Monday, September 04, 2017

Labour Day battles in Ontario, Alberta have a lot on the line

The Labour Day weekend is often a critical point in the CFL season, and this year’s Labour Day Monday games set up as crucial ones for all teams involved. The 7-2 Edmonton Eskimos face the 7-1-1 Calgary Stampeders at 3 p.m. Eastern Monday in the Battle of Alberta, while the 0-8 Hamilton Tiger-Cats host the 4-6 Toronto Argonauts at 6:30 p.m. Eastern in the Battle of Ontario. Here’s a look at key storylines to watch in each game.

Can the Eskimos rebound? Edmonton got off to a great start this year despite a historic amount of injuries, but they’ve slumped over the last two weeks, falling 54-31 to Saskatchewan at home last week and losing 33-26 in Winnipeg the week before. Quarterback Mike Reilly, an early favourite for Most Outstanding Player, particularly struggled last week, completing just 15 of 26 passes (57.7 per cent) for 160 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions before being pulled in favor of James Franklin. Franklin was impressive in relief (10 completions on 12 attempts, 83.3 per cent, for 111 yards and a touchdown), and so that may put more pressure on Reilly to perform or risk a hook. Edmonton has found an impressive rookie receiver recently in D’haquille Williams (six catches for 101 yards last week), but they’ll need others to step up as well against the Stampeders.

Calgary’s versatility: The Stampeders have found a lot of different ways to win games over the past few years, and that’s continued recently. The most recent example came with a 23-7 win over Toronto last week; their 23 points were less than normal for them, but their stifling defence kept Ricky Ray and the Argos from doing much. Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell put up impressive stats despite the low point total (384 passing yards, a 73.8 per cent completion rate, two touchdowns and one interception), but could stand to convert more opportunities into points. However, if the Stampeders’ defence and special teams keep playing as well as they have been, they may not need a ton of offence to succeed.

Hamilton’s changes: It’s been a tumultous pair of weeks since the Tiger-Cats last played (a 37-18 loss to Ottawa August 18), with Kent Austin stepping down as head coach (he remains vice-president of football operations), the team hiring Art Briles and then recanting following backlash, and the attempt to bring in Johnny Manziel. Hamilton will probably be happy to get the focus back on the field, and there are some intriuging elements there, especially with new head coach June Jones and new starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. It will be interesting to see how Masoli fits into Jones’ historically pass-focused system.

The up-and-down Argos: Toronto has been an inconsistent team this year, and that’s been evident over the past two weeks, which saw a dominant 38-6 win over Montreal before a lackluster 23-7 loss to Calgary. A lot of their success or failure has been linked to on the play of QB Ricky Ray. We'll see how he does in this one.