We’re already in the second week of the Canadian Football League season and it goes without saying that this is indeed a glorious time of year. CFL football is a blast to watch and has always been one of my favorite sports to handicap. Friday night action takes us to scenic Edmonton, Alberta as the hometown Edmonton Eskimos host the BC Lions at Commonwealth Stadium.
The big storyline in this game is the return of quarterback Mike Riley to Edmonton. It’s something of a ‘Brett Favre goes back to Green Bay’ angle as Riley spent six seasons as the quarterback for the Eskimos and even won a Grey Cup with the team in 2015. Riley is now the CFL’s highest paid player after signing with the BC Lions for $2.9 million per in the offseason. Riley admits that it will be strange returning to Edmonton as a member of the opposition but he anticipates a decent response from the Eskimos’ fans:
“Most of them will cheer and be appreciative of the time that I spent there right until the game starts. Then after that they’ll probably boo me every second. Which I would expect nothing else of an opposing team’s fan base, especially a great fan base like Edmonton.”
Despite losing their opening game of the CFL season 33-23 to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Rily and his receiving corps looked pretty good. Riley passed for 324 yards and a touchdown. Former Calgary Stampeder Lemar Durant caught Riley’s touchdown pass as part of a 75 yard receiving day while Bryan Burnham caught five passes for 153 yards. The potential bad news for the Lions is that as good as Riley looked Edmonton quarterback Trevor Harris and his offense looked even better. Harris was beastly in his Eskimo debut completing 32 of 41 passes for 447 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for the eventual winning score with just over a minute left in the fourth quarter as Edmonton beat the Montreal Alouettes at home 32-25.
Heading into the season, not much was expected of Edmonton but if they continue with such a potent and balanced offensive attack that attitude could change quickly. Harris was named one of the CFL’s Top Performers of the Week for his solid all around game and has now completed 20 or more passes in 14 straight games. Running back C.J. Gable also received a ‘Top Performer of the Week’ award. He put up 154 yards rushing and caught a touchdown pass by rushing for 154 yards and catching a touchdown pass. For the game, Edmonton put up 608 yards of total offense—their most in a single game in 22 years.
BC hasn’t won at Edmonton since 2013 giving the Eskimos a 7 game home winning streak over the Lions. BC is likely a better team than they showed last week against Winnipeg but one stat from that box score is a glaring concern. The Lions rushed for only four yards on four attempts. The CFL game is more pass oriented than the NFL and teams have been successful without the prototypical power rushing game. That being said, it’s tough to think of any team in any type of football–even Arena Football–that has enjoyed long term success with a single digit rushing yardage average. Edmonton, meanwhile, compiled 161 yards of rushing as part of their 606 yards of offense. To be fair, Montreal is a weaker opponent than Winnipeg but that still doesn’t excuse a four yard rushing performance.
This is no doubt a big game for Riley but until they slow down we’d rather back the home team and their impressive offensive output. Keep an eye on Edmonton as they could be hugely undervalued in the early juncture of the CFL season.