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Checking in with the CFL: Midseason 2019

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The NFL season is poised to kick off soon – in fact, the first games may well have been played by the time you read this – but our neighbors to the north have already seen their league’s season pass the halfway mark.

The CFL’s regular season runs 21 weeks to allow each team three bye weeks; this past weekend marked 12 of those weeks in the books; we’re a little over halfway home. Initially, this piece was going to run last week, following Week 11, but considering how much football we already had – the NFL preview, Rich Kimball’s UMaine Black Bears preview – we thought it worthwhile to wait a week before checking in on the CFL.

Even with that extra week in play, this still gives us an opportunity to take a look at how the CFL season is progressing before the NFL and college football settle in to dominate the rest of the 2019 pigskin conversation.

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

(x = playoff team as of Week 12’s completion)

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East Division

Hamilton Tiger-Cats (9-2) – x

While a lot of us had high hopes for the Ti-Cats this season, star quarterback Jeremiah Masoli’s injury seemed as though it might derail what looked like a promising year. Instead, backup Dane Evans has filled in effectively, albeit a touch inconsistently – seven TDs to eight interceptions, though he’s completed two-thirds of his passes. The running game hasn’t been all that impressive, but Brandon Banks and Bralon Addison are one-two in receptions and among the league leaders in receiving yards and TDs.

On the defensive side, Hamilton has led the league in scoring defense, having given up less than 20 points per game. They’ve generated a ton of pressure on opposing quarterbacks – Dylan Wynn and Ja’gared Davis have combined for 17 sacks in 11 games. Linebacker Simoni Lawrence is having a DPOY-type season so far, with 50 tackles, four sacks and two picks in just nine games.

Montreal Alouettes (5-4) – x

I was clearly wrong about the Alouettes – they’ve already more games this season (five) than I predicted for their entire season (four). They’re as .500 as teams come; through nine team games, they’ve scored 232 and given up 234.

Vernon Adams Jr. has been the primary QB for the Als, putting up just shy of 1,900 yards nine TDs against six picks. He’s struggled a bit with injury, but he’s proven to be a solid pivot. And hey – he’s got eight TDs rushing. The receiving corps hasn’t impressed, but running back William Stanback has impressed, rushing for 611 yards and four TDs in just seven games; he’s averaged 6.6 yards a carry.

Defensively, DBs Patrick Levels and Greg Reid have led the way, but there hasn’t been much else in the way of exceptional performance. No Alouette has been top-tier, but hey – they’ve already done more than I expected.

Ottawa REDBLACKS (3-7)

The REDBLACKS have been the class of the East Division for a few years now, so it was probably just a matter of time before they fell back to Earth. Dominique Davis has not been good at QB – five TDs and 14 interceptions is not the ratio you want, though he does have five rushing scores. Jonathan Jennings hasn’t been much better in relief. Running back John Crockett has been pretty good in his six games, but deployed unevenly.

Defensively, Ottawa has struggled, giving up nearly 100 more points than they’ve scored. The lone standout has been linebacker Avery Williams, who sits second in the CFL in tackles with 67 and three recovered fumbles. The kicking game has been a highlight – Lewis Ward is third overall with 27 field goals, while Richie Leone is the CFL leader in punting yardage. Still, it hasn’t been Ottawa’s year.

Toronto Argonauts (1-9)

Man, the Argos – it has not been a good football year in Canada’s largest city. They have scored the fewest points (albeit in 10 games) and given up the most (again – in 10 games). Tough to lay too much blame on QB Mcleod Bethel-Thompson – he’s second in the league in passing yards with 2,593 and first in TD passes with 16, though he’s also been picked nine times. Derel Walker has been the leading receiver, with 47 catches for over 800 yards and five scores.

The defense has been abysmal – the closest to a standout is probably defensive back Abdul Kenneh, but that’s pretty much it. As for special teams, Chris Rainey has taken advantage of the plentiful return opportunities to the tune of 1,400 yards combined. Still, while we anticipated bad, no one could have expected this.

West Division

Winnipeg Blue Bombers (8-3) – x

Winnipeg looked like they were going to be good this year, but they’ve outperformed even those expectations thus far. Matt Nichols has done good work under center – his 15-5 TD/INT ratio is impressive, along with just shy of 2,000 yards and a 70-plus completion percentage. The offensive star, however, was Andrew Harris, who just became the most prolific Canadian-born yardage producer in league history; he’s rushed for over 900 yards while also catching 46 balls for an additional 337 yards and six total TDs. However, he just got hit with a two-game suspension for violating the league’s PED policy.

Defensively, the Bombers are just a single point behind the CFL-leading Ti-Cats. Willie Jefferson has nine sacks and five forced fumbles, recovering two – impressive numbers. Winston Rose is the CFL leader in interceptions thus far with seven. Meanwhile, kicker/punter Justin Medlock is fourth in the league in both field goals made and total punting yardage.

Saskatchewan Roughriders (7-3) – x

Saskatchewan has looked awfully good in the first half of 2019. Cody Fajardo has been unexpectedly effective at QB – he’s gone off for over 2,400 yards and nine TD passes while rushing over 300 and seven scores. Shaquelle Evans has led the way for the receivers with over 750 yards. Meanwhile, William Powell has been one of the best running backs in the league, sitting third in rushing yards with 656 and leading the league with nine rushing TDs.

On the defensive side, the story is lineman Charleston Hughes, who leads the CFL in sacks – again – with a dozen, plus four forced fumbles. He remains the game’s dominant pass rushing force. Linebacker Derrick Moncrief has been an excellent do-everything defender – 47 tackles, four sacks and three interceptions. They’re tied for second in total scoring defense, albeit in one fewer game.

Calgary Stampeders (6-4) – x

I really thought the Stamps would lead the way in the West again; while that’s still possible, they haven’t looked nearly as dominant as they have in recent years. Much of that can be chalked up to losing star QB Bo Levi Mitchell for an extended stretch, although Nick Arbuckle filled in admirably – 2,100 passing yards and 15 TDs (11 passing, four rushing). Reginald Begelton has been the primary pass-catcher – 59 for 842 and six scores – and Ka’Deem Carey has come on strong in his first five games in the league. Oh, and Mitchell’s back as of Labor Day.

Calgary has three guys – Tre Roberson, Robertson Daniel and DaShaun Amos – among the CFL’s top seven in interceptions, while linebacker Cory Greenwood leads the league in tackles. Their scoring defense has been solid, but not elite as in past seasons. The special teams have been OK, but that’s about it. Still, they could make a run.

Edmonton Eskimos (6-5) – x

The Edmonton offensive machine just keeps on rolling. New QB Trevor Harris has been outstanding in his first year as an Eskimo – his 3,697 passing yards put him over 1,000 ahead of second place, and he’s got a 14-4 TD/INT ratio as well as six rushing scores. Ricky Collins and Greg Ellingson have combined for 111 catches and over 1,550 yards, along with eight TDs. CJ Gable is the league’s second-leading rusher with 755 yards.

The defense has been top-tier as well. It helps when you have three guys – Almondo Sewell, Mike Moore and Kwaku Boateng – with six sacks apiece. The secondary has spread the wealth but has played well as a unit. Oh, and Sean Whyte has already made 35 field goals. This is a very good team that is just a couple of bad bounces away from 8-3.

BC Lions (1-9)

I thought the Lions were going to be really good this year. I thought new QB Mike Reilly was going to lift them to double-digit wins and a playoff spot. And Reilly has been good but not great – 2,437 passing yards and nine TDs versus 11 picks. Receiver Bryan Burnham and running back John White have been the lone skill position highlights.

It’s even worse on the defensive front; only Toronto has given up more points so far this year – opponents are crushing BC to the tune of 32-plus points per game. The only more telling number than that one? Reilly’s league-leading six fumble recoveries. It’s been ugly for the Lions and it’s only getting uglier.

Last modified on Wednesday, 04 September 2019 12:01

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