Grey Cup week always results in a lot of intriguing stories about the CFL as a whole, the atmosphere of the game, players' backgrounds and so on, but what about the championship game itself? There are a lot of on-the-field elements to keep an eye out for in the lead-up to Sunday's contest between the Calgary Stampeders and Hamilton Tiger-Cats. We'll learn about some of these during the week's practices, and others will play out on game day. Here are five of the most notable stories to follow.
5. Charleston Hughes' health: Hughes is one of Calgary's most famed pass-rushers, but he was out from Sept. 13 until Sunday's West Final with a left foot injury, then hurt his right foot in that win over Edmonton, leaving the field in a walking boot. Hughes hasn't ruled himself out yet, but coach/general manager John Hufnagel said his situation is "not good." This will be worth keeping an eye on during practices this week; we'll see if Hughes can heal up enough for Sunday's game, and if not, how his replacement will do.
4. The Stamps' plans for Nik Lewis: The 32-year-old Lewis has been a dominant receiver in this league for most of the last decade, but he's been seldom-used this year. He only made 37 catches for 377 yards, and was often a healthy scratch. He did start in the West Final, but only had one catch for five yards. Will the deep-at-receiver Stampeders rely on Lewis' experience Sunday, or will he be watching from the sidelines
3. Hamilton's pass rush versus Calgary's OL: The Stampeders' offensive line allowed a league-low 26 sacks this season and arguably should have received more than the two divisional all-star nods they got. The Ticats' pass rush isn't bad, though; on the year, they posted 50 sacks, tied with Calgary for fourth in the league. Defensive end Eric Norwood led the way with 13 sacks, tied with the Stamps' Shawn Lemon and Edmonton's Odell Willis for second in the league. He'll be someone to keep an eye on in the big game.
2. Passing by volume versus rushing and taking big shots: Hamilton and Calgary both have reasonably efficient passing offences (with completion percentages of 64.6 per cent and 62.4 per cent respectively, second and fourth in the league), but the Ticats threw the ball much more (622 attempts, second in the league; the Stampeders were eighth with 529). Calgary led the league with a gain of 8.0 yards per pass, though, so they got the ball down the field effectively. (The Ticats weren't bad here either, coming in third with 7.8 yards per pass). The real disparity comes when you also consider times rushed: Calgary ran 411 times this year, second in the league, while Hamilton ran 304, eighth. Thus, the Stamps balance their offence and like taking big shots in the passing game, while the Ticats are about many more passes that are often shorter. Which approach will pay off Sunday?
1. Unstoppable force meets immovable object: The case of Calgary RB Jon Cornish versus the Hamilton defence may provide an answer to the age-old philosophical conundrum. Reigning league Most Outstanding Player Cornish missed half this season with various injuries, but was dominant when he did play, earning eight CFL player of the week awards in the nine weeks he took part in. He led the league in rushing despite playing just those nine games and was a big part of a Stampeders' offence that picked up a league-high 143.4 rushing yards per game (and averaged a second-best 6.3 yards per rush). The Ticats' defence was the best in the league against the run, though, allowing just 76.8 rushing yards per game (Edmonton was second with 95.9) and 4.6 yards per run (Calgary was second with 5.1). Something's got to give, but what will it be?