Canadian Football LeagueThe CFL hits the midseason mark and we’ll review what happened on a short slate of games in Week 8. Only two games in Week 8 as Hamilton, Winnipeg, Montreal and Calgary enjoyed a bye week. We passed on both games—and, as it turned out with good reason—which leaves our CFL record at 17-4 ATS.

GREG MARSHALL FIRED:

If you’ve been listening to our EOG Sports Hour Radio shows (and you can find the archives atwww.eogradio.com) you’ve heard my prediction that Saskatchewan Roughriders’ head coach Greg Marshall would be lucky to last the year. Following the team’s 24-18 loss to the Toronto Argonauts to drop to 1-7 on the year his luck ran out. Marshall was fired on Friday and its hard to disagree with the move. There are plenty of parallels between Marshall and the Edmonton Eskimos’ first year coach Kavis Reed—both men finally got the opportunity at the head job following a lengthy run as CFL assistants. That’s where the similarities end, however. Despite the Eskimos current three game losing streak there’s every reason to think that Reed will be in his job for awhile. Reed has done a lot to demand accountability from everyone involved with the Eskimos team and this ‘character rebuild’ of one of the league’s most historically successful franchises has been impressive.

Marshall earned a lot of respect for a 17 year career as an assistant and following his dismissal his coaching colleagues were quick to come to his defense, claiming he didn’t get ‘a fair shake’. Realistically, however, he seemed downright overwhelmed by the head coaching role. He didn’t exactly instill Riders’ fans with confidence in a press conference a few weeks ago where he admitted that ‘he didn’t have any answers’. He lost the support of players at the same time, essentially hanging them out to try by suggesting they needed to ‘play better’ while not being personally accountable. To be sure, there’s a lot of truth in his comments and this team has underachieved up and down the roster. At the same time, however, his job as a head coach is to have the sort of answers he expressed cluelessness about.

Making matters worse, the Roughriders regressed defensively during Marshall’s tenure—that’s bad news for a team that had the league’s worst scoring defense a year ago and a bigger problem since improving that side of the ball is precisely why Marshall was brought in to begin with. Quarterback Darian Durant also regressed under Marshall. Durant’s play and the Riders’ offensive explosiveness allowed the team to win last year despite their porous defense. Without this component to the team’s performance, the Riders were unable to be competitive.

Marshall is by all accounts a first rate defensive coordinator and as such will likely get another job in the league, likely as soon as next season. It could be that he just doesn’t have the right personality to be a head coach—not everyone does, of course, and assuming that is the case it’s hard to make the case that he got a ‘raw deal’. Keep in mind that he didn’t come into a rebuilding situation like the one his NFL counterpart Ron Rivera has with the Carolina Panthers. This is a team that not only made the last two Grey Cup championship games but lost those contests by a total of four points. The thinking was that Rivera would be able to tighten up the defense and get the team ‘over the hump’ to a championship. Maybe he eventually would have grown into the job, but as is the case with the NFL it’s not really a ‘learn on the job’ type of profession. Nothing in Marshall’s demeanor or personality suggested that a turnaround was forthcoming and for that reason alone the Roughriders made the right move. The team’s failure isn’t entirely his fault, which is why offensive coordinator Doug Berry was also pink slipped. The team now has a bye week to regroup and try to salvage their season.

ESKIMOS CONTINUE TO SLUMP:

The Edmonton Eskimos lost again, this time at home to a BC Lions’ team that they had dominated just a few weeks earlier. Before their three game losing streak the Eskimos were an impressively well balanced team, ranking #2 in the league in scoring defense and scoring offense. Following a 36-1 loss to the Lions, Edmonton has now been outscored 63-5 in their past two games. It’s one thing to get blown out by the defending league champion Montreal Alouettes, another thing entirely to be entirely shut down by a Lions’ defense that has struggled to contain opponents all year. Edmonton is catching a bye week at the right time and their recent swoon makes their early September ‘home and home’ series with provincial rival Calgary even more significant. The ‘Battle of Alberta’ is always a big deal, but how Edmonton responds to the recent adversity is clearly the biggest test of Kavis Reed’s brief career as head coach.

A PAIR OF GREAT MATCHUPS HIGHLIGHT WEEK 9:

Usually we highlight the ‘game of the week’ in this space but both Week 9 games are excellent matchups ‘on paper’. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have had the best defense in the league all year long and now they’ve got the best record in the CFL at 6-1.They’ll host the improving Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Canad Inns Stadium on Friday. Hamilton has never been a great road team and have the ability to ‘underachieve’ in any given week. At the same time, however, they’ve been one of the best performing underdogs in the league in the past few years.

On Saturday the Montreal Alouettes will take on the West leading Calgary Stampeders at McMahon Stadium. The Stamps have a strange home/road performance this year—they’re only 1-2 at home but a perfect 4-0 on the road.

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