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We’re a month into the 2018 Canadian Football League season and aside from Calgary (undefeated, with a perfect 3-0 record and the bye this week) there’s been so many ups and downs, it’s difficult to work out which team is a challenger and which is a pretender.
It changes week-in, week-out, which is one of the great things about Canadian football. Try and make sense of the madness with my Week Four talking points:
Hamilton disappoint and Saskatchewan surprise on Thursday night
Given that the Tiger-Cats have been arguably the league’s most impressive team and given, also, that the Rough Riders have arguably been the league’s least impressive team, I expected one-way traffic on Thursday night in Regina.
In my mind, it was Hamilton, but by how many? Plenty, was my answer. It didn’t look good. On paper, there was no chance that the Riders would even come close to the TiCats.
But, as they say, the game isn’t played on paper and, despite some thoroughly awful quarterback play from Chris Jones’ men, the Riders relied on a ferocious defensive performance to snag an unlikely 18-13 victory.
Defensive tackle Charleston Hughes was the hero, scoring on a 57-yard fumble return touchdown as the Saskatchewan defence employed a ‘bend but don’t break’ arrangement, giving up 429 yards but, crucially, no touchdowns. It did the trick, barely.
Going forward, however, with Zach Collaros out for at least another month, the Riders are going to need some production from the quarterback, whomever Jones decides it will be. Canadian Brandon Bridge completed 11-13 for 101 yards and David Watford, who also saw significant playing time, was 3-6 for 47 yards. Neither signal caller was particularly good, and that cannot continue. You don’t win championships without stellar quarterback play.
A game like that for Hamilton – they didn’t score a touchdown, and managed to dominate the Riders everywhere but on the scoreboard – is only going to raise more questions about putting Johnny Manziel into the game. The Heisman Trophy winner hasn’t take so much as one regular season snap yet for June Jones.
There’s a quarterback controversy in Vancouver
Remember back to the start of 2017 when Jonathan Jennings was labelled as the season’s break-out star. He proceeded to be pretty ordinary, was benched for Travis Lulay and only regained the starting job when Lulay went down with a season-ending knee injury.
Things haven’t started much better for Jennings this year. Jennings has yet to throw for more than 200 yards in a game this year, and has two touchdowns to three interceptions on the season. He didn’t look good in Saturday’s 41-19 loss to Winnipeg. With Travis Lulay fast approaching full fitness, there are already plenty clamouring for the former Most Outstanding Player to be given the nod ahead of Jennings.
If you’re head coach Wally Buono, I think you almost have to go ahead and give Lulay the start if he’s healthy because the team is going nowhere fast with Jennings at the controls. It isn’t like Jennings hasn’t been given ample opportunity to improve – too much opportunity, as far as some are concerned – and with the arms race that is the CFL’s West division, you can’t afford to fall too far behind.
Edmonton lost again, so what do we make of the Eskimos?
One of the more intriguing early-season storylines has been that of Mike Reilly and the Esks, favoured by many to win the Grey Cup this year.
Right now, Edmonton are 2-2 after surprising losses to both Toronto on Saturday and Hamilton in week two. Their only wins have come against BC and Winnipeg (without Matt Nichols, in Chris Streveler’s pro debut – a win that required a big last-quarter comeback) so it’s hard to get a proper read on this team.
When they’re good, they’re very good – more than capable of winning it all. But when they’re off? They don’t look like much more than a middling outfit. They were beaten 20-17 by Toronto and James Franklin, the former Edmonton back-up, in his first career start.
The good news for the Eskimos they get a chance to square the ledger at home next Saturday evening.
Matt Nichols returned ahead of schedule
As it turned out, the sky didn’t fall in Winnipeg when Nichols went down pre-season. The star quarterback didn’t miss the six games he was expected to, and rookie Chris Streveler did a good job keeping the seat warm. But Nichols is back and Blue Bomber fans are breathing easier.
The star pivot was a solid 16-29 for 162 yards and a touchdown in the big win over the Lions in Vancouver was accentuated by the performance of running back Andrew Harris and Streveler, who saw action throwing and running the ball.
Nichols, Streveler and Harris – that’s a dangerous offensive combination, and when you have star linebacker Adam Bighill intercepting everything that comes his way, the Bombers are a serious Grey Cup threat again. Just as we all knew they would be in the pre-season.
Jeremiah Masoli sets a CFL Record
Despite the 18-13 loss on Thursday night, the Hamilton quarterback had a decent game (although red zone conversion was an issue) throwing for 333 yards, his ninth straight 300-yard game, making him only the third player in Canadian Football League history – joining his former coach Kent Austin and Sam Etcheverry.
Hamilton’s surprising defeat to Saskatchewan will take some of the gloss off of that effort.
Brad Sinopoli had a huge Thursday
A game-turning performance for the Ottawa receiver who benefits from having Trevor Harris throwing him lasers: 11 catches (a career-high mark), 148 yards (a game-high mark) and a touchdown. The Redblacks took care of business against Montreal, recording an easy 28-18 win that wasn’t as close as the final score suggests.