If the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are going to walk out of Mosaic Stadium planning a trip to Calgary in a weeks time, they will need to execute several critical aspects this Sunday.
Sunday’s West Semi-Final will be the fourth and final time this season that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers face off with their rival Saskatchewan Roughriders.
This time around both teams’ seasons are on the line.
From the Blue Bombers’ perspective, here’s what they need to do versus the Roughriders on Sunday.
1. Win the Turnover Battle
By my numbers, in 2018 the Bombers are 9-1 when committing fewer turnovers than their opponent. On the flip side, they are winless (0-5) when committing more turnovers than their opponent.
Unsurprisingly, turnovers played a huge role in the Winnipeg-Saskatchewan matchups earlier this season.
On Labour Day Winnipeg lost the turnover battle 3-1, including two crucial Matt Nichols interceptions.
A week later, Nichols and Chris Streveler combined to throw for five interceptions, losing the turnover battle 5-2.
The Bombers lost both of those games by a combined 13 points. The Riders scored a combined 30 points off the seven intercepted balls.
Moving ahead to the Bombers-Riders Week 18 matchup, the Bombers won the turnover battle 5-1 and hence won the game 31-0, with the Riders obviously scoring zero points off of turnovers.
Whoever commits fewer turnovers usually wins the game. It’s simple.
2. Keep Saskatchewan’s Scores on Offence
The Roughriders blew the rest of the league away in return touchdowns (kick return, punt return, interception, and fumble recovery touchdowns) with 14.
The 14 return scores were double of any other CFL team in 2018.
On the other hand, the Riders gave up four kick return touchdowns in 2018, tied for worst in the league. They also gave up two defensive touchdowns to Winnipeg this year, both at the hands of Winnipeg’s Anthony Gaitor.
In the Riders’ wins over Calgary in Week 10 and Winnipeg in Week 13 (honourable mention to their five-point loss against Ottawa in Week 14), multiple return scores by the Riders was the difference.
Putting points up while your offence is on the sidelines is a massive momentum springer too.
If the Riders defence or special teams score themselves in front of a playoff crowd at home, the Bombers can essentially wave their season goodbye.
3. Win the Ground Game
The Bombers have the best offensive line and running back in the CFL. They need to show that Sunday.
The first two keys focus on taking care of the football; this one focuses on pounding the football down the field.
Winnipeg produced upwards of 400 rushing yards more than any other CFL team this year. With all of Andrew Harris, Nic Demski, Weston Dressler, and Chris Streveler capable of making plays with their feet, Winnipeg has to establish a ground game early.
Winnipeg’s offence is at its best when they are running the ball effectively. Matt Nichols doesn’t have to put up Mike Reilly-esque numbers, but Andrew Harris has to put up Andrew Harris-esque numbers.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Bombers will have their hands full with the Riders’ ground game. The Riders had the second-most rushing yards this season thanks to a combination of running backs.
Bruisers Tre Mason and Cameron Marshall are fine players, but the player to contain/be aware of is Marcus Thigpen.
Thigpen finished third in voting for the CFL players poll question “biggest threat to score from anywhere.”
Not allowing Thigpen to get outside in open space is criticial, that’s if Chris Jones even decides to dress Thigpen.
Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images