Five storylines to ponder heading into tonight's Winnipeg-Ottawa clash at TD Place Stadium:

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Five storylines to ponder heading into tonight's Winnipeg-Ottawa clash at TD Place Stadium:

 

Winnipeg quarterback Drew Willy was under duress for much of the Blue Bombers' narrow July 3 win over Ottawa.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Winnipeg quarterback Drew Willy was under duress for much of the Blue Bombers' narrow July 3 win over Ottawa.

1. Someone's got to win, right? Right??

The only team in the CFL that has struggled more than the Winnipeg Blue Bombers -- who are riding a four-game losing streak and have lost six of their last seven games -- is the Ottawa Redblacks, who have lost nine in a row.

Thus, you get this eye-popping stat heading into tonight's game: Winnipeg and Ottawa combined for a 1-14 record in the months of August and September.

While that's a stark statistic suggestive of two teams in free-fall, there is a caveat: While both teams have been losing -- lots -- their margins of defeat have actually been very narrow, suggesting they are maybe better than they appear.

Ottawa has lost its last three games by a combined total of 13 points, while three of Winnipeg's last four losses have come by margins of six points or fewer.

Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea says the film on Ottawa he's seen shows a team that's not far off.

"I don't see a bad team, that's for sure," O'Shea said.

"They've been in some very, very tight games... There's just some moments in their game where there's maybe a letdown and it snowballs a little bit."

 

2. Can the Bombers keep Drew Willy vertical?

The Bombers have given up 48 sacks this season -- a whopping 30 more than Calgary, who lead the league in that category.

And they've given up all those sacks while recording just 34 of their own, a differential of minus-14 that goes a long way to explaining both their losing record and why Willy was so sore this week he didn't even practise on Day 1.

How bad has it gotten? Well, consider this: Willy, who never complains about anything, ever, came close to doing just that when he was asked about the protection he's been getting lately.

"You don't want to take as many hits as last game, obviously," Willy said this week, referencing the five times he was sacked last weekend in a 16-11 loss to the Hamilton.

Offensive tackle Glenn January agreed his unit needs to do a better job.

"Last week we obviously didn't perform the way we expect to," said January.

"Drew is such a special talent that you have to make sure he gets time and is upright and feels comfortable in the pocket."

 

3. Can the Bombers defence rise to the occasion?

With the Bombers struggling to put points on the board -- scoring just 20 combined in their last two games -- the defence needs to be a dominating force.

And they're good with that.

"That's the attitude the coaches instilled in us since the beginning of the season, so that's nothing new to us," said Bombers linebacker E.J. Kuale.

"We just have to step up if our offence is not able to score.

"Then, I guess we'll have to score on defence. But we've got to stick in this together and do it together."

 

4. Will Winnipeg's special teams stop dropping the ball?

A blocked punt by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats last week was just the latest costly miscue by the Bombers special teams -- and the ensuing Ticats' touchdown proved to be the winning margin in a 16-11 Hamilton victory.

O'Shea pledged the special teams unit will not let down his team again this week.

"Our players won't let it -- that's the bottom line," he said. "Those guys are not going to let it happen again," he said.

 

5. Who wants it more late?

Both the Bombers and Redblacks have lost a lot of close games lately and both have been guilty of fourth-quarter breakdowns.

Winnipeg used to win those kinds of games -- three of their first five victories this season came on fourth-quarter rallies.

But lately it's been the opposite story, with three of their last six losses coming in fourth-quarter collapses.

It's been the latter story all year long for a fledgling Ottawa franchise that looks like it's still learning how to win in a 1-11 season that has been a lot more competitive than it might appear by just looking at the standings.

If this game comes down to the fourth quarter, it will be interesting to see which team wants it more.

 

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Paul Wiecek

Paul Wiecek
Reporter (retired)

Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.

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