There are four teams leading the CFL with 3-1 records. Three of the teams were expected to contend, but two have surprised because of their defensive play.
Having battled for the 2009 Grey Cup in one of the greatest games in CFL history, the Montreal Alouettes and the Saskatchewan Roughriders didn’t lose enough in the offseason to drop out of contention for first in the East and West divisions, respectively, and are currently leading their divisions at 3-1.
Right alongside them with 3-1 records as well, however, are the Calgary Stampeders and Toronto Argonauts.
The Calgary Stampeders showed last year their offense can usually get a job done, but they've had some defensive troubles keeping them from moving forward. Some positions were addressed, but changes on the offensive line had people questioning coming in. The offensive line has answered most of their questions, allowing less than two sacks a game and averaging 158 rushing yards a game.
It is Calgary’s defense that has most impressed as the Stamps have only given up 21 points a game, 99 rushing yards a game, and only two rushing touchdowns. What’s most impressive was their ability to shut down a Saskatchewan offense in Week Four that coming into the game led the league in many offensive stats.
Even though there have been offensive struggles this season, the Stamps defense has held its own, keeping them in games and giving the offense more chances to succeed.
Much of the same can be said for the Toronto Argonauts. The Argos were very hard to watch last year from a fan’s perspective, lacking in many positions from the coach down. A new coach and philosophy gave a lot of people hope when the season began, but expectations weren’t high with many new faces in the lineup.
Jermaine Copeland was brought in to bring a spark and to mentor young receivers. So far his output has been limited, but not due to his lack of effort. The Argonauts made a questionable choice in starting NFL veteran but CFL rookie Cleo Lemon at QB, because in doing so Toronto bumped back veteran backup Dalton Bell.
While the Argos are 3-1 this season, the offense can’t be credited for much of the success. Some questioned the choice to go with Lemon over Bell, and I think the statistics are showing they might be right.
Lemon averages 190 yards passing a game with three touchdowns, four interceptions, and four fumbles in four games.
Rookie running back Cory Boyd has been the only shining light for the Boatmen on offense, leading the CFL in rushing through four weeks with 431 yards on 66 carries.
The defense on the other hand has been incredible, shutting down some solid offenses, and bringing their team back in games they probably should have lost.
Many thought the Stampeders would have wiped the floor with the Argos in Week One. The Argos didn’t play well on offense, but the defense held Calgary to 23 offensive points. The other seven points were off a fumble return for a touchdown near the end of the game.
After giving up some big yards in the win over Winnipeg, Toronto’s defense came up huge against Calgary, limiting Henry Burris to 207 yards passing and intercepting him four times. The Argos defense also held two-time CFL rushing leader Joffrey Reynolds to 44 yards on the ground.
Calgary had the lead for most of the game, but Toronto was able to stop Burris and the Calgary offense from putting it away, helping the Argos to come back and take it.
The Argos defense wasn’t finished there. The BC Lions looked like a formidable opponent, and again had a lead on the Argos late in the game.
Former Argo Jamal Robertson did have two touchdowns, but only rushed for 54 yards and fumbled once.
Travis Lulay looked pretty sharp in his first CFL start, but did throw two picks to the Argos defense, one which was returned for a touchdown late in the game to give up the lead and eventually the game.
While both teams deserve credit for their victories, I have to wonder how long the winning streaks will last. Calgary overcame some offensive struggles to put up a huge win over Saskatchewan. The Argonauts haven’t been able to do much offensively, and while Boyd leads the league in rushing, he only has one touchdown.
Calgary looks to be moving in the right direction and could be number one at the season’s end, but while the Argos do look much better than anticipated, they will have to get much more out of their offense if they plan on challenging Montreal for first in the East.