Labour Day Preview
Another Mark’s Labour Day Weekend is upon us and it feels so right.
I love the feeling this time of year as University programs are suddenly in full swing and the long CFL regular season grind is finally giving us some answers as to who these teams, players and coaches really are.
Even more likely this season is that we get these answers only to be forced to reassess them as a result of an injury to a leading player.
Every single team this weekend has suffered some kind of injury - or suspension as of this week - setback, but there are still so many talented players ready to strap up the chin strap and put on a show for you this Sunday and Monday.
With that in mind let’s take a look at some of the specifics on offence in the three traditional marquee matchups coming your way this Labour Day Weekend.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers vs. Saskatchewan Roughriders
The loss of Andrew Harris to a two game suspension with the release of receiver Chris Matthews and late week injury reportedly to dynamic playmaker Lucky Whitehead has the Bombers possibly making the always loud and difficult trip into Regina missing a whopping 61.9% of their targeted touches from the first ten games of 2019.
For context that number far exceeds what was the previous high water mark for shocking personnel turnover from 2019 which was Ottawa losing Diontae Spencer, Greg Ellingson and William Powell this past February. A trio which accounted for 44% of the Redblacks 2018 targeted touches.
Most importantly the trigger ma for the offence has changed which completely negates anything you thought you knew about how the Bombers would handle a situation like this.
In Chris Streveler the Bombers have easily the best running quarterback in the CFL on an every down basis, but can they survive without the work horse Andrew Harris sharing the back field load and will they be limited by a backfield tandem of Streveler and Johnny Augustine in just his second year with the Bombers?
We find all that out Sunday but for now take a look at Streveler’s 2019 targets.
Completing just 48.4% of his passes including two pitches of more than 15 yards in the air is not ideal. The Bombers can’t become one dimensional and risk that without Harris but regardless of personnel the backfield has been run happy on first down all season long.
If you’re going to this game or watching on TSN keep an eye on who decides to break tendency early and go play action on first down. If one of these two teams can suck the defence in and hit a home run over the top against their tendency early it just might swing momentum enough to get out with a win.
My pick: I just don’t know if Nic Demski and a power run offence is enough. The Riders have been rolling as of late and I believe that continues.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats vs. Toronto Argonauts
Chris Van Zeyl will be making his first Labour Day start wearing something other than double blue on Monday in Hamilton. I asked Ticats Head Coach Orlondo Steinauer whether or not he will ask the veteran Ticats right tackle to say anything to the team before the game considering the obviously unique moment for Van Zeyl and the emotional connection he held for so long with the Argos franchise.
Steinauer said the floor is always available for players of Van Zeyl’s tenure, but that he would never directly ask a player to speak unless they wanted to. A true sign of respect between and former player turned head coach and his locker room veteran.
Van Zeyl will spend Monday blocking for Dane Evans as he tries to bounce back from a two interception performance in Vancouver last Saturday. Here are Evans targets so far in 2019.
Five of Evans six interceptions have come on passes of over 20 yards in the air as he continues to search for the answers on how to crack the downfield passing game code in the CFL. The first time Evans played Toronto was week two in garbage time with starter Jeremiah Masoli pulled in a blowout 64-14 Hamilton win. Evans went 5-6 for 105 yards and a touchdown.
As for playmakers this game has plenty on both sides. Here is a look at all offensive skill position players in action this weekend and their all important 2nd down usage and success rates through week 11.
This game features the only receivers who are receiving above average usage with below average production in Toronto’s SJ Green and Hamilton’s Brandon Banks and Luke Tasker. On 2nd down all three have been primary targets while young Jaelon Acklin makes a surprise appearance in the top left quadrant as the lone Ticats player with minimal second down usage but the highest success rate on the team.
My pick: All bets are off on Labour Day Weekend, but this would be right up there with 2017 in terms of upsets if Toronto pulled it out. Hamilton will be fired up to play at home for the last time in over a month as their second bye and a three game Western road swing are up next. Hamilton is the better team this season and should prove it Monday at home.
Calgary Stampeders vs. Edmonton Eskimos
Is Bo Levi going to play?
As much as I’ve enjoyed watching Nick Arbuckle sling it around I really need Bo back in my CFL viewing life and hope it comes this week.
I found it interesting that all of the Calgary running backs held extremely similar usage and success profiles in the above chart while both Eric Rogers and Reggie Begelton are running away from the pack in 2nd down usage and success combined.
On the Edmonton side Greg Ellingson is the elite 2nd down playmaker but the constant threat of CJ Gable through air or by ground is the ever present consistency that seems to smooth all wrinkles in the Eskimos sheets. That is of course except for the score zone issues which continue to confuse anyone who watches consistently.
One thing is for sure, if Bo Levi comes back healthy and motivated as ever the CFL is in for one hell of a stretch run as the Stamps try to defend their crown. If it is the end of Arbuckle’s tenure as Calgary huddle leader he sure built a resume worth being proud of including leading the CFL in accuracy for over half the season.
My pick: Whether Bo is a go or a no show, I still have the Stamps taking this one due a timely big play on defence with a split coming next week in Edmonton.
Marshall Ferguson is a former U SPORTS Quarterback, now serving as TSN 1150 Hamilton morning show host, voice of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and CFL.ca analyst