Life is back to normal for Drew Willy and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The Bombers had to play two games within a five-day span last week, with predictable results. Winnipeg dropped a 23-17 home decision to the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Aug. 7, then suffered a 38-21 setback in Toronto on Aug. 12.
The two losses dropped Winnipeg (5-3) into a tie for third with Saskatchewan (5-2) and B.C. (5-3) in the West Division. Edmonton and Calgary are first with identical 6-1 records.
Not only should the Bombers be well rested but they host the Montreal Alouettes (1-6) on Friday night. West teams have dominated their Eastern brethren, amassing an amazing 20-3 head-to-head record.
Now, it was close last week. Toronto beat Winnipeg while Edmonton, Calgary and Saskatchewan went to the wire before emerging victorious over their Eastern rivals.
The Argos, playing their second game in five nights, briefly led B.C. in the second half before dropping a 33-17 decision.
Willy, who has twice rallied Winnipeg to stirring, last-minute wins this season, didn’t enjoy such magic last week. He threw for 303 yards and a TD versus Saskatchewan but also had three interceptions.
Then against Toronto, Willy had two TD passes and completed 22-of-31 attempts but for only 183 yards. The two losses fully exposed the Winnipeg defence’s Achilles heel.
Saskatchewan’s Jerome Messam rushed for 126 yards — all in the second half — against Winnipeg, which also surrendered 174 rushing yards against Toronto. The Bombers are allowing 116.1 yards rushing per game this year, with only Ottawa (121 yards per game) giving up more.
And even with Nic Grigsby (league-high 416 yards rushing), the Bombers sport the CFL’s worst rushing attack, averaging just 70 yards per contest. That puts the onus on the aerial game — which is ranked second overall — to generate points for Winnipeg.
Winnipeg needed a late Willy TD strike to beat the Alouettes 34-33 in Montreal on July 11.
But points have been a problem for a Montreal offence averaging a league-low 15.8 per game. The Alouettes, losers of five straight, are also last in passing yards (179 per game).
With former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith injured, former Bomber Alex Brink started against Saskatchewan last week. He completed 19-of-31 passes for 187 yards with an interception while being sacked three times by CFL leader John Chick (11 this season).
Receiver Duron Carter had the game’s biggest play, but it was returning a missed field goal 122 yards for the touchdown. Until Montreal gets more production from its quarterbacks, the offensive struggles will continue.
Pick — Winnipeg.
Toronto Argonauts versus Edmonton Eskimos, 4 p.m. ET on Saturday.
Slowly but surely, Toronto’s walking wounded are returning. Veteran receiver Jason Barnes was back in the lineup for Sunday night’s 33-17 home loss to B.C. after recovering from a knee injury and slotback Chad Owens (foot) could be back soon.
That would indeed be good news for Toronto (3-5), which despite being without many of its top offensive stars has still managed to fashion a four-point lead atop the East Division standings. Adding to it, though, will be tough.
Former Argos defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones has Edmonton (6-1) an impressive 4-0 against East Division teams.
Offensively, quarterback Mike Reilly can beat a defence with his arm or legs and has the CFL’s leading receiver in Adarius Bowman, who is filling the void left by injured star Fred Stamps. However John White, who ran for 102 first-half yards against Montreal, missed the second half with a hand injury.
Toronto quarterback Ricky Ray makes another return to Edmonton, this time as the CFL’s passing leader (2,165 yards) but threw two interceptions against B.C, one which was returned for a TD. Not only do the Eskimos boast a defence allowing just 16.4 points per game, but their offence also leads the league in time of possession — almost 32 minutes per game.
Pick — Edmonton.
Calgary Stampeders versus Ottawa Redblacks, 3 p.m. ET on Sunday.
Just what Ottawa (1-6) needs to hear. Running back Jon Cornish, the CFL’s outstanding player and leading rusher last year, plans to return to Calgary’s lineup after being out since the first game of the season with concussion symptoms.
While that’s good news for the Stampeders (6-1), it’s unfortunate for veteran Hugh Charles. He ran for 102 yards in a 30-20 road win over Hamilton on Saturday in his Calgary debut.
Ottawa is allowing 121 yards rushing and 28.4 points per game — both league highs — but dropped a heart-breaking 10-8 loss to Edmonton on a late field goal. Calgary beat the Redblacks 38-17 at McMahon on Aug. 9.
Pick — Calgary.
Saskatchewan versus B.C. Lions, 7 p.m. ET on Sunday.
The game of the week featuring two top defences.
Chick anchors a Riders unit leading the league in sacks (29) and third in points allowed (19.3). Stalwart linebackers Solomon Elimimian (league-high 61 tackles) and Adam Bighill (33 tackles) anchor a B.C. defence ranked first against the pass (203.5 per game) and second in fewest yards allowed (284.1).
Veteran defensive back Dante Marsh returns for B.C. (5-3) after missing the win over Toronto. Stefan Logan ran for 145 yards against the Argos but Andrew Harris (foot) is expected back against Saskatchewan.
While Chick — deservedly — has garnered much of the attention with the Riders (5-2), Messam was dominant against Montreal with 126 second-half yards. The burly running back has 194 yards rushing on 32 carries, a solid 6.1-yard average.
The Riders are a run-first offence — 131.9 yards per game, second only to Edmonton (134.9) — but they’re ranked second-last through the air (206.1 yards per game). It could get interesting if Saskatchewan falls behind and must throw against B.C.
B.C. won the first meeting 26-13 in Regina on July 12.
Pick — Saskatchewan.
Last week: 4-1.