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Checking in with the CFL - Your midseason Canadian football update

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While the NFL season is poised to kick off soon – keep an eye out for The Maine Edge’s annual NFL preview from yours truly next week – the gridiron of the Great White North actually just passed the halfway point of its season.

The CFL’s regular season runs 20 weeks; this past weekend marked 10 of those weeks in the books. As such, it seems like a good time to check in with how things are going, an opportunity to take a look at how that season is progressing before the NFL behemoth and college football settle in to dominate the rest of the 2017 pigskin conversation.

Here’s a check on the progress of the nine CFL squads; please note that due to the schedule’s two bye weeks, different teams have played different numbers of games thus far.

(x = playoff team as of Week 10’s completion)

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West Division

Calgary Stampeders (7-1-1) – x

The Stampeders are once again the class of the CFL. They’ve shaken off their upset loss to Ottawa in last year’s Grey Cup and come out firing here in 2017.

They sit second in scoring offense, putting up just over 33 points a game. Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell is having another stellar season, averaging almost exactly 300 passing yards per game (2,702 in nine contests) and 15 TDs. No receiver is breaking out, but that’s due to balanced distribution from Mitchell. Well, that and running back Jerome Messam leading the league in both rushing yards (621) and rushing TDs (seven).

They’re even better on D, leading the league in scoring defense. They’re allowing less than 19 a game. Standouts include defensive lineman Charleston Hughes and breakout second-year linebacker Alex Singleton; while there aren’t a ton of individual Stamps on the leaderboards, this unit is far more than the sum of their parts. As for special teams, Roy Hinch is already over 1,000 total return yards.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers (7-2) – x

The Bombers arrived ahead of schedule in terms of high-quality performance. They’re the highest scoring offense in the CFL – over 34 points a game – thanks to over 2,600 yards and 17 TDs from QB Matt Nichols. Running back Andrew Harris has been phenomenal – 5.5 yards per rush to go with 54 receptions and four total TDs.

The defense hasn’t been nearly as effective; they’ve given up more points – 31 per game – than all but one other team. They’ve been opportunistic, leading the league in both interceptions (13) and forced fumbles (nine), but they’ve struggled to keep points off the board. Kicker/punter Justin Medlock leads the league in made field goals with 32 and returner Ryan Lankford has been very productive.

Edmonton Eskimos (7-2) – x

On a per-game basis, no CFL QB has been more productive than Edmonton’s Mike Reilly. He’s got 2,845 yards passing through nine games; he’s passed for 15 TDs and rushed for six more. The best of the receivers is probably Vidal Hazelton (560 yards, four TDs). The rushing game hasn’t been all that impressive, however. Still, 29 points scored per game is solid.

Unless you’re giving up over 28 points. The Eskimos have scored just five more points than they’ve allowed, belying their gaudy record. They’re second in the league in sacks, led by Odell Willis with six, but they’re pretty middle-of-the-pack otherwise. Special teams performance has also been fairly meh.

(Note: Former UMaine Black Bear linebacker Christophe Mulumba-Tshimanga has appeared in all nine games for the Esks.)

BC Lions (5-5) – x

The Lions are the flip side of the Esks; they’ve given up five more points than they’ve scored. They just have the .500 record that better reflects that reality. BC has suffered from inconsistent quarterback play, as neither Jonathan Jennings not Travis Lulay have shined. Veteran receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux has been good, while Jeremiah Johnson has been among the league’s best running backs.

On defense, the Lions have star linebacker Solomon Elimimian and not much else. They’ve got a dozen picks on the year, but they can’t get to the QB. They’re solid on special teams; both kicker/punter Ty Long and return man Chris Rainey are performing well.

Saskatchewan Roughriders (4-4)

The Riders have a deceptive point differential – they’ve outscored opponents by 48, but nearly half that came in last weekend’s blowout win over Edmonton. Veteran QB Kevin Glenn has looked good – 2,344 yards and 16 TDs – and wideout Duron Carter looks like a budding star. Cameron Marshall has done decent work on the ground.

The defense has been so-so on a per game basis. Aside from a strong start from defensive back Ed Gainey, we haven’t seen a lot of fire from the Saskatchewan D. This unit is as mediocre as their record. Ditto the special teams – this team embodies its .500 record.

East Division

Toronto Argonauts (4-6) – x

The Argos are the class of the East thus far. They’ve got QB Ricky Ray getting it done; he’s over 3,000 yards with 14 TDs through 10 games played. S.J. Green has been one of the CFL’s best receivers – 60 catches for 899 yards and five scores. The running game has been less productive; they’re seventh in yardage and dead last with just two ground scores.

The defense shines on the line, leading the league in sacks behind seven from league leader Victor Butler (who has also forced three fumbles) and six from Shawn Lemon. The pass defense isn’t quite as sharp, but it is largely buoyed by the pass rush. Kicker/punter Lirim Hajrullahu and primary returner Martese Jackson have been productive on special teams.

Ottawa Redblacks (3-6-1) – x

The reigning Grey Cup champs haven’t had a great first half of the season, but that’s no fault of QB Trevor Harris, who leads the league in passing yards and TDs. They’ve got a pair of elite receivers – Greg Ellingson leads in yardage and Brad Sinopoli leads in receptions. The running game is middle-of-the-road across the board.

Defensively, the Redblacks have given up just a touch over 27 points a game. They sit firmly in the middle in most categories, though they do have a remarkable 36 pass knockdowns. All told, they’re underperforming their point differential significantly.

(Note: Former UMaine Black Bear defensive back Sherrod Baltimore has played in five games for Ottawa. In addition, former UMaine QB Danny Collins is on the practice squad.)

Montreal Alouettes (3-6)

Offensively, Montreal has been up and down. QB Darian Durant has looked decent, though his numbers haven’t been that impressive. Running back Tyrell Sutton has been OK. Really, the offensive highlight thus far has been veteran slotback Nik Lewis becoming the CFL’s new all-time leader in receptions.

As for the defense, they’ve been one of the more productive units in the league despite sitting dead last in both sacks and interceptions. They’re led by linebacker Kyries Hebert, but they’ve been more than the sum of their parts.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats (0-8)

It has not gone well for Hamilton this year. They’ve scored by far the fewest points in the league. QB Zach Collaros has struggled. There’s not a Ti-Cat to be found on the offensive leaderboard. Their offense is bad.

Their defense is worse. They’ve given up the most points in the league – 310 – despite playing just eight games. Linebacker Larry Dean has been one of the few bright spots. That and the team’s weird propensity for blocking kicks – six so far. They might not win a game.

(Note: Former UMaine Black Bear receiver Demarr Aultman has played three games for Hamilton.)

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