CFL Blitz: Veteran quarterbacks lighting up league

Montreal Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo throws a pass against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in...

Montreal Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo throws a pass against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the first half of their CFL football game in Hamilton July 21, 2012. (REUTERS)

IAN BUSBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:11 AM ET

We're nearly at the quarter-pole of the CFL season, so it's becoming easier to project the 2012 horse race.

And if things keep going like they have with the two most veteran starting quarterbacks, Doug Flutie should start to sweat.

Through four weeks, Hamilton Tiger-Cats pivot Henry Burris and Montreal Alouettes living legend Anthony Calvillo are on a pace to make a run at Flutie's CFL-record of 48 touchdown passes in a single season.

Burris has thrown 11 TDs the first four weeks, while Calvillo has 10. Projected over a full season, Burris would finish with 49, while Calvillo is on pace for 45.

Both numbers would be staggering totals, especially considering during this new age of how starting pivots are handled.

Over the past couple of seasons, head coaches have designated a backup pivot to be the 'short-yardage QB,' and most of those players continue to run the offence even inside the five-yard line.

So that makes Burris a much more likely candidate to keep putting up big numbers rather than Calvillo, regardless of how either is playing.

When the Alouettes get near the goal-line, Adrian MacPherson takes Calvillo off the field. Surely Calvillo's 39-year-old body appreciates not getting forced into piles of bodies, but his numbers could suffer.

Although Burris plays on a team that had Quinton Porter take short-yardage duty for the past few seasons (and excelling at it, rushing for nine TDs in 2011), the 38-year-old starter is taking all the snaps so far this season.

So third place in TD passes so far is shared by four QBs (six in four games), most of whom have relievers taking over when they drive to the goal-line. All of them on are on pace for just 27 TD passes, which is a good season but not spectacular.

This trend cost Saskatchewan Roughriders starter Darian Durant a TD pass in the thrilling loss to the Stampeders last week, as rookie Drew Willy came in and hit Neal Hughes for a short major.

Of course, if the backup comes in and runs one rushing play and the starter returns to the huddle, it's quite obvious a pass is coming next.

LATE HITS

There are a few other players on pace for records this season if they can keep up their hot starts. There is no way Stamps R Nik Lewis can keep this up, right? If Lewis continues to steamroll (or leap over) opponents the way he has lately, he would finish with 144 receptions and 27 receiving TDs, shattering the marks held by Derrell Mitchell (130) and Milt Stegall (23) "¦ Eskimos LB JC Sherritt is on pace for 139 defensive tackles, which would top Calvin Tiggle's 129 "¦ Maybe the most impressive start is Roughriders rookie LB Sam Hurl, who has 10 special-teams tackles and is on pace for 45, which would easily eclipse Wade Miller's 37 "¦ Example No. 2,324 why the CFL is a passing league -- the Stamps have scored the most points this season but are last in rushing average at 4.2 yards per carry, tied with the Eskimos. What helps the Stamps is leading the league in second-down conversions, and they are perfect when it comes to 2nd-and-3 and shorter "¦ Rob Bagg doesn't seem to be a huge contributor in terms of numbers, but the Roughriders really rally around their Canadian receiver. He gives them some sort of a spark, and they are 3-0 with him in the lineup this year. Since Bagg went out with a knee injury late in 2010 and again last week, the Riders are a measly 6-16 in the regular season "¦ Lions K Paul McCallum has missed three field goals this season after only missing three all of last year. We mention this only because he had ONLY three misses ALL of last season. His 2011 was simply amazing "¦ Former Lions DE Brent Johnson gained a new perspective in a short time on the sidelines. During his Wall of Fame induction on the weekend, the perennial all-Canadian told TSN he really doesn't miss playing. "I see these guys out here, and it looks like it hurts."

POWER RANKINGS

1. (1) Saskatchewan -- Couldn't close out road win but was solid for 55 minutes.

2. (4) Calgary -- Don't leave one of their games early "¦ for any reason.

3. (5) Edmonton -- Defence is keeping them in games, which could work this season.

4. (2) B.C. -- Lulay doesn't make many mistakes, but his late INT last week was huge.

5. (6) Hamilton -- Formula for wins are defence and special teams putting points on board.

6. (7) Toronto -- Beating the Bombers is no great feat, but comeback was nice.

7. (3) Montreal -- Every time Calvillo gets hit, it looks mighty painful.

8. (8) Winnipeg -- Finally getting a chance to play in front of home fans.

BY THE NUMBERS

54.2 -- Rushing yardage per outing for the Alouettes. For a team that features last year's leading rusher Brandon Whitaker, this slow start is starting to become a concern in Montreal.

5-of-9 -- The CFL signed a deal with NBC Sports Network to air nine regular-season games plus the entire playoff schedule in the U.S. Five of those games feature the Edmonton Eskimos and their eighth-ranked passing attack.

12 -- The Blue Bombers have trailed after all first-, second- and third-quarters of play this season. Coming from behind constantly has affected how the way their offence is being called, so much so that "¦ (see next stat)

69 -- The percentage of the time the Bombers have thrown first down is tops in the CFL. It hasn't paid off in yardage though, as the Bombers have just 239.5 passing yards per outing, which ranks seventh, only ahead of the Eskimos.

77.8 -- Kevin Glenn's pass efficiency rating in first halves this season. The Stampeders QB manages to recover nicely in the second half though, as his efficiency of 125.0 is by far the best in the league over the final 30 minutes.

UPCOMING GAMES

Edmonton Eskimos at Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Thursday, 8:30 p.m. EST, TSN

Reeling Bombers can at least enjoy an extended period at home. Eskimos defence won't go easy on them.

We say: Eskimos by 6.

Toronto Argonauts at Montreal Alouettes, Friday, 7:30 p.m. EST, TSN

Jamel Richardson is due for a breakout game. No time like the present.

We say: Alouettes by 5.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Saskatchewan Roughriders, Saturday, 6 p.m. EST, TSN

Ticats won't be considered for real until they beat a West Division team. Not this week.

We say: Riders by 7

B.C. Lions at Calgary Stampeders, Saturday, 9 p.m. EST, TSN

Lions defence gives up big plays, and the Stamps offence can complete big plays.

We say: Stamps by 6.

BIG PREDICTION

Really going out on a limb here, but Andy Fantuz will get booed in Regina this weekend. Just not as much as Henry Burris. There must be a bit of irony in Fantuz making his return to Saskatchewan while on the same team as Rider Nation's favourite whipping boy. Although Fantuz left in the exactly the same fashion as Burris did -- big-ticket free agency -- the hatred for Burris trumps the freshness of the receiver's departure.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

That was bush league by Khalif Mitchell. Intentionally trying to injure a player #NoClass

Edmonton OG Greg Wojt @Gwojt66

ian.busby@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter @SUNIanBusby


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