Sunday the 7-2 Riders travel to Winnipeg to battle the 6-4 Bombers. This will be the third and final regular season meeting. As close as the overall records of both teams are, a closer look reveals two teams headed in very different direction. The Riders have won 6 straight, the Bombers have lost 3 of their last 4. The Riders are 3-1 within the West, the Bombers are 1-3. The Riders haven't committed an offensive turnover since July. The Bombers have the 2nd most giveaways in the League. The Riders come from a relatively normal province with a few rednecks and yahoos. The Bombers come from a province where normal involves dating withing your family tree or livestock herd.
Not much has changed from the last 2 times these teams met. The Bombers still have an O-line that hands out sacks like they worked as a grocery store bagger. They still struggle to run the ball (due the aforementioned awfulness of their line) though they are good at getting Grisgby involved in the pass game. And they still can't stop us from running the ball. They also struggle to keep opponents off the scoreboard as only Toronto and Ottawa allow more points per game.
The only real edge I see them having is on special teams. The injuries keep piling up and the quality of play on teams keeps declining. Its not really surprising. This week you can add Steinhauer, Bartel and Legree to the injury list which already includes almost every Canadian special teamer we started the year with. I will be holding my breath any team that unit takes to the field. Milo is a capable punter and Peters can long snap but given the injury toll this is our biggest weakness heading into this game and an O'Shea coached team knows a thing or 2 about playing good on special teams.
Its a war of attrition on both sides as Winnipeg will be without their top receiving threat in Nick Moore (who accounted for over half of Willy's passing yards on Labour Day). Ian Wild will be out at MLB and DL Kashawn Fraser is hurt too. Willy's ankle appears good to go but you have to think he is still feeling so ill effects of that.
Our offensive game plan is not complicated... run until they prove they can stop us. If it ain't broke don't fix it. That said, if our run game can draw the LBs up, then short to medium passes over the middle will be there to be exploited. Taj or Dressler on the crossing routes. Even a quick screen could prove effective. Last game we also showed that the Bombers are vulnerable deep. We missed Dressler but hit Taj. Leggett is a play-maker at safety but if we send two guys deep and force him to commit to one then someone should get open for a big play. Don't expect a lot of that given our offensive conservativeness but it should be there once or twice. Expect a bigger week from Dressler but his breakout games comes next week I bet.
Defensively, we will yet again unleash our really good D-line on their not very good O-line and try to force Willy into tight spots (see what I did there?) and it should lead to incompletions and bad decisions. Without Moore, Winnipeg will need to really a lot more on underneath routes with Denmark serving as the deep threat. Limit the big plays to Denmark, dial up the pass rush and I like our odds of stifling the Bombers pass attack. Sacks and turnovers have abounded in the first 2 meetings... expect that to continue.
My gut tells me this sets up as a loss for the Riders. Its our third meeting, we are on the road, depth being tested to the limit with injuries, Investors Group Field will be loud, anything can happen on Banjo Bowl Sunday. That said I have watched this team keep finding ways to win over the past 6 games. They are unbelievably mentally tough, never give up and just find ways to win no matter how ugly. Until they give me reason to doubt that ability, I am going to have to keep picking them to win. Besides, aside from my near panic attacks about our special teams, I think on paper we stack up better than the Bombers by a considerable margin. Special teams and the home crowd balance the equation and we are in for a closely fought game with many lead changes. In the end...
Riders by a miracle of God. And if you want something more specific than that let's say Riders by a Jerome Messam TD (about time he got in on the RB TD club)