Bombers facing desperate foe Blue and Gold can't afford to let up against Elks team with backs against the wall

The regular seasons of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Edmonton Elks have been headed in opposite directions since the 2021 CFL season kicked off in early August.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/10/2021 (426 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The regular seasons of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Edmonton Elks have been headed in opposite directions since the 2021 CFL season kicked off in early August.

It’s been smooth sailing for the Blue and Gold, who have amassed a 7-1 record to sit atop the West Division. The Bombers have seen their offence steadily progress in recent weeks and have a defensive group that is the envy of the league, limiting opponents to a CFL-best 13.4 points per game.

Edmonton, well, they can’t seem to be able to dodge drama off the field, and that adversity has led to some major issues on the field, too. The Elks are 2-5, dead last in the West, and they arrive in Winnipeg on a three-game losing streak.

It’s the second time this season these clubs will meet, with Winnipeg beating Edmonton on the road, 37-22, on Sept. 18. They’ll meet again for the third and final time next week, when the Bombers head back to Commonwealth Stadium for a Week 11 matchup.

Needless to say, they’re about to get very comfortable with one another, and Friday’s affair should be a spirited one. Here are five storylines to help get you ready ahead of kickoff.

CP Winnipeg beat Edmonton on the road, 37-22, on Sept. 18. (Jason Franson / The Canadian Press files)

A desperate club

There’s not enough space here to fill in all the things that have gone wrong for the Elks this season. From COVID-19 outbreaks to reports of division in the locker room to the recent controversial firing of analyst, and former Elk, Eddie Steele, from the team broadcast, it’s been hit after hit for the once prominent CFL club.

Indeed, Edmonton has been the proverbial punching bag off the field and an easy beat on it. Things only got worse last week when the Elks lost to the listless Ottawa Redblacks for the second time this season. What’s worse, on paper they appear to be a talented team, even if it hasn’t shown it much this year.

It’s for all those reasons I see this as a massive character game for the Elks. With their backs against the wall and their playoff chances slim, this is a desperate team. Might we see them pull out all the stops to beat the CFL’s best team? Or will it be another dud in what’s quickly feeling like a lost season in the City of Champions?

A win over the Bombers would go a long way to helping flip the script on what’s been a horror story for the Elks.

Harris returns

The Elks have been without their star quarterback the last two games, with Trevor Harris sidelined with a neck injury that flared up midweek following a loss to Calgary in Week 6. Harris was originally placed on the six-game injured list but was lifted from it early last week and has been named the starter for Friday.

The ceiling for the Elks offence is significantly higher with Harris under centre compared to Taylor Cornelius running the controls. When Harris is on his game, he’s as prolific as anyone in the league, and he has weapons around him both in the run game and air attack that can’t be ignored.

But the Elks have struggled to find the end zone in 2021, whether Harris is in or not. Edmonton is seventh in offensive points per game, averaging 18.7, and have just 12 offensive touchdowns, one better than the last-place Redblacks.

Will Harris be able to utilize running back James Wilder Jr., who leads the CFL in yards from scrimmage (781), and some talented receivers in Derel Walker, Greg Ellingson and Teuvan Smith, as well as former University of Manitoba standout Shai Ross, who has come to life in recent weeks?

CP Edmonton Elks quarterback Trevor Harris was sidelined with a neck injury but will return Friday. (Darryl Dyck / The Canadian Press files)

Home Sweet Home

If the Elks are to upset the Bombers, it will have to be done on a field where few visitors have been successful in recent years. It’s almost hard to believe just how dominant Winnipeg has been at home – it doesn’t feel all that long ago we were talking about how tough it used to be for the Bombers to win at IG Field – but that’s exactly what they’ve been, winning 15 of their last 16 games on home turf.

In 2021, the Bombers are a perfect 4-0 at IG Field. They’ve outscored their opponents 90-38 and have been particularly dominant in the second half. Through the final two quarters at home this year, Winnipeg has put up 45 points and surrendered just 10, including two shutouts.

It’s hard to call the Elks road warriors, as they were unable to edge the Redblacks last week, but they are 2-1 away from Commonwealth and 0-4 at home. So, they’ve clearly played better as the visitors.

Next man up

Things were going far too smoothly this season for the Bombers, so you could almost feel an inevitable rough patch to come. Few would have expected, though, it would be in the form of a charge for impaired driving by CFL-leading receiver Kenny Lawler.

Lawler, who leads the league with 703 receiving yards to go with four touchdowns, was arrested earlier this week and has been suspended for Friday’s game, leaving a sizeable hole at receiver. Many figured it would be Naaman Roosevelt’s shot to finally make the game roster, but the Bombers have opted to go back to 24-year-old rookie Kelvin McKnight.

McKnight has played in three games this season, reeling in at least three catches per game for a combined total of 10 receptions for 71 yards. He’s not the biggest guy, standing 5-9 and weighing 189 pounds, but he’s quick and has shown to have a good connection with quarterback Zach Collaros dating back to training camp in July.

While Lawler will be missed, the Bombers offence is deep enough to get by without him, especially against an Elks defence that’s allowed opposing offences an average of 22.1 points per game — better than only Montreal (24.3) and Ottawa (25.6) — and has forced the fewest turnovers, with four.

The Bombers offence, led by quarterback Zach Collaros, is deep enough to get by without leading receiver Kenny Lawler. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Locking things down

I’m confident in saying this is the most focused Bombers club in the years I’ve covered this team. They don’t waver in what head coach Mike O’Shea calls their “process” and they have a genuine respect for every opponent.

They’re also head and shoulders above their competition, which has been obvious over the last month. But it’s the next three weeks that should provide a good test for how locked-in they are.

With a winnable home-and-home series against Edmonton the next two weeks, followed by a home game against the B.C. Lions after that, the Bombers have a good chance to improve to 10-1 before their bye week and potentially lock up the West.

Good teams rise to the occasion and beat beatable teams. The Bombers also know how important it is to lock up that first-round bye. The journey to claiming the West begins Friday.

twitter: @jeffkhamilton

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Willie Jefferson barrels down the side with the ball at Bombers practice at IG Field in Winnipeg on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. For Taylor/Jeff story.Winnipeg Free Press 2021.
Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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