Saturday, November 26, 2022

CFL Preview: Stampeders, Lions Clash in Heated West Battle

VANCOUVER — To close out Week 11 in the CFL, the Calgary Stampeders will be traveling to the west coast as they get set to take on the BC Lions.

Entering the final stretch of the CFL season, the weight of a win holds slightly more significance, especially for these two teams. As BC and Calgary continue to battle for playoff positioning in the West Division, a win for Calgary would propel them into the third spot.

While a win for the Lions would tie them with Saskatchewan Roughriders with win records of 5-4, though the Riders took an early season win over BC.

The Lions enter Week 11 rested after having a bye last week. BC will be looking to bounce back against the Stampeders after suffering a 30-9 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Week 9.

In the defeat, the Lions lost more than just in the win column as breakout receiver Lucky Whitehead suffered a hand injury that will see him on the sideline for two to four weeks. The loss of the receiver is a huge blow to a BC offence that has been reliant on using the speed of its wideouts to push the ball downfield.

Through the start of the 2021 season, Whitehead was having a career year. Through eight games played, the second-year receiver caught 36 of his 47 targets, turning 665 yards and four touchdowns. His 339 yards after catch and six plays of over 30 yards where among the most of all CFL pass-catchers.

Whitehead’s ability to create separation from defensive backs, beat defenders deep and stress opposing coverages was a large factor in creating one of the most electrifying passing offences in the league.

In the absence of Whitehead, the Lions will certainly lean on star receiver Bryan Burnham, who has been the most targeted receiver in the Lions passing attack having 50 passes thrown his way. Burnham has caught 38 of his targets, totalling 566 receiving yards and three touchdowns. The veteran wideout is currently fifth in the league in receiving yards.

BC will also be looking to help of their younger talent to continue to generate offence. In their Week 9 matchup, Jevon Cottoy and Keon Hatcher combined for eight of Michael Reilly’s 17 completions.

Cottoy, now in his second year with the team, has dropped just four passes all season and has totalled 304 yards and two touchdowns through five games this season. In his rookie year with BC, Hatcher has seen just four games of action but has already turned 11 receptions into 144 yards and two scores, including a three catch, one touchdown rookie debut in Week 6.

On the opposite sideline, the Stampeders have looked like a team trying to change their destiny, coming off back-to-back wins over the Roughriders in Week’s 9 and 10.

Through their first seven games of the season Calgary had not scored a touchdown in the first quarter. Against Saskatchewan, they scored a first quarter touchdown in two straight games. The Stamps also recorded 24 first quarter points through the last two weeks of play and are 3-2 on the season when scoring first.

In his two games against the Riders, Calgary quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell helped lead his team to a win by not trying to force throws and staying patient when progressing through his reads. Mitchell finished with 36 completions on 53 attempts, passing for 480 yards and three touchdowns in the series.

Since returning from a leg injury, the former Most Outstanding Player has been able to find a passing rhythm and get the ball into the hands of his playmakers, executing the game plan to near perfection. Calgary’s pivot is averaging 12.3 yards per completion and has connected on 75 passes for 926 yards and four touchdowns while leading Calgary to a record of 3-1 since making his return in Week 6.

Despite the recent play of the Stampeders offence, head coach Dave Dickenson knows how talented the BC defence is and maintains that the team mustn’t get ahead of themselves.

“I think defensively they’ve gotten even better,” said Dickenson of the Lions. “They kind of took it to us the last time and now they’re doing more things. They’re fast and confident.”

The Lions defensive unit is one of the best red zone units in the league. Simply, they just do not allow other teams to score against them. BC has allowed teams to score on just 33.3 per cent of their chances through the regular season. They also do a phenomenal job of taking the ball away from teams in the red zone, forcing a league-leading three red zone turnovers.

As Mitchell and Dickenson look to lead the Stamps to their fourth win in five games, they will be put to the test against one of the most aggressive defensive units in the league. In order to come away with a win on the road, Calgary will need to find a way to break through the impenetrable red zone defence of the Lions.

Kickoff is slated for 7:00 p.m. ET and can be watched on TSN and ESPN+ or followed along on CFL.ca’s Game Tracker.

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