Saturday, July 18, 2009

Riders, Als battle for best record in week #3 CFL matchup


MONTREAL -- It's far too early in the CFL season to be talking about a clash of the titans, but it's impossible to ignore that the league's last two undefeated teams will be going head-to-head when the Montreal Alouettes visit the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Saturday. (3:00p.m. EDT on

Impossible, that is, unless you happen to play for either the Als or the Riders.

"That really hasn't been emphasized here," Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo said Thursday, just before the team left for Regina. "We want to go on the road and continue to have our success to win ball games. That's what we're talking about. We're not coming in here thinking we might be the only undefeated team left."

It's the same story in Regina, where the Riders simply want to defend their home turf against a tough Alouettes team.

"Creating that hype is up to you guys," veteran defensive halfback Eddie Davis told reporters this week. "It's just another home game for us. We want to make sure we put up a good effort and hopefully a winning effort in front of our fans."

Aside from the obvious matchup of 2-0 teams, Saturday's game will feature the league's two top scoring teams and two defences that have terrorized opponents so far this season.

The Roughriders lead the CFL in quarterback sacks and takeaways while the Alouettes are second in both categories and have allowed the fewest points in the league.

Saskatchewan defensive end Stevie Baggs is tied with Montreal defensive tackle Keron Williams for the league lead in sacks with three apiece.

Calvillo, however, isn't very concerned about what the Roughriders may throw at him.

"Most of their turnovers come from blitzes where there's been some sort of breakdown in the offensive blocking scheme," he said. "But for us, we've been well prepared and we just don't see that occurring, unless they bring something that we haven't seen on film."

Conversely, the Alouettes have been able to apply pressure this season relying almost exclusively on their defensive line. That has allowed second-year defensive co-ordinator Tim Burke the liberty to increase the Alouettes' use of man-to-man coverage and it has resulted in opponents completing only 54.9 per cent of their passes - tops in the league.

Roughriders quarterback Darian Durant presents a unique challenge to Burke and his defence. Durant's as much of a threat with his legs as he is with his arm, so the Alouettes front four has focused this week on maintaining rush lanes in an effort to keep him in the pocket.

"We've been able to play man (coverage) with a four-man rush a lot, which is the ideal world," Burke said. "If running becomes a problem we also have a blitz game we can go to that will fill up all the holes. But so far this year we haven't had to blitz very much."

The Alouettes made two personnel decisions on defence that have paid huge dividends thus far. The first was moving safety Chip Cox to strong side linebacker to take the place of released veteran T.J. Hill, and Cox has responded by sharing the league lead in tackles with 14 in two games and also returning a fumble recovery 81 yards for a touchdown.

The other was what head coach Marc Trestman has called a "leap of faith," releasing veteran import middle linebacker Reggie Hunt and replacing him with Shea Emry of Richmond, B.C., a second-year player who led the Als in special teams tackles last season.

"I've still got to come out and prove myself everyday," said Emry, the seventh overall pick out of UBC in the 2008 draft. "I have a lot of learning to do and a lot of growing to do. When they take that leap of faith it feels good, but I have to go out and prove them right."

The Roughriders will have a new weapon at their disposal Saturday with which to attack the Alouettes. Running back Wes Cates, a 2008 CFL all-star who rushed for 1,229 yards last year, will make his season debut after recovering from off-season shoulder surgery.

It's perhaps not the ideal moment for Cates to make his entry, as Montreal has only allowed 58 rushing yards per game.

"It doesn't matter who's running the ball, we thrive on stopping the run and getting after these guys," said Alouettes defensive end Anwar Stewart. "Get them in second and long and get after the quarterback, that's the plan."

Aside from seeing which team will remain atop the CFL, the rabid Mosaic Stadium fans may also see some history Saturday as Calvillo is only two touchdown passes shy of tying the late Ron Lancaster - by far the most prolific passer in Roughriders history - for second on the all-time list.

"I'm totally thankful for the things I've been able to accomplish with my teammates here, and Ron Lancaster was an icon in this league, especially in Saskatchewan where he put up all those great seasons," Calvillo said. "For me to be so close, it's very humbling."

Kickoff at Taylor Field at Mosaic Stadium is set for 3:00p.m. EDT. Catch all the play0by-play action with Rod Pedersen and Carm Carteri on beginning at 2:00p.m. EDT.

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