It hasn't been a good start to the CFL season for the Montreal Alouettes and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, but at least one of those teams should be able to turn that around in Friday night's game (7 p.m. Eastern, TSN/ESPN3). The Alouettes and Bombers suffered 38-10 and 33-16 beatdowns by the Calgary Stampeders and B.C. Lions respectively in their season-opening games, part of the East Division's overall 0-4 first-week performance, but they can't both lose Friday. The two points up for grabs certainly matter, but it's how these teams perform that will say a fair bit about whether their Week One losses were anomalies or the first of many to follow this season, and the offensive lines are particular areas to watch. Both teams have a lot of improvement to do if they want to have successful years overall, and Friday's game could be an excellent place to start turning things around, especially up front.
The CFL's a quarterback-driven league, so much of the press around this one is centring on whether Anthony Calvillo can bounce back from his atrocious Week One showing or if Buck Pierce can return from the first-week knee injury he suffered and improve on his 3-0 record as a starter against the Alouettes. However, based on what happened to both teams in their first games, their performances may largely depend on others, especially the big men up front. The Montreal and Winnipeg offensive lines each looked terrible in the first week, and while that was somewhat expected in Winnipeg given the youth-heavy group injuries forced them to start on the line, it was a little more curious with the Alouettes, who have traditionally been quite strong in the trenches. We'll see if either team looks better up front this week.
On the Winnipeg side, the team's getting veteran left tackle Glenn January back from injury, which should certainly help, and they're starting a centre with a little more CFL experience in Justin Sorensen (although he's never started a game at that position, one of the most crucial). Still, there are a lot of questions about this group, especially on the inexperience front; aside from veteran guard Steve Morley, the rest of last week's starting lineup up front had just three combined career CFL starts. Can players like Paul Swiston and Chris Greaves quickly pick up the CFL's pace, or will it continue to be a steep learning curve for them, one that allows other teams to get lots of pressure on Pierce? If the Bombers are going to win, they need their line to improve in the passing game and give Pierce time to break down coverage, but they also particularly need to step up their run-blocking; the ground game was non-existent last week, and that made their offence too one-dimensional. On offence, Winnipeg needs a healthy Pierce with time to set and throw, and a rushing attack to keep defences honest. Both of those elements start with a strong showing up front.
On the Montreal side, the requirements are similar. If you give Anthony Calvillo time to break down a defence, he can be a CFL defensive coordinator's biggest nightmare, but he didn't get enough of that time Sunday against Calgary. There are less obvious reasons why, though; left tackle Josh Bourke and right guard Scott Flory are widely regarded as two of the best offensive linemen in the league, while centre Luc Brodeur-Jordain, left guard Andrew Woodruff and right tackle Jeff Perrett have all been with the Alouettes for years. Granted, not all of Calvillo's struggles last week were thanks to the line, as he admitted this week that both his interceptions were thanks to overthrows on his part. Still, the line wasn't anywhere near what we're accustomed to seeing from the Alouettes in pass protection, and they were no better in run-blocking; Brandon Whitaker, the league's leading rusher last season, was held to 43 yards on 11 carries Sunday. They'll have to be sharp Friday, too, as Winnipeg's Bryant Turner (Overdrive) and the rest of the Bombers' line proved last week they can be tough to handle. The quarterbacks may be getting the press, but both of them will need solid blocking to perform, and whichever team wins the majority of the trench battles Friday is likely to come out on top.