Saturday, November 15, 2008

CFL: West final preview

Today's Western final should also be a great one to watch, as the B.C. Lions take on the Calgary Stampeders (4:30 p.m. ET, TSN). There's plenty of storylines here, as demonstrated by the various previews floating around the interwebs. Some of the best include Wally Buono's return to face his old team [Matthew Sekeres, The Globe and Mail], the parallels to the 2000 West final between the teams [Lowell Ullrich, The Vancouver Province], Calgary all-star receiver Ken-Yon Rambo versus B.C.'s all-star corner Dante Marsh [Allan Maki, The Globe and Mail], the battle of quarterbacks Buck Pierce and Henry Burris [Ed Willes, The Vancouver Province] or B.C.'s league-leading pass rush against Burris, a quarterback searching for playoff success [Bruce Dowbiggin, The Calgary Herald]. There's probably enough different stories on this one for it to be a Friday Night Lights episode. None of these previews deliver the complete stats breakdown, though, so it's after the jump.

The records:

B.C.: 11-7 (third in West)

Calgary: 13-5 (first in West)

Passing leaders:

B.C.: Buck Pierce, 232 completions on 362 attempts (64.1 per cent) for 3018 yards (8.33 yards per attempt, 13.00 yards per completion), 19 touchdowns versus 9 interceptions, 97.3 QB rating in 15 games, five 300-yard games

Calgary: Henry Burris, 381 completions on 591 attempts (64.5 per cent) for 5094 yards (8.61 yards per attempt, 13.37 yards per completion), 39 touchdowns versus 14 interceptions, 103.8 QB rating in 18 games, ten 300-yard games

Advantage: Calgary. Burris has struggled in playoff games throughout his career, but his numbers are still tremendous. If he can survive the pressure from B.C.'s defensive line, he gives Calgary an edge here. However, Pierce comes in with only minimal expectations on his shoulders, and he won't be running for his life the way Burris might have to, so the quarterback edge could be closer than the pure numbers would suggest.

Receiving leaders:

B.C.: Slotback Geroy Simon, 82 receptions for 1418 yards (second in CFL, 17.3 yards per catch average) in 16 games (88.6 yards per game average), 10 touchdowns, eight 100-yard games

Calgary: Wide receiver Ken-Yon Rambo, 100 receptions for 1473 yards (14.7 yards per catch average) in 18 games (81.8 yards per game average), eight touchdowns, five 100-yard games

(Note: B.C. wide receiver Paris Jackson is ahead of Calgary's second receiver, wide out Nik Lewis in passing yardage with 76 receptions for 1180 yards (15.5 yards per catch average) in 17 games (69.4 yards per game average), eight touchdowns and four 100-yard games. Lewis has 1109 yards on 87 catches (12.7 yards per catch average) in 18 games (61.6 yards per game) with 10 TDs and three 100-yard games. B.C. slotback Jason Clermont has 50 receptions for 640 yards in 14 games as well.)

Advantage: B.C. Rambo's had a great year and led the league in yards, but that's on an awful lot of catches: his yards-per-catch are lower than both Simon and Jackson. I'd put Rambo up there with Simon, but B.C. has better depth in the receiving corps than Calgary.

Rushing leaders:

B.C.: Running back Stefan Logan, 889 yards on 122 carries (7.3 yards per carry) in 12 games (74.1 yards per game), zero touchdowns, three 100-yard games

Calgary: Running back Joffrey Reynolds, 1310 yards on 227 carries (5.8 yards per carry) in 18 games (72.8 yards per game), 10 touchdowns, five 100-yard games

Advantage: Calgary This one is close, as both teams have excellent ground games. Logan picks up more yards per carry, but Reynolds is a consistently dangerous running back and one of the CFL's best. Slight edge to Calgary here, but there isn't that much of a gap between the two. A key battle to watch will be Reynolds versus the Lions' run defence, which has been good all year.

Sack leaders:

B.C.: Defensive lineman Cameron Wake leads the team with an incredible 23 sacks (only three less than the entire Hamilton Tiger-Cats team).

Calgary: Lineman Miguel Robede (a Laval product) and linebackers Mike Labingo and Charleston Hughes are tied for the team lead with five sacks.

(Note: B.C. has three other players with more sacks then anyone on Calgary's roster: linemen Aaron Hunt (11) and Brent Johnson (10) and linebacker Jamall Johnson (six).)

Advantage: B.C. Huge advantage to the Lions here. Their defensive front is the best I've ever seen in the CFL, and really doesn't get nearly enough coverage. What makes it so great is that it's not just Wake: the threat from Hunt and Johnson (a Kingston native, by the way) makes it almost impossible to double-team anyone. Burris' mobility will help him a bit against the rush, but the Lions did a tremendous job of knocking Michael Bishop off his game last week, and he's pretty mobile as well.

Interception leaders:

B.C.: Safety Barron Miles, who has nine picks (tied for the league lead) in 16 games and a total of 113 resulting yards off them.

Calgary: Safety Wes Lysack, who has four picks in 15 games and 101 resulting yards with one return for a touchdown.

(Note: B.C. defensive back Korey Banks also has more interceptions than Lysack, with six in 18 games (third in the league).)

Advantage: B.C. This is another area the Lions win handily. The pressure their defensive front brings forces opposing quarterbacks into poor decisions, and the talented secondary is often able to take advantage.

Overall notes:

This should be an excellent matchup, with some of the best talent in the CFL on display. Burris, Reynolds, Logan, Rambo and Simon are near the top of the league offensively, while Wake, Hunt, both Johnsons and Miles are some of the elite defenders in the game. There's a good rivalry between the teams and between their cities, so expect some fireworks.

Prediction: B.C. victory
For me, the key battle of the game is the Lions' pass rush against the Stamps' O-line and Burris: if they can pull off a few sacks and force Burris into bad throws, the Lions should take this game. B.C. has just too many incredible individual talents. In fact, Stampeders' head coach John Hufnagel called the Lions an "all-star team" heading into this week's game [Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press via Yahoo! Sports]. That wasn't just flattery either: B.C. had 13 players named to the West all-star team, while Calgary had six despite winning the division. It took the Lions a while to pull it together this year, but they looked in fine form with that 33-12 stomping of Saskatchewan on the road last week. If they put out another performance like that one, they should win this game.

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