Bombers have target on their back Perfect record and consective Grey Cups bring out best in opponents

MONTREAL — The Winnipeg Blue Bombers near the midway mark of the CFL season with nary a blemish on their record. At 8-0, Winnipeg remains the class of the league, a reputation only further bolstered following back-to-back Grey Cup titles.

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MONTREAL — The Winnipeg Blue Bombers near the midway mark of the CFL season with nary a blemish on their record. At 8-0, Winnipeg remains the class of the league, a reputation only further bolstered following back-to-back Grey Cup titles.

While the Bombers success has followed them from week to week, the target on their back is only getting bigger. To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best, and though Winnipeg is certainly a tough out, they often inspire and demand the best from the opponent.

Beating the only unbeaten team left is a tall task, and one the Montreal Alouettes will get two consecutive cracks at, with a home-and-home series against the Bombers beginning at Molson Stadium Thursday night. Montreal needs wins to separate themselves from the pack in the lowly East Division, while a victory for Winnipeg can add some more wiggle room atop a competitive group in the West.

“Trevor Harris is a very good quarterback, obviously, he gets rid of the ball quickly,” Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said at the Bombers media availability Wednesday. “Their defence flies around. Running game, even without (William) Stanback, they seem to be able to run the ball a little bit. They got a good roster that play hard — like every team we play.”

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Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea.

With that, here are five storylines to keep an eye on heading into Thursday’s affair.

Battle tested

While the Bombers have yet to lose this season, they have had their doubters at certain points. They’ve been deemed underdogs twice, including last week against the Calgary Stampeders, a game Winnipeg played incredibly well in a 35-28 triumph at McMahon Stadium.

The Stampeders were favoured mainly because they’re a quality team that was coming off the bye week rested and ready. Not many will have the Alouettes victorious this week, but I wouldn’t be so quick to rule them out.

Winnipeg is in the midst of the most gruelling part of its schedule. The Bombers have yet to have a bye this season and are playing their third consecutive road game — and second over a span of six days.

We talk a lot about the quality of coaching the Bombers have and the level of preparation the players put in each week as to why they’re so battle tested. The Bombers are banged up and running on fumes, so with every win they tack on to their current streak, regardless of the opponent, at this point it’s nothing short of an impressive feat.

Winnipeg is in the midst of the most gruelling part of its schedule. The Bombers have yet to have a bye this season and are playing their third consecutive road game– and second over a span of six days.

New era. same results

The Alouettes made the decision to fire head coach Khari Jones and defensive co-ordinator Barron Miles after starting the season a disappointing 1-3. It should be noted that of those three losses, two of them were by a combined four points.

Now under the tutelage of general manager Danny Maciocia, who has taken over as bench boss under an interim title, and new DC Noel Thorpe, the Alouettes haven’t fared much better.

Montreal is 1-2 since canning Jones and have shown few signs of improvement. They surrendered a 31-18 fourth-quarter lead in their first game to lose to the Edmonton Elks, 32-31, eked out a narrow 40-33 victory over the then-winless Ottawa Redblacks that included Darvin Adams inexplicably dropping a game-tying touchdown in the final seconds, and then dropped a 24-17 decision to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats last week.

Time is of the essence, and while their 2-5 mark is nothing to be happy about, the Alouettes are tied with Hamilton for second place in the East, and not far off the Toronto Argonauts (3-3) for top spot. A victory over a solid Bombers team could be the turning point this organization so desperately needs, or another speed bump in what’s been a rocky journey in 2022.

Pressure point

The Bombers will get a big boost with the return of defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat as he makes his way back onto the roster after rehabbing a hip issue the last two games. Winnipeg has been doing just fine in Jeffcoat’s absence, but the inclusion of the CFL all-star to the defensive line can’t be understated.

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The Bombers will get a big boost with the return of defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat as he makes his way back onto the roster after rehabbing a hip issue the last two games.

Winnipeg registered five quarterback sacks versus Edmonton in Week 7, against an inexperienced quarterback in Taylor Cornelius. The Bombers followed that up with none in the Calgary game a week later, though the instincts of veteran pivot Bo Levi Mitchell certainly had a role in that.

While Trevor Harris is a quality QB with years of experience, not to mention a penchant for getting the ball out quickly, the Alouettes have a leaky offensive line. Only the Saskatchewan Roughriders (29) have allowed more sacks against the quarterback this season than Montreal’s 22.

The Alouettes have given up seven sacks over the last two games, including five to Hamilton last week. With Jeffcoat back in the mix, expect him and fellow DE Willie Jefferson to feast this week and provide the spark on what I’m predicting to be another defensive-driven outing.

What about the offence?

That’s a fair point. After all, the win over the Stampeders was arguably the best game of the season for the Bombers attack.

Zach Collaros, who was named a CFL top performer for the month of July, threw four touchdown passes — a pair each to Dalton Schoen and Nic Demski – and Brady Oliveira had his best game as the club’s undisputed starter, racking up 110 rushing yards on 15 carries. You got to give Winnipeg credit, that even when the run game isn’t working, it sticks with it through and through.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

The return of Jackson Jeffcoat to the Winnipg Blue Bombers lineup can only mean trouble for the Montreal Alouettes offence.

Oliveira might just be in line for a solid encore, too, as the Alouettes have averaged the second-most rushing yards against per game (107) and second-most rushing touchdowns (11) this season. Another reason for the Bombers’ success last week was the blocking protection Oliveira provided Collaros to deliver passes and extend plays.

That ability to stop would-be tacklers at the line was one of the bigger concerns following the departure of Andrew Harris. The 24-year-old Oliveira is rounding out his game and that’s only good news for the best team in the CFL.

On a roll

It’s pretty telling that the Bombers can be without their top receiver in Greg Ellingson (hip) and it barely registers as a problem. To be clear, Ellingson is a big piece of this team’s puzzle and he’ll play a significant role upon his return, likely as early as next week.

It’s more about the spotlight currently shining on rookie Dalton Schoen, as the 25-year-old has taken the CFL by storm with six touchdowns, including three in the last two weeks. He’s not only on a roll — he was also named one of the league’s top performers for July — he’s become must-watch TV.

Add in the fact Demski also provided a two-touchdown performance in his return to the lineup last week and the weapons are aplenty. Demski had just started to catch fire before suffering an ankle injury in Week 3, and he should be that much more comfortable — and confident — for the matchup in Montreal.

Jeff.Hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

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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