Friday, September 3, 2021

Riders vs. Bombers: Labour Day Classic 2021

It’s the single greatest regular season game on the schedule… unless you are a Bomber fan. If you take a stroll down memory lane from a Rider perspective, you have fond memories of victories. Convincing beat downs and last minute thrillers. Pretty ones and ugly ones. But they always end up the same (except that one time in 2016 that we all pretty much agreed to pretend never happened). But if you take a stroll down memory lane from a Bomber perspective, it’s a trail of heartache. Losing to good Rider teams. Losing to awful Rider teams. Losing to the likes of Rocky Butler, Michael Bishop and Brett Smith. It’s also a parade of terrible QBs the Bombers have had to trot out against us. The list includes Steven Jyles (replacing an injured Buck Pierce), Alex Brink (replacing an injured Buck Pierce), Joey Elliot, Justin Goltz, Drew Willy, Brian Brohm, Matt Nichols and Chris Streveler. That is all kinds of sad. And before you jump on me with the whole “but Streveler is in the NFL” crap let me state that by any objective eye Streveler is a terrible QB. He has NFL-calibre athleticism but a good QB, he is not.

The history of the LDC can be summed up in 2 words; Riders win. The amount of Labour Day wins for the Bombers across the past 3 decades would be viewed as abysmal to most, but given that winning important games only happens once every couple decades or so in that province, they remain pretty proud of their LDC record by their standards.

Before I get to the game I gotta address one thing. Going back as a far as I can remember this space would be filled with a joke about how the Bombers haven’t won a Grey Cup in game that was broadcast I colour. That was admittedly ruined in 2019 (a fact I am still bitter at the Ti-Cats about and to fair degree I still blame for most of the bad things that have happened in the world since then). So I can hear the Bomber faithful getting ready to scream at me about how they are the defending champs and thus better than us. Look, you won, good for you. Congrats on winning a Cup in the 2000s. Pretty much everyone else in the league ticked that box years ago including the expansion team that didn’t exist until 2014 (most of them have even done it multiple times). So the rest of us don’t view it as that big a deal. But hey, good for you there buddy. You keep this up and maybe in another 30 years we’ll let you sit at the grownup table.

Onto the game…

Despite the long a storied history of the LDC we don’t often get a marquee match-up. Most often the Bombers are terrible, sporadically (at least in recent years) we are terrible, occasionally we are both terrible. So this year will be one of those nice treats where both teams are good. It’s a battle for top place in the West.

If this CFL season has proven anything it’s that I know very little about the CFL this year. One thing I do know is that Winnipeg has the best O-line and D-line in the CFL and that poses the biggest threat to us continuing our Labour Day dominance.

Let’s start with our offense. We have not faced a defense this good this season. Its well known that the combo of Jefferson and Jeffcoat can be game wreckers and the rest of that D-line rotation are no slouches. The battle in the trenches will determine it. Bombers have just 6 sacks on the season but the stats don’t reflect how disruptive the line has been. One thing to watch with Jeffcoat is him pushing the edges of legal hits. Most will remember the dirty hit he put on Bridge in 2018. And he got away we a blatant high hit against Calgary last week. On the other side Jefferson is the best defender in the CFL hands down. And what worries me is not only his pass rush but given that our offense relies on short quick passes, his ability to drop back and pick it off could very much be in play. The Winnipeg defense this season has been the stereotypical Richie Hall defense: Bend (7th in yards allowed) but don’t break (#1 in point allowed).

Here's the way to attack that defense… on the ground. They are 7th in run D on the season and give up a league high 5.6 yards per rush. The issue is that our ground game has been extremely underwhelming thus far. Partly by scheme but outside of that one series against Hamilton, we just haven’t seen consistently good running. That needs to change. Powell needs to be busy early and often. I know Fajardo will be using his legs I just hope he’s smart about when and how. Our success this season has been based on a simple formula, don’t turn the ball over and take what the D will give you. That plays well into this game as Hall will give you yards if you are patient and don’t make mistakes. But Hall also runs some pretty decent zone schemes and if I’m him I’m pulling the old Chris Jones, drop 9 to take away the passing lanes and dare us to either run or go deep (the 2 things we haven’t done much off this season). Need to continue spreading the ball around. I expect every active receiver to get a reception.

Defensively, my hope is that Collaros joins in the growing line of QBs that have been on both sides of this rivalry (Glenn, Bishop, Jyles, Willy, Durant J) and only experiences victory while in Green. By the way, it’s a twist of irony so cruel it could only happen to Rider fans that after years of staunch devotion to Collaros through his injury saga, the only time in his life he manages to stay healthy is to spite the Riders with the archrival Bombers… why Zach? What did we ever do to you? After a hot start, its becoming more and more apparent that something just isn’t quite right with the Winnipeg O. 5th in offensive points, 7th in yards, 8th in 2nd down conversion, league high in 2 and outs, 7th in rushing, 8th in gain per rush (only team worse is Ott). Its becoming clear that Buck Pierce is not the second coming of LaPo. In fact, given that its Labour Day, I would put good odds on Pierce getting injured up in the booth and not being able to finish calling the game.

Much like on the other side of the ball, this one will be decided in the trenches. In my view Winnipeg has one of the top O-line in the league. Its one things for our new look D-line to embarrass Hamilton (who has no tackles) and Ottawa (who has no anything) but if they can be disruptive in this one then I will be all in as a believer. Key will be stopping the run game. Its not been dominant so far but it got a boost with Harris’ return and given that he wasn’t able to play in the last LDC you know he’s coming in with a chip on his shoulder. By the way, Harris is about on the same pace of finding out what happened with his tainted supplement as OJ is at finding the real murderer. Front 7 need to contain that ground game. They also need to get after Collaros. Early in the season he looked liked a world beater out there but as the season has worn on teams are adjusting. He’s being kept in the pocket now and taking more hits. That’s what we need to do. Kenny Lawler is becoming the #1 guy in Winnipeg, though Adams can’t be forgotten about. Take away the run and the big plays and make then work to put drives together. Similar to us Winnipeg doesn’t turn the ball over, getting even one of those of them could be a difference maker.  

This is two very evenly matched teams going toe to toe for top spot in the West (more commonly known as top spot in the CFL). As mush as I would love one those lopsided ass kickings, I think we are in for a very tightly contested game. The only thing tighter will be the feeling in my chest throughout the game.  Winnipeg is built to grind out games. All 3 of their wins have come without them scoring more than 20 points. Taking the under in this one might be a wise betting option (though for the love of god do not take betting advice from me).

Normally I’m super confident about our prospects of victory. I mean, we always win on Labour Day. But 2021 has been such a weird year in the CFL that there is this nagging feeling I have. I’m still going to take the good guys to win but going with a come from behind win where Fajardo avenges the cross bar doink and leads a game winning TD drive. I’m going to speak in advance to the game day hosts about having the defibrillator on stand by for me.

Of course my Labour Day post wouldn’t be complete with a comment on the residents of Manitoba, some of which will be coming to Mosaic. Sure they may currently be miles ahead of us in terms of managing the pandemic and containing the spread but I’m more convinced than ever that there will soon be a study that shows that its due in large part to the combination of inbreeding, olfactory, STDs and likely being stabbed at some point, (a combination which is prevalent in the province) providing a heightened natural immunity to Covid.

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