Buckle up, this one could get nasty!
There’s always added intensity to Bomber/Rider games but this particular one has the makings for a nasty one. When you factor in the loudest stadium competition; the allegations of injury faking, spiting, mascot assault; some chipiness on the field; not to mention the bad taste in the Bombers mouth from getting embarrassed last game… add all that tension up and this game has potential to boil over really quick.
Fun fact the Banjo Bowl would have been called the Banjo Cup were it not for the fact that a whole generation of Bomber fans have no clue what a Cup is. They also don’t know what oral hygiene is but I digress…
The opportunity before the Riders this weekend is huge. Not only do they look to extend their winning streak and heighten their climb in the West, a win here puts the Riders 1 game back of Winnipeg but more importantly gives us the season series. The race is in the West will be tight so having the season series with both the Bombers and Lions would give our playoff aspirations a massive boost.
As much as I love all the hype and excitement surrounding the Riders over the past month, I am still not in the “The Riders have arrived” or the “Rebuild is complete!” camp. This is by far the best I have felt about this team since 2014 but I feel the need to remind you that we have exactly 1 road win this season. And if you exclude the shellacking we put on Edmonton we have just 42 road points (15 of them coming in garbage time). Banjo Bowl is a tough one to win and I need a bit more evidence before anointing us “road warriors”.
Turnovers and a high performing offense have masked just how bad the Winnipeg defense has been this year. They have allowed the second most points and yards (second only to Hamilton), have held a team under 30 just twice in the past 7 games, and have allowed an average of 35.6 points to Western opponents. We need to capitalize on that (like we have in the first 2 meetings). Losing Marshall is a huge loss. LaFrance is an adequate fill in and we should still lean on him in the run game but he lacks that explosiveness Marshall has provided us (though I think a sprinkling of Greg Morris could help there). The big concern is pass blocking. I think it was an underrated part of Marshall’s game so hopefully LaFrance/Morris can step up there. On the passing front, stay aggressive but not so aggressive that we give them life with turnovers. Get Carter going early, keep Roosevelt involved, mix in Grant and a little Bagg to keep them on their toes. Again, the defense gives up points in bunches, we should be able to keep that trend going.
Defensively I interested to see what happens to our pressure without Nick James. He gave us a huge boost when he arrived so others will need to step up to keep that going. Winnipeg’s O-line is very good but we need to be more disruptive on Nichols in the pocket this time around. Tackling certainly needs to be better this game. We played solid defensively but could have been even more suffocating if we’d taken guys down on first contact instead of seventh. We also need to keep being opportunistic and getting those takeaways when the opportunity presents itself as well as not letting our foot of the gas like we did late last game. You can bet LaPo will want to cram his no huddle O down our throats out of spite for the diving… err I mean totally legit but coincidentally timed injuries thing. We should probably come prepared with a back-up plan for dealing with that in case Plan A… err I mean in case those randomly occurring injuries don’t have the completely unintended consequence of slowing them down again.
The first quarter will go a long way to deciding this game. While I would love an explosion like last week that ends the game before it really begins, I don’t think we can count on that. But if we can be aggressive early and get the crowd out of it then I don’t see any reason why our current wave of success can’t continue. In our first 6 games we had a total of 22 first Q points (3.7 avg), in the last three games 54 – 3 (avg 18). We need the latter. If we let Winnipeg get an early lead and the crowd get on us then we will have an uphill battle to fight. Even if we can endure what I expect to be an early push by the Bombers and enter the 2nd quarter close score-wise then we should be good.
Based on how the Riders have been playing, I think a fourth straight Rider win is very plausible. But my gut is telling me to be wary. There are 3 ways of doing things: the easy way, the hard way and the Rider way, which is a more winding, soul crushing, rollercoaster ride version of the hard way. So as much as I see playoffs in our future, my gut tells me that rather doing it the easy way (i.e. beating Winnipeg and holding the season series), we will do the Rider way and find a far more complex route to the post-season. I see a very tight game but I think we lose a close one and come back down to earth a bit.
Bombers by a Medlock FG
I do feel compelled to mention in closing that lately my predictive powers have been on par with most weather forecasters. If there were a prophet licencing board they likely would have revoked my certification by now. So there’s a good chance I’m wrong here.