Before I get into this week's game preview I need to get a few things off my chest otherwise the rest of this post will deteriorate into rant-filled drivel (which differs greatly from my normal drivel)
1 - The scheduling of this game is poor. In my opinion having the Riders and Bombers play before Labour Day/Banjo Bowl takes away from the hype of those games. This game should come after that series and by the 3rd and deciding game in the series. Maybe I'm just bitter they are making me work on a Wednesday to write this.
2 - Dammit Taj Smith! I get the appeal of a strip club (especially after a couple years in Regina) but why do he have to go and do something dumb like that? I hope those strippers were worth it because the costs in terms of his football career and legal troubles could be dire. Can we not put a wig of dreads on Eron Riley and somehow pin this all on him?
OK, now let's move on to the game itself.
I won't lie, if you told me before the season that the Bombers would be the best team in the CFL through 6 weeks I would referred you for psychiatric help. But headed in this match-up the Bombers find themselves with more wins than any other team in the league (and as many as the entire East division combined). Ever since their hot start people having been trying to figure out if this Bomber team is legit. I have been watching them closely looking for chinks in their armour. Can I still say that in this day and age? Feels like I should be saying "Asians in their armour" but then it would sound more like I was complimenting their math skills or manufacturing efficiency. Any way the point is I looked for weaknesses and found them. This team is far from perfect, but they seem to keep winning in spite of their weaknesses. This is in stark contrast to previous Bomber regimes that found new ways to redefine embarrassment to further highlight their weaknesses.
While I will give credit to the Bombers for a good season so far, I would like you to keep their accomplishments in perspective: 4 of their 5 wins have come against East teams. When facing the East, their offense has averaged 35 points per game. When facing West teams that drops to 13 points per game. So while they are far better than anyone expected let's wait until they have a few more match-ups against West teams before anointing them as best team in the West. They still provide a significant challenge for the Riders (which is something I haven't said for years)
Offensively, its all about Drew Willy. (PS - Any Winnipeg readers, I have a few extra I Heart Willy shirts kicking around that I can sell cheap). He is displaying that ice in the veins that originally won him a spot on our roster. He simply will not give up and is not afraid to push it down field and trust his receivers. The main weakness is the line tasked with protecting him. Put nicely, its not very good. It amazing how well that passing game has done in spite of them. They have given up the 3rd most sacks and have the worst rushing attack in the CFL, averaging a microscopic 3.9 yards per rush. Defensively our success depends on attacking that line and exposing that weakness. That will limit the effectiveness of their ground game and put pressure on Willy. Nick Moore is out again so I think our secondary is more than up the challenge posed by Kelly, Watson and Feoli-Guidino (who Willy seems to trust a lot). They love to throw the long ball to Kelly so we can't afford to let him slip past coverage. If Hamilton had any semblance on a secondary, they would have beat Winnipeg last week so I think our secondary will do a good job of limiting gains throw the air. Expect Chick to be all over Willy all night... some friends might even join in (man I miss Willy jokes). The biggest challenge I see will be Hurl and Peters containing Grisby. If they play like last week we are golden. If they play like before the bye we will struggle against the run and that will open up the passing game as a result.
As for our offense, the receiving carousel continues as it seems to be a different set of 5 every week. Dammit Taj! Clearly having Getzlaf back gave a boost to the pass game and we will need that to continue. Under Etch, the Winnipeg D has actually been pretty solid. Their front 4 has looked very good (albeit against some pretty weak teams but I still think they are legitimately good). Their LBs have been making plays. Their secondary has been solid enough (though they have allowed the second most passing TDs so far). Randle and Legget are guys that I would be wary of but the rest of that secondary I think has its vulnerabilities. The key will start on the ground though. Despite saying all the right things to the media, mark my words, Will Ford will be looking to make a statement against a team that deemed him expendable before he even played a down this season. He wants to show he's better than Grigsby. We need to get him going early to slow down that pass rush and open things up in the pass game. If the Bombers manage to make us one dimensional on offense, then we are in trouble (particularly when you add in the crowd noise).
On paper I see no reason why the Riders can't win this game. If they can get an early lead and take the crowd out it, our defense should be able to grind down that vaunted Bomber O. That said in terms of predictions I'm going to have to go with a loss. I don't think they are a better team than us but on a short week, on the road, I just have a gut feeling this will be a loss. The whole Taj thing kinda made up my mind for me after being on the fence all week. I don't think the loss of him is insurmountable but I just don't see this being our week all things considered.
Bombers by a late TD.
Now let's just hope I've reversed jinxed them in the process.