Game Preview and Prediction: CFL West Final

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REGINA, SK - NOVEMBER 11: Drew Wolitarsky #82 of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers hauls in a touchdown pass behind Mike Edem #15 of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the first half of the western semi final game between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders at Mosaic Stadium on November 11, 2018 in Regina, Canada. (Photo by Brent Just/Getty Images)

After defeating the Saskatchewan Roughriders 23-18 last Sunday, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are now travelling to Calgary to face off with the Stampeders for a chance to play for a Grey Cup the following week.

With a forecast of mainly sunny and high of 9 C, the weather should not play a factor in this contest.

The Bombers and Stampeders met twice this season: August 25 in Calgary (39-26 Stampeders win) and October 26 in Winnipeg (29-21 Bombers win).

Notable Statistics

  • The last time the Bombers played in the West Final was 2002 — a 33-30 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos.
  • In Bo Levi Mitchell’s past five years as a starting quarterback, Calgary has finished first in the West four times and second once. Calgary is 3-2 in the West Final over that time, but have just one Grey Cup to show for.
  • In the regular season, Winnipeg and Calgary finished first and second in points for, offensive points, touchdowns, points allowed, opponents offensive points, opponents touchdowns, penalties, turnover ratio, and turnovers forced.
  • On August 25, Mitchell threw a then career-high 452 yards versus the Bombers.
  • Calgary was held under 60 rushing yards in both meetings with Winnipeg this year.
  • Bombers receiver Drew Wolitarsky totalled 150 yards and a touchdown on nine catches against Calgary this year.
  • Andrew Harris had seven rushes for 13 yards on August 25.
  • Marcus Sayles, Winnipeg’s boundary halfback, was targetted 15 times in the two games. Eric Rogers should match-up against Sayles Sunday.
  • Winnipeg led at halftime on August 25 but gave up 27 points in the second half.
  • It appears as if Kamar Jorden, Marken Michel, and DaVaris Daniels, Calgary’s three leading receivers on August 25, will all be out of the starting lineup on Sunday.

 Keys to the Game

Calgary

1. Pressure Matt Nichols

In turn, this translates to winning the line of scrimmage. The Stampeders limited Andrew Harris to 13 rushing yards in their August meeting, forcing Winnipeg to try and beat Calgary through the air. The result? A scrambling Matt Nichols, who threw two interceptions to a defensive end (Ja’Gared Davis) and later said he couldn’t find any open receivers in his postgame comments. No team had more sacks than the Stamps this season. Derek Wiggan, Cordarro Law, Micah Johnson, and Ja’Gared Davis have a tough task at hand, but are talented enough to give Nichols fits.

2. Spread the Ball Around

Bo Levi Mitchell uses all of his weapons – the Stamps often have at least seven pass-catchers on every game sheet. Albeit injury influenced, 16 Stampeders recorded receptions this season. The Bombers’ defensive personnel is a talented group, meaning good coaching with an element of unpredictability on offence could provide an edge for Calgary.

3. Expose Winnipeg’s Defensive Backs

In past years the great quarterbacks have been able to dice apart Richie Hall’s zone-based defence. On August 25, Maurice Leggett of the Bombers was targeted often and beat often — 200-plus yards often. On October 26, Chris Matthews went up and got two deep jump balls over Kevin Fogg, who surrendered over 100 passing yards. Whether it be Bo Levi making smart reads or Calgary’s athletic receivers making plays, the Stamps aerial attack needs to bring its A game.

Winnipeg

1. Limit turnovers

In 2018, the Bombers are now 10-1 when winning the turnover battle. This key is a broken record, but if the Bombers commit numerous turnovers, Mitchell will make them count. Winnipeg doesn’t need Matt Nichols to go out and have a 300-plus yard game with multiple touchdowns. Nichols was just fine last week with 169 yards, efficiently managing the Bombers’ offence. Instead, Winnipeg has to be efficient and take care of the ball. Mitchell doesn’t give out many interceptions, so instead of winning the turnover battle, a bigger focus is not giving up the ball themselves.

2. Don’t Fall Behind Early

There are countless examples of the Stamps winning games at home by the end of the first quarter. The 2016 West Final stands out to me. The B.C. Lions had just put up 32 on Winnipeg in the West Semi-Final, moving on to play Calgary. Against the Lions, the Stamps scored a touchdown less than two minutes in and built a 32-point lead going into the half. With that example being quite extreme, the Bombers need to stay in the game in the first half. Being down by double digits in Calgary is a near impossible deficit to overcome.

3. Make Your Shots Count

The lack of big plays during Winnipeg’s loss at Calgary was concerning. Aside from a Chris Streveler 65-yard strike to Ryan Lankford on third-and-inches, no Bombers receiver caught a pass of more than 20 yards until under a minute remaining in the game, when the Bombers were down by 21. Darvin Adams longest reception in that loss was 13 yards; Nichols failed to hit Adams deep on multiple occasions. During Winnipeg’s win over Calgary, three Bombers receivers recorded a 20-plus yard catch, including a 50-yard touchdown from Adams and a 60-yard touchdown from Drew Wolitarsky. Weather shouldn’t hinder either teams’ passing game, hence Nichols and co. needing to make their deep shots count.

Prediction

Now for the fun. Cliche as it is, this game is going to be won in the trenches. Specifically Calgary’s defensive line vs. Winnipeg’s offensive line. If Nichols is under pressure quickly, and Harris can’t get going on the ground, there’s a chance Winnipeg gets blown out.

That being said, Calgary is vulnerable. They’re extremely banged up throughout their roster, while the Bombers are mostly healthy. With Adam Bighill expected to play, the Bombers roster is missing one starter, and that’s if Jovan Santos-Knox can’t suit up.

Winnipeg’s back-seven has a sizable advantage over Calgary’s receivers, Mitchell’s going to have win this game himself. While I do think Mitchell puts up good numbers, I think the lack of talent around him is Calgary’s downfall.

Nichols has thrown one interception since the Banjo Bowl, a trend he likely keeps going on Sunday. Even if Nichols doesn’t play well, Winnipeg has the personnel (Andrew Harris, Chris Streveler, Weston Dressler, and Nic Demski) to take the ball at the line of scrimmage and make plays with it. The Bombers are riding high, while the Stamps are sitting ducks.

Winnipeg 28 Calgary 24

Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

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