Monday, 22 October 2012

10 Things I Learned... In Week 17

As hard as it is to believe we are heading down the home stretch of the CFL season. I say the same thing every year, but I can't believe how quickly the season has flown by. As a fan of the league, it has been a great one to watch; lost of exciting games with unexpected twists and turns. It has been one of the most unpredictable seasons in recent memory and that makes for more exciting football.

(1) Kick for a Million regains some lost lustre
The Kick for a Million contest was fun when it first started. The very first guy kicked the 50 yarder and won the million, but after that it was a series of guys who couldn't make a 10-yard kick if they were allowed to throw it through the uprights. It started to become boring. But this year's kicker, Rich Pope, changed all that. He nailed the 20- and 30-yard field goals with ease and missed the 40 yarder wide (though it had the distance). For the first time, it looked possible that a million dollars would be handed out. He missed the kick short, but the excitement and anticipation was back. I hope we don't go another half decade between decent kickers, but this year's event was well worth watching.

(2) Game of the year: take your pick
When deciding the best game of the 2012 season, Week 17 will have three contenders. It started Friday night with a thrilling back-and-forth affair between the Argos and Bombers, continued Saturday afternoon in a game that went down to the final play between Montreal and Saskatchewan, and ended with the Snow Bowl in Calgary between the Ti-Cats and Stamps. All three showcased what the CFL is all about and anyone who watched any of them, let alone all three, was highly entertained. Hopefully these are the types of games we get when the playoffs start in a couple of weeks.

(3) Als, Lions claim division titles
Speaking of the playoffs, we now know that the road to the Grey Cup will go through BC and Montreal. Both the Als and Lions clinched their respective division titles over the weekend. Both teams have tremendous home-field advantages (they both play in domes) and it will be difficult for any team to beat them in the division finals. That said, I'm going to go out on a limb and say one of them doesn't get to the Grey Cup.

(4) Winnipeg's offensive explosion
Where was that offense all season? The Bombers average over their first 15 games was just under 20 points a week; on Friday night they scored 24 in the first half and ended the game scoring 44. It was Winnipeg's highest offensive output all season and the first game scoring over 40 since a double overtime win over BC in Week 15 of the 2010 season. If that is the type of offense the Bombers will put together next year, their bad 2012 season may prove to be a one-off.

(5) Mike Reilly should look at homes in Ottawa
With Ottawa returning in two years, speculation has already begun as to who they will take in the expansion draft. The position that is first discussed is always quarterback. Many names have been thrown out there, but Mike Reilly might be at the top of the list after his performance in his first career start against Edmonton on Friday. Reilly filled in for the injured Travis Lulay and the Lions didn't miss a beat. Reilly looked like a polished veteran and was impressive from start to finish. Reilly is a free agent after this season, and he could attract interest from teams this winter, but if he dosn't get a starting job in 2013, I fully expect him to be drafted by the Ottawa franchise to be their quarterback of the future.

(6) Golden age of Canadian running backs
For the first time since 1957, the CFL features two 1,000-yard Canadian running backs. Andrew Harris joined Jon Cornish as a 1,000-yard rusher this season. Two Canadians haven't rushed for 1,000 yards in the same season since Gerry Jones and Normie Kwong did it in 1957 (they also did it in 1955). If Jerome Messam had not tried his luck in the NFL, it is possible that we could have seen three Canadians rush for 1,000 yards (Messam rushed for 1,000 yards last year). There have been a lot of good Canadian running backs over the years, but I don't think we have ever seen as much Canadian talent at running back as we are right now.

(7) Need more Rod Smith
For the most part, I find the guys that do commentary and play-by-play for CFL games on TSN do a pretty good job (there is one big exception to that, and I'm sure everyone knows who that is), but I really enjoyed listening to Rod Smith call the game between Montreal and Saskatchewan. For a guy who has done just a handful of CFL games over the years, he sounds like a seasoned pro. With his duties hosting Sportscentre, I doubt he'll make a permanent move to the broadcast booth, but I would like to hear him call more games in the future.

(8) Snow games
I love games played in the elements. When the weather is bad, you get games like the one we saw between Hamilton and Calgary. A snowstorm, in October no less, made the Cats-Stamps game one for the ages. With the likelihood that four of five playoff games will be played indoors (East Semi-Final and Grey Cup at the Rogers Centre SkyDome in Toronto, East Final at Olympic Stadium in Montreal and West Final at BC Place in Vancouver), there is the possibility that we have seen our one and only snow game in 2012. Maybe we'll get lucky and the West Semi-Final, to be played at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, will feature another heavy snowfall. One can hope.

(9) Calvillo can scramble
One of the knocks, if you can call it that, on Anthony Calvillo is that he is not a great runner. While I have not bought that line of thinking for some time, I hope we can put it to rest after his two touchdown runs against the Roughriders. These weren't one-yard plunges, either; Calvillo's two touchdowns came on runs of 14 and 22 yards. The days of saying Calvillo can't run should have ended long ago, but hopefully now they are gone for good. (Side note: If I hear one more person refer to Calvillo as "The Kid from La Puente" I am going to punch a dying rabbit. I get it; they did a documentary about him with that as the title. I don't need to be pounded over the head with it every time he touches the ball.)

(10) Players of the Week
There were a lot of stellar offensive performances over the weekend, from Jason Barnes' three touchdown catches to Anthony Calvillo's masterful performance against the Roughriders, but Ricky Ray played perhaps his best game in an Argonaut uniform and is my offensive player of the week. Ray threw for 383 yards and four touchdowns in a losing effort against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The Argos may have come out on the losing end of that game, but it wasn't because of Ray.

There were some pretty good defensive performances, but Keon Raymond took an interception 100 yards for a touchdown against Hamilton and is my defensive player of the week. Raymond also had eight tackles and two sacks to go along with the interception touchdown, and was easily the best defensive player this week.

Not a lot in the way of special teams play this week; Hamilton's Onrea Jones had a big return and recovered a huge onside kick, but it wasn't enough to take my special teams player of the week award away from Saskatchewan's Weston Dressler. Dressler only had two punt returns, but he made the most of them by returning one of them to the house for a 43-yard touchdown. It's pretty standard to give a guy who returns a kick for a touchdown the award and this will be no different.

Tough to choose the top Canadian because there wasn't really any standout performances. But despite not doing anything in the running game, Jon Cornish found success in the passing game. Cornish had just 27 yards rushing, but had 108 receiving and scored two touchdowns. It was a typical night from Cornish, but it was good enough for me to name him the best Canadian in Week 17.

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