One team is looking to catch a wave while the other is looking to get its head above water as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats visit the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Thursday.
The 1-5 Bombers are looking to new quarterback Joey Elliott to secure just their second win of the season.
“The message has been sent, we have to pick it up,” said veteran Winnipeg offensive lineman Glenn January.
“Whenever you’re 1-5, people’s jobs are on the line. We understand that we need to get some production and I think at the professional level you need no more incentive than that.”
The veterans on the team get it, he suggests.
“Some of the young guys are starting to figure it out.”
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats, meanwhile, are looking to break out of the 3-3 logjam that is the rest of the CFL East, even though they’re leading the pack thanks to wins over both Toronto and Montreal.
“Let’s be that team that makes a jump and jumps out and gets four wins first,” said Hamilton quarterback Henry Burris.
“If we want to be that team, we’ve got to take the momentum right now and make it happen and put pressure on those other two teams.”
Elliott, who took over after the Bombers’ bye week from backup Alex Brink, says he’s not scared of failure, because that’s a sure way to lose.
“My job is to prepare, prepare, prepare, then when it’s game day I’m just going to go out and have fun,” he said.
This is his third year with the Bombers and it will be only his third start. Brink got the hook after going 1-2 in his three starts after taking over from an injured Buck Pierce.
The Bombers are desperate for another win, but coach Paul LaPolice says he’s a little frustrated at talk his job is on the line with a dozen games still left to play.
“We are certainly not happy the way we’re playing, we need to get better and I think we will,” says the coach.
“I’m concerned about winning a football game. I think sometimes people doom and gloom very much, and things out of my control are out of my control. We’ve got a lot of football left to be played.”
This is the first regular season game between the two East Division rivals. Hamilton is coming off a 31-20 loss to Calgary last week.
Winnipeg is the only East Division rival Hamilton hasn’t defeated this season which, despite the statistical tie with Toronto and Montreal, puts the Ticats at the top.
But head coach George Cortez says that 3-3 record says a lot about the way the team has performed.
“We’ve played well at times and not all that well at other times, been inconsistent,” he said.
He also said it would be dangerous to put too much emphasis on the Bombers’ 1-5 record.
“I’m sure a lot of people that played the B.C. Lions last year when they were 1-6 looked at their record and not at the team, and that’s where the danger comes.”
If the Bombers have had problems at quarterback, Hamilton has been getting solid performance from former Stampeder Burris, who has a league-leading 16 touchdowns so far.
But quarterback isn’t the only weak link Winnipeg must mend, and the team has been looking for leadership from key players to help turn things around.
Defensive back Jovon Johnson, last season’s outstanding defensive player in the CFL, is doing his best to make sure the message is heard.
“We had our defensive meeting today and I told the guys, I’m going to stand up and start telling people how it is, whether they like it or not,” he said.
In seasons past when the Bomber offence was weak, the defence often took up the slack, but this season there seem to be more holes in Winnipeg’s game than there are corks to plug them.
It helps that a team hit hard by early season injuries is finally starting to look a little healthier. Johnson is happy to see defensive back Alex Suber and free safety Ian Logan back on defence.
If the Bombers have a trump card in this game it may he tailback Chad Simpson, since the Ticats have had trouble containing the running game.
Cortez was the quarterbacks coach with the Buffalo Bills of the NFL prior to joining the Ticats this season and Simpson spent a few months with the team in 2010.
“Good running backs have given pretty much everybody a lot of trouble this year,” said Cortez.
“I know Chad, Chad was first at the Bills when I was at the Bills, Chad’s a good running back.”
As for containing Simpson?
“Well, I hope to tackle him when he has the ball.”