Winnipeg Blue Bombers Vulnerable Heading into Series with Saskatchewan

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OTTAWA, ON - JULY 05: Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Chris Streveler (17) during warm-up before Canadian Football League action between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Ottawa Redblacks on July 5, 2019, at TD Place at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa, ON, Canada. (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Since becoming head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Mike O’Shea’s club has found some irregular ways to squeeze out two points.

Last Friday’s victory over Edmonton was a prime example, with sophomore quarterback Chris Streveler rushing for more yards (89) than passing (84). The stat line was a slap in the face to opposing quarterback Trevor Harris, who tossed 430 yards in a losing effort.

Winnipeg’s two points came from their thriving ground game, which racked up 189 rushing yards on 28 attempts.

Unfortunately for Winnipeg, they’re now losing their top rusher for two key games.

Andrew Harris’ two-game suspension, which will be served during Winnipeg’s upcoming home-and-home with Saskatchewan, leaves the Bombers extremely shorthanded. Suddenly, one win against their prairie rivals seems less likely than going 0-2.

Inactive Stars on Bombers Offence against Saskatchewan

With all due respect to Stanley Bryant Jr. and Jermarcus Hardrick, Matt Nichols and Andrew Harris are the two most crucial players on Winnipeg’s offence, and possibly their team.

After last Friday, Winnipeg fans should realize how good they had it with Nichols.

On 207 more pass attempts, Nichols has thrown just two more interceptions in 2019 than Chris Streveler. Making his season debut Friday, Streveler’s longest completion was 17 yards, and his longest pass was 14.

While Streveler’s much more dynamic with his legs, the Bombers are much more balanced on offence with Nichols. For quarterbacks with over 30 passes thrown, Nichols leads the CFL in quarterback efficiency at 107.2. Streveler is last at 36.3.

Going into a raucous Mosiac Stadium, Streveler has to protect the ball against a stout Riders’ defence who are finding their groove, intercepting three Dom Davis passes in the first quarter alone last week.

Streveler will also be working with two inexperienced natural running backs.

Two Raw Bombers’ Running Backs

The Bombers have two options at the running back position. Neither possesses much professional experience.

The first is Johnny Augustine, who has 16 career CFL carries. The former University of Guelph back has backed up Harris for the majority of 2019 but has only seen the field in non-meaningful situations.

Augustine is more well-rounded, with the ability to run with force, block, and catch passes out of the backfield. He’s also Canadian, meaning the Bombers wouldn’t have to address the ratio if Augustine were to start.

Winnipeg’s other option is John Santiago, Brady Oliveria’s teammate at the University of North Dakota. The Bombers cut Santiago in training camp before bringing him back to the practice roster once Oliveria suffered an ankle injury.

Santiago, 22, has seven pre-season carries and zero regular season CFL touches. He’s a wild-card, especially in an atmosphere like Regina. With home-run ability, the unknown could work in Santiago’s favour.

In University, Santiago made defenders miss with speed, crisp jukes, and even hurdles. If the Bombers need a flip of momentum on offence, he’s Winnipeg’s best bet to burst out a big gain.

Santiago is an International, but Winnipeg could start veteran Jake Thomas at defensive tackle to meet ratio requirements, a move they’ll likely make Sunday.

Roughriders Hitting the Slants

Saskatchewan’s offence under pivot Cody Fajardo is a huge reason for their current five-game win streak. With a 73 per cent completion rating, Fajardo sits fourth in passing yards and is garnishing some worthy M.O.P. chatter.

If there’s one matchup where Fajardo may exploit against Winnipeg, it’s a common pitch-and-catch route with his top target, Shaq Evans.

All season, and especially last Saturday versus Ottawa, Fajardo was looking for Evans on different variations of the same route: the slant.

Evans saw a ton of former Blue Bomber cornerback Chris Randle on Saturday. Randle, for the most part, did an exceptional job against the breakout receiver. Randle was often pressing Evans, and it resulted in tight coverage on the quick-developing route.

But the Riders adjusted and moved Evans to the field against rookie Gump Hayes, and even lined up Evans as a slotback to get eliminate the effectiveness of press coverage.

Evans versus Winnipeg’s cornerbacks, Winston Rose and Chandler Fenner, is an important matchup during each of the upcoming Winnipeg-Saskatchewan games.

Evans could go up against either, and both schematically play off the line of scrimmage, lining up as far away as nine yards.

If so, it’s an area Saskatchewan will look to expose the Bombers over and over.

When the Bombers blew a 20-point lead in Week 8, it mostly came from their inability to defend quick, underneath completions inside the numbers.

Sooner than later, Toronto’s McLeod Bethel-Thompson piled up 343 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions — a stat line the Bombers can no longer allow if they want to hold onto first in the West Division in two weeks.

Main image credit:Embed from Getty Images

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