Ottawa Redblacks Face Tough Test against Winnipeg Blue Bombers

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Both the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Ottawa Redblacks bring a 5-3 record into their Friday night meeting. This parity in their records covers over the fact that the Redblacks are in tough to get a victory.

While both teams were inconsistent record-wise in the early weeks of the season, the Bombers have bucked that trend and are riding a three-game winning streak. The Redblacks are 3-1 in their last four games and should be 4-0 if not for blowing a 24-point lead in Toronto.

Both teams have played very similar opposition to this point. The Bombers have played in three home-and-home series against B.C., Hamilton, and Toronto. Winnipeg split their series against the Lions and Tiger-Cats and dominated the Argos in both games. Winnipeg lost to the Eskimos in Week 1, while the Redblacks lost both games against Calgary before staking wins out against Hamilton and B.C. Both teams have also beaten Montreal (Ottawa x2).

Additionally, both teams have blown big first half leads before falling to arguably inferior opponents. Winnipeg dropped a 17-point lead to BC in Week 5 while the Redblacks needed counseling after their trip to Toronto.

There is a great amount of parity between these teams on the surface but a deeper dive into the details indicates that Winnipeg is the superior team.

Offence

This game sets up as a struggle between a pass scheme and a run scheme. Earlier this week some social media polls asked respondents who they felt was leading the race between Winnipeg running back Andrew Harris and Ottawa receiver Brad Sinopoli for the Most Outstanding Canadian crown. One could make a case for both of them to win at this point. The success of each offence is found in the consistent contributions made by Harris and Sinopoli respectively. Heading into Week 10, the Bombers lead the league in rushing attempts on first down and the Redblacks in pass attempts.

The Bombers lead the league in rushing yards, average gain per rush and rushing touchdowns. Overall the Bombers have put up 1,221 yards on the ground to the Redblacks 703. The Redblacks are second to the Bombers in rush attempts but second from the bottom in total rushing yards.

Ottawa’s issues along the offensive line are evident in this, as offensive coordinator Jamie Elizondo has tried to get the running game going but has had difficulty in acquiring the yardage necessary to take the pressure off of the passing game. In their most recent victory over Montreal, the Redblacks relied on the short passing game (hitch and bubble screens) as a pseudo-running game until they were able to wear down the young Alouettes defensive line in the second half.

The Redblacks lead the league in pass completions and completion percentage. They also outrank the Bombers in average gain per pass and completions over 30 yards. Overall, the Redblacks have passed for 2,501 yards through the air to Winnipeg’s 1,787.

Having said that, the Bombers do lead the Redblacks in quarterback rating and pass efficiency.

Defence

The Redblacks have been much improved defensively this year in comparison to last. Outside of the speed wobble in Toronto, the Ottawa defence has given the team a chance to win every week.

The Blue Bombers defensive has been even better. They are first in the league in forced turnovers (25), interceptions (11) and sacks (21). Additionally, the Bombers are in the top four in the league in both fewest yards allowed through the air and on the ground. They are tenacious in the pass rush and also in secondary coverage.

In total, the Bombers lead the Redblacks in every statistically significant defensive category.

Special teams

Both teams have done exceptionally well overall on special teams. Ottawa’s rookie kicker Lewis Ward has 22 consecutive field goals while punter Richie Leone is second in the league in base punting and net punting. Winnipeg’s Kevin Fogg is fifth in the league in both punt return and total kick return yards.

Overall, this category is basically even but Winnipeg gets the checkmark based on their ability to run effective fakes that keep the opponent on their toes and force the opposition to game plan for potential trickery. “Staying at home” to protect running and passing lanes prevents a team from setting up effective punt returns while having to max protect on punt slows down a punt coverage team.

The last word

The Redblacks offence has been able to move the ball against most opponents this year. But, they have not been able to punch the ball into the end zone with any consistency. As a result, they lead the league in points off of field goals. Trevor Harris et al. will have to break this trend and score majors on a stingy Winnipeg defence to have any chance at victory.

Original Redblack and veteran Jon Gott took second-team reps this week in practice and will maybe be a healthy scratch come game time. For an offensive line that has lacked consistency all year, this is a curious move. The Redblacks finally have most linemen healthy and could have kept the line that same as last Saturday against Montreal. Why this move was made may speak to a growing sense of unease amongst the coaching staff in their overall offensive line production.

Defensively the Redblacks will have to limit Andrew Harris as he cannot be fully stopped and hope they can disturb Matt Nichols enough to keep him from hitting Darvin Adams and Nick Demski with any regularity.

Both teams boast the same record but at this point, but the Ottawa Redblacks have more to prove and must show that they can compete with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

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