Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Week Two Picks

BC Lions quarterback Travis Lulay will be making his return to the scene of the crime in week two action. Lulay re-injured his shoulder in his first start of 2014 at TD Place, and will be seeing his first regular season action since on the same field.

Wednesday's Weekly Halftime Post is a weekly series in which I offer opinions regarding any news of the past week, look ahead to the next week, justify my picks and answer a question of the week. Here's week two's post, starting with some headlines from the past week:
Injury bug harasses Saskatchewan

The Saskatchewan Roughriders lost more than just the game itself on Friday night at Mosaic Stadium. They lost four key players to injury, and while some are more serious than others, those to their Canadian talent may hurt the most. You all know Darian Durant's situation, but it's the injuries to national middle linebacker Shea Emry and national safety Keenan Macdougal that'll really test Saskatchewan's depth. 2014 draft pick Rory Connop had a shaky first career start against Winnipeg, though he'll likely take on a full-time roll to account for Macdougal's part in the ratio, while Kevin Regimbald will replace Emry in the middle. Regimbald saw some action in the second half against Winnipeg, though the 'Riders preferred to go with three internationals for the most part in Emry's absence. It's time to find out how good Saskatchewan's Canadian depth actually is.

Laing avoids discipline

The league announced Tuesday that they will not be handing out any sort of discipline to Toronto Argonauts defensive tackle Cleyon Laing for his low hit on Edmonton Eskimos' quarterback Mike Reilly, stating Laing tripped on the foot of an offensive lineman while being pushed from behind by another. Despite this being the third time Laing has injured Reilly, I believe this probably was the right decision. There was no intent to injure on the play, nor did Laing "know where to fall". It's a shame that we won't be able to see Mike Reilly for another 10-12 weeks, but that was just one of those unavoidable plays.

Shaw Performers of the Week

As the old saying goes: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Well, the league unnecessarily decided to go-away with the traditional player of the week awards and instead decided to highlight three individuals each week regardless of their position, sort of like the "Three Stars of the Week." This wasn't all that well received, and for good reason. The first three in week one- Trevor Harris, Drew Willy and Jeff Fuller- all play offence, so the Top-Three list may favour quarterbacks, receivers and running backs. There's no more Canadian or Special Teams Player of the Week award, and that's slightly disappointed. Change is inevitable, I suppose.

Week Two Picks:

Hamilton (0-1) at Winnipeg (1-0)

Without a doubt the hardest game of the week to predict, this Tiger-Cats vs Blue Bombers game is expected to be a barn-burner at Investors Group Field. The 'Cats are coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Calgary Stampeders in a Grey Cup re-match, while the Bombers are riding high after knocking off the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Mosaic Stadium for the first time in 11 years.

Hamilton's offence was very one-dimensional against Calgary, gaining 281 yards through the air versus a mere 37 on the ground, while only 24 yards on eight carries was contributed by fourth-string-turned-starting running back Ray Holley. The Bombers appear to be the ideal team for the Tiger-Cats to get their running attack going against, as they just gave up a whopping 212 yards on the turf to 'Rider running backs Anthony Allen and Jerome Messam. Keep in mind, 132 of those yards were gained on three plays alone, and the Bombers will be getting safety Maurice Leggett back in the lineup.

If Hamilton wants to beat the Bombers, they have to get pressure on quarterback Drew Willy. The Riders didn't bring all that many blitzes against the Bombers and Willy made them pay, completing 22 of 25 passes for 325 yards with three touchdowns. With running backs Paris Cotton and Cam Marshall coming off big games, and with Hamilton going up against Winnipeg's offensive line without All-star defensive end Eric Norwood, I'm not sure the 'Cats can stop Willy's offence. They'll have to outscore them on the other side of the football.

If pre-season games indicate anything, the Tiger-Cats won't have much of a problem putting up points against this defence. Collaros was ultra-efficient in Hamilton's exhibition victory over Winnipeg, while Holley had a nice first half himself. Winnipeg's defence looked shaky against Saskatchewan, giving up 497 total yards, although they should be able to focus on pass coverage after seeing Holley and Hamilton's offensive line struggle to run the ball last week despite the many three-man fronts the Stampeders lined up in. These teams appear to be so evenly matched that the winner may come to down to whichever team wins the turnover battle. I'll take the Bombers, who are 5-1 in their last 6 home openers, to defeat the Ti-Cats in front of hopefully a sold out crowd. In a game that I expect to be very, very close, and with the sample size of the two teams being so small just one week into the season, I'd rather not go against my Bombers.

Projected score: Winnipeg 31 Hamilton 27

Calgary (1-0) at Montreal (0-1)

The Alouettes are coming off a terrible first week of the CFL season that saw them lose two quarterbacks in starter Jonathon Crompton and backup Dan LeFevour to shoulder injuries in a losing effort. The Stampeders didn't have all that good of a week either, but ultimately defeated the Tiger-Cats 24-23 courtesy of a game-winning field goal by Rene Parades. Calgary's performance was anything but dominant as they snuck out with the win despite losing the turnover-battle 5-1. That came thanks to three uncharacteristic Bo Levi Mitchell interceptions and two failed third down conversions by Drew Tate.

Montreal will be going with two 23 year old rookie quarterbacks in the absence of Crompton and LeFevour. Both Canadian Brandon Bridge out of South Alabama and International Rakeem Cato out of Marshall may see playing time, and I don't see the results being very good against Calgary's ball-hawking defence. Both quarterbacks have tons of potential, but with their first test coming less than two weeks into their professional careers, some mistakes will be made, and they'll be costly. The Alouettes have to find a way to run the ball effectively on first down to put Bridge, who's expected to get the opening nod, in more manageable second down situations. Bridge puts a lot of trust into his powerful arm, and any interceptions thrown to Calgary may seal the Alouettes' fate.

Expect Bo Levi Mitchell to respond in a big way against Montreal coming off his first career three interception outing. Montreal's front seven is very talented, but unless their offence can be as efficient as Winnipeg's was against Saskatchewan, they wont be able to keep Calgary's offence in check long enough. I'd be surprised if Calgary's doesn't eclipse 450 yards of total offence. 

Score Prediction: Calgary 35 Montreal 10

BC (0-0) at Ottawa (1-0)

We're only one week into the new season and the Redblacks have already halved their win total of 2014 following a 20-16 victory over the Alouettes. While I'm not too sure what to expect from BC's offence, I know their defence will be problematic for Ottawa.

I'm not sold on Ottawa's offence yet. Quarterback Henry Burris tossed three first half interceptions in week one while running back Chevon Walker only gained 52 yards on 16 carries. Both the defensive and offensive lines of these two teams match up really well, however I'd be shocked if Walker improved on his week one rushing totals this week with Lions' linebackers Soloman Elimimian and Adam Bighill hunting him down. Burris and co. will improve as the weeks go on, but they'll have to sustain more drives than they did last week as BC's offence will be more effective than that of Montreal's was.

I'm interested to see what style of offence Head Coach Jeff Tedford and Offensive coordinator George Cortez bring to the Lions. Both are offensive masterminds, and they have talent in quarterback Travis Lulay and running back Andrew Harris to work with. Speaking of Lulay, it's unlikely he's forgotten how to play football despite his lengthy time away from the game due to ongoing shoulder issues. I don't think he'll dominate right out the gate, but it won't matter all too much with Harris carrying the load. The Redblacks have to focus on stopping Harris, and if they do, I expect Lulay to do enough through the air to guide BC to victory. 

Score Prediction: BC 20 Ottawa 17

Toronto (1-0) at Saskatchewan (0-1)

Everything that could've been said on Roughriders' quarterback Darian Durant's season ending injury has already been said. It's obviously devastating, but they signed Kevin Glenn for this reason. Glenn was serviceable, but less than stellar last year in BC, however I feel Saskatchewan offers the veteran signal-caller a better situation. Aside from likely an increased interception total, I don't think Saskatchewan's offence will be all that different with Glenn at the helm. 

What can I say about Trevor Harris and that Argonauts offence? Led by a fourth year quarterback making his second career start, the Argos had their way with Edmonton's supposedly overpowered defence. After seeing Winnipeg walk all over Saskatchewan's defence, I expect Scott Milanovich's group to do exactly the same. 

Kevin Glenn has to protect the football and their tailback tandem of Anthony Allen and Jerome Messam have to be effective. Mosaic Stadium and all of Rider Nation will be rocking, but if Toronto's offence resembles anything like it did against the Eskimos, the Argonauts should leave victorious. Saskatchewan will be missing middle linebacker Shea Emry and safety Keenan Macdougal, which will undoubtably hurt. 

Score prediction: Toronto 30 Saskatchewan 20 

Question of the Week: 

Q: Lance Keiser (@LWOSLance) asks: Do you expect to see a 2nd string QB be acquired at a premium at some point this season?

A: The last couple seasons have really proved how important a solid back-up quarterback is in this league. Just last season, the 'Riders lost Darian Durant for the year and away with Durant went their season. Saskatchewan won two of their next six games without Durant. And now in 2015, Durant's season is lost again, however Saskatchewan has highly recruited, well-travelled veteran Kevin Glenn to start in his absence. The Eskimos lost Mike Reilly while the Alouettes lost two in Jonathon Crompton and Dan LeFevour, though the former is only on the six-game injured list. Over in BC, the Lions' season can change with one hit if a defender gets a clean shot on Travis Lulay's shoulder and ends his season. As you can see, back-up quarterbacks are very important and as a result, are in very high demand. 

Although to answer your question, Lance, I don't think we'll see a blockbuster trade that sends a capable back-up like Drew Tate or Robert Marve to another club. As of right now, at least four teams (BC, Saskatchewan, Montreal and Edmonton) either have an injured starting quarterback or are without a proven back-up. There are few trading options left, and they'd be Drew Tate, Robert Marve/Brian Brohm or Thomas DeMarco, and I can't see any of these pivots being traded as the other teams have proven how quickly a season can change when a starting quarterback goes down. These back-up quarterback's hold too much value to be traded, and unless Jim Barker shocks the Country and trades the injured Ricky Ray, which obviously won't happen, we won't see any signal-callers traded this season. 

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