Five storylines to consider as the Blue Bombers prepare to host the Argonauts tonight at Canad Inns Stadium:
1. BUCK UP
IF there was any doubt in this community remaining about what a completely different team the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are when Buck Pierce is the starting quarterback, it was settled last Friday in a 34-12 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Pierce has a transformative effect on this team -- and not just on offence or even just on the field. "He's just a winner," Toronto Argonauts head coach Scott Milanovich said of Pierce on Friday. "I put him in the category of (Hamilton running back) Avon Cobourne. These guys just know how to win. They're competitive, they just kind of have that 'it' factor.
2. GROUNDING THE FLYIN' HAWAIIAN
CHAD OWENS is the straw that stirs the Argos drink and finding a way to contain him as a receiver and a kick returner will be as essential to the outcome tonight as it was in their neutralizing of the Ticats' Chris Williams last week.
Both men are sneaky fast and capable of game-breaking plays on both offence and special teams. But Winnipeg found a way to make Williams a non-factor last week and the defence believes a similar scheme can be just as effective against Owens tonight.
"We've got to go in there with the same focus," said linebacker Jovon Johnson. "We've got to go in there with the mindset not to let him make big plays against us that hurt us."
3. JUGGLING JARIOUS
JARIOUS JACKSON hasn't started a game in the CFL since 2010, but he will start for the Argos tonight in place of the injured Ricky Ray.
And that poses a different set of challenges for the Bombers defence than Ray does. While Jackson is nowhere near the artisan that Ray is, he does provide the Argos with a mobility element that Ray doesn't have. Plus, he totally digs the long ball.
Still, a quarterback is a quarterback.
"It makes no difference to me either way," said Johnson. "Nine times out of 10, I'm covering a guy and I've got my back to the quarterback. So I can't see what's going on anyway."
4. HOME COOKING
OVER 26,000 tickets to tonight's game had been sold as of Friday morning and a beautiful weather forecast could result in a sizeable walk-up crowd tonight.
The statistics make it clear the home crowds have made a demonstrable difference for the Bombers.
How else to explain how a team that is 0-6 on the road this season is 3-3 at home. And how else to explain why the Bombers have outscored opponents at home this season 156-140, but have been outscored 237-81 on the road.
5. ROAD RUNNER
WHEN Winnipeg has an effective rushing game, Winnipeg wins.
In the three games the Bombers have won this season, they have averaged 131 total rushing yards. In the nine games they have lost, they have averaged 80 rushing yards.
Step forward, Chad Simpson. The Bombers tailback had 134 rushing yards last week. He's unlikely to get that kind of production against the Argos tonight, but anything over 100 yards and the odds of a Winnipeg victory rise exponentially.