlock is the league's top secondary
Before the season started, I claimed Ottawa's defensive backs could really breakout in 2015. They proved to be a serviceable unit in the team's inaugural season despite having every starter but Jovon Johnson play as a CFL rookie and have since taken a giant step of progression in year two. After three impressive performances against three rather lacklustre passing offences, 'Dblock' made me look smart against one of the league's best receiving corps in Calgary's, holding Bo Levi Mitchell to a mere 56% completion rate, one passing touchdown and several coverage sacks.

3. Chris Williams is back
After his performance Friday night, I think we can officially say Chris Williams is still the same exciting player he was back in his Tiger-Cats days. Up until week five, Williams was having a rather quiet season despite being in the top-5 for receiving yards and on-pace to equal his career-best single-season receiving total. But he exploded against Calgary, catching seven passes for 162 yards, with a large chunk coming on a huge 84-yard catch-and-score after toasting cornerback Buddy Jackson. This was the type of game I was used to seeing from Chris Williams in 2012 and it's good to see him finally proving to be worth every penny the Redblacks are paying him.

4. Adam Bighill is the early season MODP favourite
It's still early, but Adam Bighill has been the league's top defensive player thus far, in my opinion. Bighill has a league-leading 36 tackles in four games (on pace for 162 tackles) and has been extremely versatile in an unconventional role in BC's defence, lining up all over the field and occasionally even playing defensive back as a 230-pound linebacker. Bighill is having a monster season and has impressed me more than any other defensive player this year.

5. Mike O'Shea can learn from Chris Jones
Chris Jones will pull his backup quarterback, Matt Nichols, for a lack of production despite him completing 68% of his passes and the Eskimos winning. Mike O'Shea, meanwhile, will continue to play his back-up quarterback, Brian Brohm, despite him only completing 47% of his passes with two interceptions. Brohm, who has never thrown a touchdown pass at the professional level, has done nothing in his career for his coach to display such faith and confidence in him. O'Shea is either extremely stubborn or delusional, as the Bombers will never win a game with Brohm at the helm.

6. Marcel Bellefeuille is the league's worst OC
Marcel Bellefeuille has taken over the title as the league's worst offensive coordinator, which was previously held by former Redblacks' OC Mike Gibson. Bellefeuille's Blue Bomber offence has scored just fifteen points in twelve quarters against the Edmonton Eskimos' aggressive defence, which is beyond unacceptable. Bellefeuille's inability to assemble any sort of a game plan for a blitz-heavy defence like Edmonton's or Hamilton's is both sad and embarrassing, however his biggest issue is as simple as his general scheme itself, which is both vanilla and predictable. It seriously seems as though the Bombers' offence rotates through five different formations with five pass plays and five run plays each and every week. I understand why GM Kyle Walters kept Bellefeuille after his poor season last year, but he'll have no reason not to can the former head coach after 2015.

7. The Eskimos can beat any team with that defence
Even with an average offence, the Eskimos are still legitimate Grey Cup contenders with the league's best defence that's allowed a league-low 58 points and 313.8 yards per game. The Eskimos can beat any team with Chris Jones' blitz-happy defence, and they'll be unstoppable if the offence gains some more traction. This is a defence that hasn't allowed a regular season offensive touchdown at home since week 12 last year, which, in case you didn't know, is simply unbelievable. And while they are full of talent, all credit should go to Chris Jones and his scheme, whom very few teams have solved before.

8. Gable completely changes Ti-Cats' offence
Hamilton's offence was unrecognizable on Sunday, and that can be attributed to the play of CJ Gable and his skill-set. Hamilton ran the ball a season-high 24 times- 20 carries for Gable- and the former USC Trojan finally supplied this team with production on the ground in his season debut, rushing for 135 yards. Gable made Saskatchewan respect Hamilton's run-game and was also effective in the passing-attack, gaining 29 yards on three receptions. Gable was back in his 2013 form and proved tonight that he's the x-factor in this offence.

9. Saskatchewan's season is over
With that 31-21 loss to Hamilton, the Roughriders' season is over. While, mathematically, they're not done, I can't see this 0-5 team even coming close to making the playoffs now. The Riders were granted four of their first five games at home to start the season and did not take advantage, while they're also decimated by injuries and may have lost Kevin Glenn for a week or two in Sunday's tilt. And what about that terrible defence, which has given Riders' fans zero reasons to believe they'll ever figure it out, especially if Corey Chamblin keeps calling the shots? Is it May yet? The Riders are on the clock.

10. Players of the week
I only had nine thoughts this week, so instead I'll use the tenth spot to award my players of the week.

The CFL went away with their traditional Player of the Week awards to the dismay of many. As someone who favorited the old way more, I'll be continuing to do things old-fashioned and name my own Players of the Week- plus the top offensive lineman- at the end of each weekly recap.

Offensive Player of the Week goes to Henry Burris, who completed 28 of 43 passes for 389 yards and three touchdowns. He led the Redblacks to a huge upset win over the Stampeders and did a great job finding his targets after a shaky start.

There were plenty of candidates for Defensive Player of the Week, but Stampeders' defensive end Charleston Hughes takes it after his hat-trick sack-game against Ottawa. Hughes also had five tackles and a forced fumble, which is more than enough to best Adam Bighill, Jovon Johnson, Rico Murray and Jamaal Westerman for the title.

It was hard to not award Andrew Harris for the third time this season, but Winnipeg defensive end Jamaal Westerman did just enough to edge Harris' three-touchdown performance and earn my vote for Canadian Player of the Week. Westerman had his finest game with the Blue 'n Gold, recording nine tackles and a sack. The Eskimos had no answer for the former NFLer, who played a huge role in the Bombers stopping Edmonton's run-game.

Eskimos kicker/punter Grant Shaw had a great game in terrible conditions, punting 10 times with an average of 41 yards, pinning the Bombers deep numerous times. Shaw also hit his lone field goal attempt of the night from 35 yards out and was perfect on extra-points. Shaw's perfect game sees him earn Special Team's Player of the Week.

Centre Mike Filer and Hamilton's offensive line finally got an opportunity this week to flex their muscles in the run-game and did not disappoint. I like to signal out one great performance from an offensive lineman each week, and Filer, who had to communicate the signals in front of a rowdy crowd at Mosaic Stadium, did an excellent job. This week's top hog was Mike Filer.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Week Five Picks

Season record: 7-9
Last week: 3-1

Calgary (3-1) at Ottawa (2-2)

The opening game of week five features two teams trending in different directions. The Redblacks are starting to look more and more like the 2014 expansion team while the Stampeders just keep finding ways to win. Calgary finally got running back Jon Cornish going against Winnipeg and after seeing Ottawa give up 140 yards on the ground to Eskimos' rookie Shakir Bell in week four, the Stamps will undoubtedly feed the ball to the league's top Canadian early and often. They'll need Cornish to make the most out of his increased touches as Ottawa likely has the league's best secondary, in my opinion, and quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell simply hasn't been all that impressive through four games. Calgary will likely take over this game on defence, where they'll look to force turnovers from Henry Burris and shut-down his supposedly dynamic group of receivers, which in the last two games has looked anything but. If Ottawa loses the turnover battle due to multiple Burris interceptions, they'll stand no chance against the overpowered Stampeders.

Pick: Calgary

Toronto (2-1) at BC (2-1)

Part two of Friday night's doubleheader is likely the toughest game of the week to predict. Both of these teams are exceeding expectations to start the season thanks to two quarterbacks doing just the same. BC's Travis Lulay is re-gaining his 2011 M.O.P. form as shown by his six touchdowns to one interception ratio, while Toronto's Trevor Harris has done a remarkable job filling in for the injured Ricky Ray and has had an extra week to prepare for the Lions' defence. This game could come down to which signal-caller has the better game and, fortunately for them, they'll be going up against two questionable defences with BC's being ranked last in total defence and Toronto's inexperienced group struggling against the pass. With a new system in place being run by two offensive masterminds in George Cortez and Jeff Tedford, the Lions are improving every week and I think we've only started to see what this offence is capable of. They'll take the next step against the Argonauts.

Pick: BC

Winnipeg (2-2) at Edmonton (2-1)

The Bombers are coming off a heartbreaking loss against Calgary and haven't had any success against Edmonton recently, losing handily to the Green and Gold in both games last year. Winnipeg outplayed Calgary on both offence and defence but learned that against Calgary, that is not enough. Numerous errors on special-teams cost the Bombers the win and they'll have to clean those up against Edmonton. Winnipeg's much-improved offensive line will be tested against the Eskimos' ferocious pass-rush and should they bend but not break, they'll have done enough for quarterback Drew Willy, who's quietly had a fantastic season, to get the job done. The Eskimos should lean on running back Shakir Bell against Winnipeg's awful run defence after seeing the rookie and the offensive line surprisingly dominate Ottawa on the ground last week. Quarterback Matt Nichols has been unimpressive in his two starts and he'll have to protect the ball against Winnipeg, where another performance with multiple interceptions will cost his team against the Blue Bombers.

Pick: Winnipeg

Hamilton (1-2) at Saskatchewan (0-4)

While mathematically it might not be, this game in many regards is a must-win for Saskatchewan. Their schedule gets much more difficult after this and a loss to the Tiger-Cats will give them an 0-5 record despite starting the season with four of five games at home. Unfortunately for the Roughriders, Hamilton's defence is too good for Saskatchewan to simply win by putting 40 points on the board. They'll need to put together their first solid defensive effort of the season and will have to do so while missing several key contributors to injury. For that reason, I think Ti-Cats' pivot Zach Collaros will rebound from his poor showing last week with a stellar performance against a depleted Saskatchewan secondary. He also should have running back CJ Gable in the lineup to provide some sort of rushing attack against the Riders' seventh-ranked run defence.

Pick: Hamilton

CFL Best: Chad Owens vs Brandon Banks

The first installment of "Best in the League" on is all about the playmakers; a duel that features Brandon Banks and Chad Owens.

The CFL wants to know who the league's best playmaker is. 

Argos' slot-back Chad Owens and Ti-Cats' returner Brandon Banks are the nominees, and for good reason. The entertainment these two superstars provide on their own is enough to put fans in the seats on a weekly basis.  

Offensively, an elite playmaker is someone who has a knack for simply making big plays. Every time they touch the football, there's a chance they can go to the house. 

And that's why Brandon Banks gets my vote. 

Every time Banks gets the ball, people are on the edge of their seat. They hold their breath and watch the magic unfold. More times than not, Banks will make something happen. 

He had a remarkable year in 2014, proving his dominance on special-teams by returning four kicks for touchdowns. The former Washington Redskins' returner also contributed on offence, where he was on the receiving end for five scores while recording his first 500 receiving yard season in spot-duty. So far in 2015, Banks has continued right where he left off in the playoffs, running back two punts to the end-zone in only three games. He even had an electrifying kickoff return touchdown in week three, but it was nullified by a picky blocking-in-the-back foul on Bakari Grant. 

Sure, Chad Owens is the better player for the impact he makes on offence. Despite being limited to only 11 games in 2014, he managed to account for 86 catches, 979 yards and seven touchdowns. Had he stayed healthy, the former Most Outstanding Player award winner was on pace for over 1,600 yards receiving with eleven touchdowns. But as phenomenal of a player as Owens is, he doesn't strike fear into opposing coaches' eyes like a certain 5'7", 153 lbs speedster does. 

To put it all into perspective, Banks has 5 return touchdowns (six total) in his last seven games going back to week nineteen last year. And that doesn't include the three scores he's had called back since then. Chad Owens, meanwhile, has 5 return touchdowns in his career. 

I think that best sums it up. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Taman Won't Fire Coach Chamblin

Roughriders' head coach Corey Chamblin is on the hot-seat. (Photo: Jeff Gross, Getty Images)

According to CFL on TSN insider Gary Lawless, Saskatchewan Roughriders head coach Corey Chamblin won't be getting fired, at least not by general manager Brendan Taman.
Chamblin has taken a lot of heat from the fans and media of Rider Nation for his team's 0-4 start, but unless team president Craig Reynolds gives in to the pressure of the fans, Chamblin will play out the rest of the season.
And that's probably a good thing. Firing a head coach midseason rarely works anyway, and there's also so many possible negative effects that can snowball if a general manager or team president does indeed pull the trigger. For one, the fans might see it as a midseason sign of surrender and then stop showing up for games. There's also a chance the players won't respond well to a new voice, leaving some veterans discontent. And if one of the trusted coordinators is indeed promoted, the team will have to lift the interim tag off him in the off-season, otherwise he'll take another job elsewhere. There's usually no going back.
With that being said, the Riders probably should find another head coach if Corey Chamblin doesn't right the ship. From questionable coaching decisions to an inability to close out football games, Chamblin has underperformed as a head-coach. He's also in charge of the defence, which ranks last in nearly every statistical category. Bad injury luck hasn't helped matters, but it can't be used as an excuse as even with them, the Riders have still found ways to lose games as a result of poor coaching.
Chamblin has an even 29-29 record as the head-coach in Saskatchewan, and he'll be well below .500 by the end of the season at this rate. He still has the 2013 Grey Cup to show for, but that doesn't cover up what he's done recently.
Brendan Taman's job shouldn't be secure either. He committed to using the win-now-at-all-costs approach and will have created quite the ugly mess in the long-term should this team not find success this year. Taman has assembled the oldest team in the CFL and stated himself that he can't afford to look into the future.

"My long-term plan is to win right now. Everyone keeps talking about the new stadium in two, three years from now and I've gotta keep that in the back of my mind. There's no doubt about that. But if we can't go make a field goal next week you ain't going to be talking to me to get to the new stadium. Somebody else will be here so my goal is to win right now."

This has to be concerning considering Taman's jeopardizing the future of the team to win a Grey Cup this year. That's not always a bad idea if it actually works. Taman's tunnel-vision towards the short-term success of the Riders has seen him cut many up-and-comers in favour of other teams' scraps, most recently guys like Jamel Richardson, Geoff Tisdale and Alex Suber. He's left his potential successor in a difficult situation next winter.

If Chamblin and Taman are indeed joined at the hip, Reynolds will simply have to fire them both once the season passes if the team doesn't turn it around. Taman makes a good case to be fired anyway, while Chamblin's decision-making and defence should make it easier to deliver the pink slip. It would be the right move to make, but it should only happen when the dust has settled and the season is in the rear-view mirror.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Short-Term Pain Leads to Long-Term Gain (Just Ask the NHL)

Cory Chamblin's Saskatchewan Roughriders have had one of the roughest times adjusting to the CFL's new rules.

After seeing scoring and offensive production take a hit in recent years, the Canadian Football League's Board of Governors knew it was no coincidence that both TV ratings and attendance were down as well. 

In an attempt to enhance the on-field product and, ultimately, the appeal of the game to fans, the league announced several new rule changes in April that were designed to spark scoring and, as a result, the entertainment level of CFL games as well. 

Through four games of the 2015 CFL season, scoring numbers have indeed increased. Teams are averaging a combined 47.6 points per game compared to last year’s average of 45.5. In fact, the average after week three was actually 53.5 points per game, however a couple rainy affairs this week in Ottawa and Regina brought the overall number down. 

There's also a whopping 12 receivers on pace for 1,000 yard seasons, an incredibly high amount considering last season only saw 3 pass-catchers eclipse the millennium plateau. 

But despite all this, the fans are still upset with the rule changes. Rather, they're terribly upset with what the on-field product has become. Some can't handle the increase in penalties, while others feel like the league is taking away the integrity of the game by penalizing any sort of defence. 

It sounds all too familiar, doesn't it? 

Remember when the NHL introduced a plethora of rule changes skewed toward offence following the 2004-2005 lockout season? It was their own attempt to enhance the appeal of the game to fans by emphasizing entertainment, skill and competition on the ice. 

Similarly to the 2015 CFL season, the 2005-2006 NHL season featured significant increases in the amount of goals scored and penalties called per contest. Their increases were much more dramatic, however, as the average amount of goals scored per game jumped 19.84% from 5.14 to 6.16, while penalties sky-rocketed from 9.9 minor penalties per game in 2003-2004 to 12.76 in 2005-2006, a 28.75% increase. 

I can recall so many hockey fans being disgusted with the so-called "New NHL".

They felt the rule changes diminished what once was a terrific game, mostly a result of the changes supposedly encouraging offence, flashy-plays and individual-efforts over defensive hockey and team play. And to some degree, they were right. The rule changes absolutely favoured offence, much like those of the CFL's do. 

The NHL introduced a zero tolerance policy to "obstruction", which includes hooking, holding, slashing and any other infraction that a defensive player might use to slow down an opponent. It was believed during the 2005-2006 season that there was nothing a defender could do to defend anymore without being penalized. Players on the attack seemed to often embellish, knowing that diving will likely result in a penalty for the opponent more times than not with how hard officials were pressing to enforce the new rule changes. 

Hockey was supposedly ruined. The integrity of the game was lost.

Now that has to sound a little familiar, no? 

The CFL's new interpretation of illegal contact is very much relatable to the NHL's enforcement of obstruction infractions. Gone are the days of defensive backs clutching and grabbing to impede a receivers' route. There's a zero tolerance policy to this rule too, as it seems an official will throw an orange flag should a defender even breathe on a potential pass-catcher past the five-yard contact zone. 

The NHL implemented several other rules in favour of offence, such as prohibiting goaltenders from playing the puck outside the new trapezoid, permitting two-line passes and decreasing the maximum size of goaltenders' equipment. Many thought every game would be played like an All-Star game, becoming a contact-free, wide open, high-scoring and overall boring game. 

But that was not the case, and after a season of adjustments in 2005-2006, the NHL's rule changes began to really pay off. The average amount of penalties per game has steadily decreased to this day, while as of the 2013-2014 season, the average amount of goals scored per game nearly came back down to what it originally was 10 years prior. However as the NHL had originally hoped, the game is still more open than before and the product is much more entertaining. The upset fans came back long ago and since that, the NHL's reaped from the financial success that ensued. 

It's the perfect example how short-term pain will lead to long-term gain, something the CFL has stressed since announcing the new rule changes a few months back.

That's been their moniker, and with penalties drastically increasing since last season, the short-term pain is definitely there. 

But as the NHL has shown us, we have to trust that it'll all sort itself out in the future and penalties will then return to the norm. The NHL hardly has a "zero tolerance policy" towards obstruction infractions anymore, as officials now give the players a longer leash and, sometimes, the benefit-of-the-doubt when deciding on whether to call a penalty or not. 

NHL players adjusted to the new rules and we should trust that those of the CFL will do the same. As coaches move farther away from the physical defensive backs that formerly excelled in impeding a receivers' route to the now-desired speedy cover-guys, we'll see more good defence and the return of man-coverage. 

The officials will improve too, and they'll give defenders more rights once they finish drilling the new rules into their heads first.

Also to be noted, a very large majority of the penalties called such as offside, illegal procedure and holding have nothing to do with the rule-changes, but rather the players themselves making bad mistakes and paying the price. Penalties are typically higher at the start of the season anyway, so you can certainly expect to see a decrease in the amount of preventable penalties as the weeks go on.

So keep the faith, football fans. The CFL is simply in an adjustment period, and it's a period the NHL experienced in 2005-2006 following their own rule changes. 

Soon enough, the steady decline in the amount of orange nylon flung per game will noticeably become a drastic decrease, while it at the same time, defensive coordinators will return to calling games closer to the way they did before. They'll no longer be limited to almost exclusively running zone coverage in fear of the poor results that ensue in calling man-coverage.

A new wave of defensive backs will arrive and the officials will grant them a little more freedom. Offences will still have more space and open-field like the league desires, but the mentality of "defence wins championships" will return as well. 

The CFL expected penalties to increase when they decided to alter the rule book. They knew it would frustrate fans and possibly drive some away from the game. But they also knew that in the end, it would be worth it.

Ask the NHL and they'll reiterate the same thing: short-term pain leads to long-term gain. 

The future's bright, people.