Drew Willy and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will need some selective amnesia Tuesday night.
The Bombers visit the Toronto Argonauts at Rogers Centre for their second game in five nights. But considering they’re coming off a 23-17 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, being forced to quickly purge the memory banks won’t necessarily be a bad thing for Willy and Co.
Saskatchewan forced six turnovers against Winnipeg, including three Willy interceptions, one which Terrell Maze returned for a touchdown. Defensive lineman John Chick had three of the Riders’ five sacks in the contest to boost his league-leading total to nine in six games.
Despite the setback, Winnipeg (5-2) remains tied with Edmonton and Calgary for top spot in the West Division, still a heady accomplishment considering the Bombers won a league-low three regular-season contests last season. And Willy has played a big role in the Blue Bombers’ resurgence as he leads the CFL in passing with 1,965 yards and twice led the club to last-second victories.
Winnipeg is still the league’s top-passing offence with 1,985 yards and its 64.7 per cent completion mark is second only to Toronto (68.5 per cent). However, Bombers quarterbacks have been sacked 23 times (tied with Hamilton for second-worst overall) and offensively the club is ranked dead last in rushing (68.6 yards per game).
Toronto (2-4) is well rested coming off the bye but its injuries continue to mount. Rookie slotback Anthony Coombs, the Argos’ first-round pick in the ‘14 CFL draft, was the latest to go down, suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in a 31-5 road win over Montreal on Aug. 1. Coombs had replaced veteran slotback Andre Durie (clavicle) and also joins injured receivers Chad Owens (foot) and Jason Barnes (foot) on the sidelines.
The defence also took a hit against Montreal, with linebacker Nick Williams suffering a season-ending knee injury in that game.
The mounting injuries at receiver again forces Toronto quarterback Ricky Ray to quickly get to know the young replacements. But despite that, Ray has a league-best 68.1 per cent completion average with twice as many TD passes (eight) to interceptions (four).
This will mark the second meeting of the season between the two clubs, with Winnipeg taking a 45-21 victory at Investors Group Field on June 26 in the ‘14 season opener. Willy threw four TD passes in that game, his first as the Bombers’ starter, while Nic Grigsby ran for 122 yards.
Toronto also went in cold in terms of what to expect with Winnipeg defensive co-ordinator Gary Etcheverry’s unconventional schemes and now has a more solid body of work to gameplan against. However, a key for the Argos is protecting Ray as the Bombers are third overall in sacks with 21.
Pick – Winnipeg.
Edmonton Eskimos at Ottawa RedBlacks, 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday.
The Eskimos (5-1) come off a 33-23 win in Montreal on Friday night. Instead of riding the strong arm of quarterback Mike Reilly, Edmonton relied on a strong ground attack as John White ran for 102 yards and a TD on just seven carries to anchor a 191-yard rushing attack. Reilly finished 15-of-21 passing for 206 yards with two TDs and a pick while adding 21 yards rushing on four carries. The Eskimos boast the CFL’s highest-scoring offence (27.2 points per game), which is certainly bad news for Ottawa (1-5), whose defence is giving up a league-high 31.5 points per game. Edmonton’s defence is allowing just 17.8 points per game while the expansion RedBlacks counter with an offence averaging just 18.5 points per contest. It all doesn’t bode well for the home team.
Pick – Edmonton.
Calgary Stampeders at Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 3 p.m. ET on Saturday.
After suffering his first loss as a CFL starter Aug 1 (25-24 to B.C.), Bo Levi Mitchell bounced back nicely in Calgary’s 38-17 victory over Ottawa on Saturday night. Mitchell, who won his first seven career starts – tying a league record – finished 26-of-36 passing for 289 yards and three TDs. Marquay McDaniel was a favoured target with nine catches for 117 yards and a touchdown for the Stampeders (5-1). The defence – which is allowing a league-low 15.7 points per game – did its part with four sacks and two interceptions. Hamilton was close once again, losing 36-29 on Friday night to B.C. as Dan LeFevour threw for 298 yards while running for 103 and a TD. Brandon Banks also had a 97-yard punt return for the Ticats (1-5) but running back C.J. Gable suffered a foot injury. Hamilton is 0-5 versus West Division competition this year.
Pick – Calgary.
Montreal Alouettes at Saskatchewan Roughriders, 7 p.m. ET on Saturday.
The offensive issues continue for Montreal and starter Troy Smith, who was 20-of-45 passing for 231 yards with a TD and interception last weekend against Edmonton. Granted, the Eskimos’ defence has posed many issues for most opponents this season, but the Riders’ unit isn’t exactly chopped liver, with a CFL-high 26 sacks. What’s more, the Alouettes (1-5) are averaging a league-low 16.3 points per game and Smith, a former Heisman Trophy winner, has completed just 47.7 per cent of his passes so it wouldn’t be surprising if backup Alex Brink either starts or sees significant playing time against Saskatchewan (4-2). This could be a trap game for the Riders, but their front seven has been so dominant this season that it’s hard to Montreal’s offence having a breakout performance.
Pick – Riders.
B.C. Lions at Toronto Argonauts, 7:30 p.m. ET on Sunday night.
A tough completion to the week for Toronto. The good news is at least it’s at home. The bad news is it’s against a team whose quarterback threw for over 400 yards last week. B.C.’s Kevin Glenn had 407 yards passing against Hamilton with both Shawn Gore (five catches for 117 yards) and Emmanuel Arceneaux (four catches for 103 yards and a TD) both going over the 100-yard mark. Lions’ running back Andrew Harris leads the CFL in rushing (410 yards) and is fourth in receiving (25 catches for 371 yards and three TDs) but finished the contest versus the Ticats on the bench with an ice pack taped to his ankle. But if Harris can’t play versus Toronto, shifty Stefan Logan (4.5-yard average on 51 carries) is a more than capable replacement. Injuries have plagued Toronto (2-4) this season and playing twice in five days certainly won’t help that issue.
Pick – B.C.