TORONTO — We’re 22 weeks into the season and nothing truly matters other than who wins the next two games.
Those obviously will determine this year’s Grey Cup Champion while three more teams will join the others with that empty-handed, end-of-season feeling of coming up short.
While everything up to this point may feel all for naught, we can still look back on the first five months of the season and reflect. There is more to the regular season, after all, than merely who finished where in the standings.
This year’s Eastern Final matchup is far from typical, nor was it expected, but the REDBLACKS and Eskimos match up well for cross-division rivals.
In a duel of two veteran pivots and explosive receivers, we take a look at two very closely-matched teams and some of the trends that could separate them on Sunday:
1. Too many 1,000-yard receivers
The Headline: Lock ’em up and throw away the key
The Number: 6,871 (Combined regular season yards between the top five receivers in Sunday’s Eastern Final)
Adarius Bowman is one of five 1,000 yard receivers suiting up in the Eastern Final (CFL.ca)
The Esks and REDBLACKS ranked seventh and eighth respectively in the CFL in passing yards allowed, making them, at least statistically, two of the lower-ranked secondaries in the league.
That could make things very, very interesting on Sunday as they go against the two most prolific passing offences in the CFL right now.
Five of the top seven receivers in the league belong to the REDBLACKS and Eskimos and one of them, Chris Williams, isn’t even playing. Yet even without Williams, five receivers lined up in the Eastern Final have 1,000 or more receiving yards this season, together combining for 6,871 yards through the air.
Both units will have their hands full against the likes of Derel Walker and Adarius Bowman for Edmonton along with Ernest Jackson, Greg Ellingson and Brad Sinopoli for Ottawa – but whichever secondary does a better job could make all the difference between winning and losing.
Pat Watkins… Abdul Kanneh… all eyes will be on you guys.
2. Burris vs. Reilly
The Headline: A chip on the shoulder
The Number: 383 (Passing yards per game for Henry Burris since regaining the starting job)
Henry Burris will be well-rested and no doubt motivated to face Edmonton on Sunday (Walter Tychnowicz/CFL.ca)
Henry Burris has always played with a chip on his shoulder but something about the 41-year-old feels a little different. In three starts since getting benched, Burris has averaged 383 passing yards per game while winning two out of three starts. Has he also turned Ottawa’s season around?
Maybe the finger injury suffered in Week 1 was affecting Burris in the time leading up to his demotion earlier in the year. Either way, Hank looks like he’s in the same form that won him Most Outstanding Player a year ago and took the REDBLACKS to the brink of a Grey Cup Championship.
While Mike Reilly deals with an injury to his non-throwing arm and Burris continues to defy both his age and his detractors, the gap between Sunday’s starters is minimal and something to watch in what could become one for the ages.
It could also be Burris’ last hurrah, depending on what happens next in the nation’s capital.
3. The X-factor few people are talking about
The Headline: Mossis knows it but who knew Madu?
The Number: 15.3 (Rushing attempts per game for Mossis Madu since becoming a starter)
Mossis Madu has become as important a part as any for Ottawa’s offence (Jason Halstead/CFL.ca)
For all the players talked about heading into the CFL Playoffs, Mossis Madu has not been one of them. Yet who can you find that’s played a greater central role on his team lately than the REDBLACKS’ running back?
Both Ottawa and Edmonton deploy strong ground games (Edmonton’s ranks second league-wide with 103.7 rushing yards per game) and we saw what some of John White can do in the Eastern Semi-Final against Hamilton.
But while White had his coming out party with 160 yards on 20 carries in that game, Madu continues to fly under the radar. All the talk is on the five 1,000-yard receivers in Sunday’s matchup yet the duel between White and Madu could make all the difference.
The latter has rushed for 65-plus yards in five of his last six games and is averaging 15.3 carries per game since Sept. 29 when he became the starter. That will be key against an Edmonton D-line that just completely shut down C.J. Gable.