55 Yard Line

Alouettes-Ticats may feature old-but-effective quarterbacks and next to no defence

Henry Burris (L) and Anthony Calvillo have been terrific, but their defences haven't.

It's an interesting statement about the benefits of age in the CFL that the men with the most and second-most passing yardage this season are also the league's oldest quarterbacks. Pro football career passing leader Anthony Calvillo of Montreal, who turns 40 Thursday, is again leading the league with 2,328 yards so far this season, while Hamilton's Henry Burris (a relative spring chicken at 37) is in second with 2,175, has been even more efficient and is leading the league's top offence in terms of points scored. It seems quite likely that Calvillo and Burris will continue to remain on top of the stats column after Week Nine's action, too, as their high-flying offences will go head-to-head Thursday night in Montreal (7:30 p.m. Eastern, TSN/ESPN3), and both the Alouettes' and Tiger-Cats' defences have looked exceptionally vulnerable so far. That could make for a shootout, with a couple of irresistible forces meeting a pair of very movable objects, and the key to determining a victor may rely on which defence is slightly less movable.

What Calvillo and Burris have done so far this year is rather remarkable. Yes, the Alouettes haven't been as dominant as in previous campaigns, but a lot of that's thanks to conceding 213 points thus far, third-worst in the league. Calvillo has generally been his traditionally-exceptional self, throwing for 2,328 yards with a 63.2 per cent completion rate, 17 touchdowns and six interceptions and overcoming the loss of key teammates. His main shortcoming has been his tackling, and that's not a bad fault for a quarterback to have. Excellence is expected from Calvillo, though, so it's been Burris' emergence that's been even more stunning. After Calgary cast him off in favour of Drew Tate, there were significant questions about if acquiring him was really all that beneficial for Hamilton. So far, though, it's paid off in spades; Burris has thrown for 2,175 yards and has been incredibly efficient along the way, posting a 66.7 per cent completion mark and an 18-to-four touchdown to interception ratio. He's been critical to the Tiger-Cats' offensive production, and although that's only led to three wins so far, that's still impressive in its own right considering just how bad their defence has been.

It's those defensive issues that are the real worries for these teams. Pick any category on defence, and you're likely to find either the Tiger-Cats or the Alouettes at the bottom. Points allowed? That would be Hamilton, with 230: yes, although they're scoring a league-high 29.6 points per game, they're giving up 32.9. Passing first downs conceded? Montreal, with 104. Rushing first downs conceded? Hamilton, with 64 (17 more than second-worst Edmonton). Percentage of passes completed by opponents? Montreal, with 69.3 per cent, which is worse than the completion percentage of any current starter (barring Winnipeg's Joey Elliott, who completed 72.1 per cent of his attempts in his lone game thus far, which came against the Tiger-Cats). Offensive yards allowed? That would be Hamilton, with 2995 (427.8). Really, these defences are enough of a horror story that Sweeney Todd looks like the barber in The Lumberjack Song by comparison.

Which team has the edge Thursday night? Well, that's tough to say. Montreal's home-field advantage should help, but they've got the league's worst pass defence going up against its most effective quarterback at the moment (and his talented receivers). Meanwhile, Hamilton's slightly better against the pass, but stopping Calvillo is always tough, and he might turn in a birthday performance to remember. The Tiger-Cats' defence has also been shredded by running backs, and Montreal should have 2011 league rushing leader Brandon Whitaker back this week; if for some reason he can't go, Victor Anderson was incredibly effective last week, picking up 102 yards in his first CFL start.  If either team's defence is slightly effective, that might be enough to tip the balance Thursday, but data to date doesn't suggest we'll be in for a defensive game (which could be a good thing for neutral fans, considering that defence has often meant blowouts.) Calvillo and Burris may be getting older, but like fine wine, they're improving with age; their defences, on the other hand, might be better off left in a cellar for a few years.


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