Edmonton @ Calgary – Monday

Photo courtesy CFl.ca

There’s no need to go into the significance of the Labour Day Classic or the Battle of Alberta – if you’re reading this preview, you’re well versed in both already. If not, ask, well, anyone who loves football.

Labour Day in the CFL is when every game truly starts to matter. No more feeling out the competition, no more testing out a trick play here and there.

No, it’s Labour Day in the CFL, and that means it’s time for business.

The Lions and Argos will kick off Labour Day weekend on Friday night, as all eight teams take to the field in a single weekend for the first time in almost a month – but the biggest game of Week 10 is surely Edmonton at Calgary on Monday afternoon.

The Eskimos go into Monday in the midst of a significant slump. After bursting out of the gates with a 5-0 start, Edmonton has cooled off to the point of nearly being frozen.

The Eskies are fairly secure in second place in the Western Division for as long as BC and Saskatchewan continue to struggle, but surely they felt better at 5-0 than they do now at 5-3.

Edmonton’s been fairly consistent on defence, allowing just under 24 points a game this year – but that number has been closer to 31 over their three-game slump.

On the other side of the ball, their Ricky Ray-led offence put up 30.6 points-per-game during their 5-0 run. Since then, they’ve averaged just seven points a game, including a 27-4 loss at Montreal and a 36-1 throttling by the Lions at home before the bye week.

Obviously things can’t get much worse for the Edmonton offence, so this could be the week they go back 180 degrees to the Eskimos of July 2011 instead of the Eskimos of August 2011, which looked an awful lot like the Eskimos of all of 2010.

Calgary, on the other hand, will look to keep steady on their cruise towards first place in the West.

After starting out the season 2-2, the Stamps have taken off, boasting the second-best current win streak in the CFL with four Ws in a row, including a thrilling and obviously uplifting home victory against the Alouettes last week.

Henry Burris was pretty much at his best in the win, completing 26 passes for 422 yards and three majors against zero interceptions, and the Stamps had three 100-yard receivers in Nik Lewis, Johnny Forzani and Ken-Yon Rambo.

Calgary didn’t exactly shut down Montreal in the 38-31 win, but there were signs of encouragement on defence as well, as they held CFL rushing leaders Brandon Whitaker to just 48 yards and no touchdowns on nine carries, and Keon Raymond was able to snag a rare interception against Anthony Calvillo.

If the Eskimos can get their idling engines back into gear, this Labour Day Classic will be a shootout. If not, it could be a very bad day for the City of Champions.

BC @ Toronto – Friday

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After tough starts to 2011 for both the Lions and Argonauts, Labour Day could be just what the doctor ordered.

Both squads gained their second win of the season two weeks ago before taking a week off to lick their pre-season wounds and get some much-needed family time and sleep in.

Both squads will be equally eager to build on the momentum gained before the bye, with the Argos currently sitting last in the East and the Lions third in the West.

Toronto will hope to build on a solid three games in-a-row by starting quarterback Cleo Lemon, who was especially impressive in back-to-back losses before the Argos’ 24-18 win over Saskatchewan. Lemon broke the 300-passing yards mark in both of those losses, and hasn’t thrown an interception since Aug. 4.
He also completed 68 per cent of his passes over that span, and is looking more and more like the quarterback of the future in Canada’s metropolis.

The Lions will also be leaning hard on a pivot who is learning on the job.

Travis Lulay was under immense pressure heading into the bye week, with more than a few people pressing for a change under centre in Vancouver. He proved the naysayers wrong, however, and came up with a 343-yard, four-touchdown performance in BC’s 36-1 win at Edmonton.

Of note this week, the Lions will be shutting down Empire Field for good as they play their last game at the temporary facility before opening the newly-renovated BC Place later this month.

Surely both sides will be eager to go into the records books with the last win in Empire history this week.

Winnipeg @ Saskatchewan

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While practically everything has gone right in Winnipeg this year, nearly everything has gone wrong in Regina, leading to major changes for the Roughriders.

Out of Saskatchewan are Greg Marshall and Doug Berry, in comes former top man Ken Miller, who moved upstairs after last season, and will now return to the sidelines.

The Riders seemingly have the tools needed to succeed on the turf, despite a shaky season so far from quarterback Darian Durant and the lack of receiver Andy Fantuz, who has been trying out in the NFL.

That said, Saskatchewan just wasn’t able to click, and is 1-7 and deep in last place in the West despite being the two-time defending division champions.

The Blue Bombers, on the other hand, are having one of those season in which everything goes right.

They have one of the league’s lowest-tier offences, but feature by far the best defence in the CFL – and the offence seems like it’s just about to come around and start putting up big numbers.

Taking advantage of a Roughriders team on its heels would be a good place to start. Let’s see what Saskatchewan has to say about all that.

Montreal @ Hamilton

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Just one victory separates the second-place Alouettes from the third-running Tiger-Cats this season, and not much else. Traditionally the “Beasts of the East,” the two-time defending Grey Cup Champion Alouettes are having a middling season at best. Well, middling for Montreal, at least.

The Als have the league’s top rusher in Brandon Whitaker, the top quarterback in Anthony Calvillo, and the top receiver in Jamel Richardson.

They even have the highest-scoring kicker so far, in Sean Whyte.

But that isn’t translating onto the field, and the Alouettes have had a few high-profile losses – starting with their 34-26 Week 5 loss at Hamilton, and including last week’s 38-31 defeat at Calgary. The stats are there, but the Ws aren’t as abundant as Montreal would like.

Is this the week the Als go for the throat once and for all?

Not if Hamilton has anything to say about it.

The Ticats are 4-4 this year, they finished 9-9 last year, and they are 22-22 since 2009 – and they are looking to take the next step from .500 team to Grey Cup Contender, starting this week against Montreal.

Quarterback Kevin Glenn was excellent in last week’s 30-27 loss at Winnipeg. Despite throwing an interception, he was 22-of-34 for 351 yards and two touchdowns. His key target was Chris Williams, who had 162 yards and one score on seven catches – but also a huge lesson learned.

Williams had a sure touchdown in his hands when he was caught from behind and fumbled away the score. Chalk that up against a three-point loss, and Labour Day becomes a defining moment in Williams’ young career – will he once-again be a go-to receiver, or will the ghosts of a bad mistake shake him up?

The answer to that question might also be the answer to which team comes away with a win on Monday.