Five things to consider before the Bombers try to find a way against the Riders in the ninth annual Banjo Bowl Sunday afternoon:
1. The response
How will the Bombers respond to the thrashing they took in Regina?
They've had a week to contemplate what happened in the 52-0 drubbing at Mosaic Stadium and they've taken a lot of heat from media and fans. The questions, the emotion, the anger -- it's been a full-on assault. Interim head coach Tim Burke vows they'll be better and the players have been led down the path of pride all week, but will that be enough to get through this? Lord, hear our prayers.
Divine intervention aside, Sunday is the perfect day for this game if you're a Bombers fan. Lose again to the Riders here, and the season might be ready for last rites.
2. The response: Part II
Sequels are typically boring and often fail to carry the intensity of the original. That shouldn't be the case Sunday.
The response to the Bombers' response is one to watch, as the home side can't afford another slow start. In nine first quarters, Winnipeg has scored just eight points (giving up 64) and is still looking for a first-quarter touchdown. It gets worse: The Bombers have only scored 50 first-half points, while allowing 164 against. Holy moly.
Burning questions: Will the soundtrack to the Ban-Joe Bowl be a funeral dirge? Have the Blue and Gold faithful lost faith? Why are the Football Gods so angry with Winnipeg?
3. Stop Sheets
Kory Sheets ran 19 times for 106 yards in the LDC, becoming the first Saskatchewan tailback to rush for 100-plus yards in 41 regular-season games (Wes Cates last hit the century mark in July 2010).
Why was he able to end that string against the Bombers? Burke explained it away as poor play by the front seven, specifically Henoc Muamba and the linebacker group. He thought Muamba and Co. weren't picking up the run reads fast enough at the point of attack, which is why Sheets was able to penetrate the secondary.
Winnipeg's run defence is ranked seventh in the CFL, allowing an average of 110 yards per game. That needs to come down by about 10-15 yards.
4. Winnipeg's 'woe'
Stop me if you've heard this before, but it's about the offence, guys.
Burke said earlier this week he thought Joey Elliott rushed his throws in Regina; not taking enough time in the pocket to let the routes develop in front of him. It was his first road game and he's a young pivot, plus there is some film on him out there now -- what did you expect?
Finding him a method for success falls to Gary Crowton, who worked alone on his first-ever CFL game plan only to see said plan produce a laughable 102 net yards of offence. The experienced four-down football co-ordinator has admittedly struggled to grasp the CFL game, and his learning curve continues.
If he can't get things to work soon, the Bombers are doomed. Winnipeg put up a big, fat goose egg last game -- which seems impossible in the CFL. The offence can only get better; it can't get any worse.
5. Dr. Darian Durant
The Riders quarterback was borderline surgical in cutting up the Winnipeg defence last week, completing 68 per cent of his passes and rushing for 38 yards before leaving the game in the third quarter with a neck/shoulder injury. He spread the ball around generously, finding seven different receivers and kept the Bombers defence off balance with his ability to escape pressure.
Was anyone surprised? Durant is 6-1 in his career against the Blue and Gold. Winnipeg has to do a better job of confusing him at the line of scrimmage. If they don't, get ready to pull the sheet again.
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