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August 8, 2019

Game Preview | CGY vs WPG

Winnipeg Blue Bombers #13 Chris Matthews

Presented by:

WEEK 9 | CALGARY STAMPEDERS (5-2) at WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (5-2)

THE 4-1-1

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., Thursday, IG Field
TV: TSN, RDS, ESPN+
Radio: 680 CJOB
Vegas line: The Bombers are favoured by eight points.
The forecast: Sunny, with a high of 25C.
Home/Road: The Bombers are 3-0 at home this year and 2-0 vs. West Division opponents. Calgary is 2-1 on the road this year and 3-0 vs. the West.
Recent history: The Bombers are coming off an 0-2 road trip to southern Ontario that saw them drop games in Hamilton (23-15) and in Toronto (28-27). Calgary is riding a three-game win streak that includes victories over Edmonton (24-18), Ottawa (17-16) and Toronto (26-16).
Series (since 1945): The Bombers are 92-111 overall against the Stamps, and went 1-1 in their two regular season games last year before falling 22-14  in the West Final.


3 STORYLINES

1. WEST DIVISION SHOWDOWN/WEST FINAL REMATCH

It will be 263 days since the Bombers and Stamps last met, dating back to the West Final last November 18 and a 22-14 Calgary win. That seems like eons ago, but these two clubs have combined to post the best regular season records in the Canadian Football League dating back to 2016 – the Stamps a remarkable 46-13-2 over that span, with the Bombers a solid 38-23.

What’s interesting is the so-called predicted demise of the Stamps – they did lose Alex Singleton, Ja’Gared Davis, Micah Johnson, DaVaris Daniels, Tunde Adeleke and Lemar Durant in the offseason, along with defensive coordinator DeVone Claybrooks, now the head coach in B.C. – has obviously been grossly exaggerated.

That’s just part of what makes Thursday such a compelling matchup.

“Organizationally they’re good from the top down and continually bring in good people,” said Bombers QB Matt Nichols. “Every year everyone on the outside says, ‘Maybe this is the year that Calgary doesn’t play the same way they always do.’ They find a way to just play good, clean football, they have a lot of talented football players and they just do a good job of week in and week out showing up and playing clean football and that allows them to win a lot of games.

“To me (the Calgary downfall) wasn’t anything I was buying into. Every time I was lining up against them I knew it was going to be a great football team and this year’s no different, this week’s no different. They know what they like to do, they’re very good at it. You know what you’re going to get, it’s just a matter of going out and executing and beating them.”

Worth noting: this will be the first time since August 20, 1982 that Winnipeg and Calgary will play for sole possession of first place in the West.

2. REDISCOVER THAT O MOJO

There was a lot to like about the Bombers offensive numbers through the first 28 minutes or so of last week’s 28-27 loss in Toronto. They had built up a 20-0 lead in the first half, but looked like an entirely different squad in the closing moments before the intermission – when the Argos put up 10 unanswered points – and, aside from one scoring drive in the second half, were unable to move the ball consistently.

That’s the critical part for the Bombers offence now as it attempts to take another step. The Bombers rank second in offensive points (28.1), first in offensive TDs (23), first in passing TDs (15), second in rushing (140.3), yet rank fifth in average plays from scrimmage (55.9) and are tied for the second most two-and-outs (44).

Finding some consistency, clearly, is key.

“It’s small stuff,” said Bombers receiver Drew Wolitarsky. “Obviously, there are turnovers and we have to try and limit those. But there are times where we needed to just make one drive and kill the clock and then we don’t and have to punt.

“We have to stay on the field and do our thing. We can’t get lazy out there… we’re up 20 points with a few minutes left in the half. We have to keep pushing it because every play matters and field position can be huge. Just getting the ball out of your own end is crucial.

“The consistency has to come on an individual basis as well,” he added. “There were mistakes we all want back. You’ve got to come out every game playing your best game. That’s something we have to be reminded of.”

3. SPECIAL FORCES

The Bombers and Stamps have featured the CFL’s best special teams units over the last few years and so Thursday will be a showcase of the foot soldiers who make up the special forces. Winnipeg’s units served up a punt block by Shayne Gauthier in last week’s loss that led to a field goal, but will also be introducing another new punt returner against the Stamps in Janarion Grant, who replaces Mike Jones, who replaced Kenny Walker who replaced Charles Nelson when he was injured.

Calgary got a 103-yard kickoff return TD from Terry Williams in last week’s win over Edmonton, marking the 14th return score already in the CFL – a new record. Williams ranks second in punt-return and third in kickoff-return yardage.

“They do have good returners, not just a returner,” said Bombers head coach Mike OShea. “They seem to execute their plans well, they block hard and there’s certainly a continuity in terms of the guys that are blocking. Their core teamers are all in and they work extremely hard to spring their guys.

“They present a challenge. Their special teams have done a great job the first part of the season giving their offence good position and scoring.”

THE QBS

  • Winnipeg’s Matt Nichols is 43-28 as a starter in the CFL. The Bombers are 35-17 with him at the controls dating back to late July of 2016.
  • Calgary welcomed back veteran QB Bo Levi Mitchell – last year’s Most Outstanding Player – to practice this week after he’s been on the shelf since suffering a pectoral injury in late June. Expect Nick Arbuckle to get the nod, however, as the Stamps have gone 4-1 in games he has started this year.

3 BOMBERS TO WATCH

#33 Andrew Harris, RB: He leads the CFL in rushing with 646 yards through seven games. The reigning back-to-back rushing champ is arguably playing the best football of his career. He had 152 yards along the ground last week, the 24th 100-yard game in his career.

#2 Jonathan Kongbo, DE: Kongbo will get even more snaps on the starting defence with Jackson Jeffcoat now on the injured list. He is very green, but has already flashed the skillset that made him the fifth-overall pick in the 2019 CFL Draft.

#80 Janarion Grant, WR/KR: The former Rutgers star will make his Bombers debut after playing two games with the Baltimore Ravens and getting a look from Hamilton. He had three return touchdowns for Rutgers as a junior in 2015, a year in which he was named Second Team All-Big Ten.

X FACTOR

#36 Mercy Maston, DB: The former Edmonton Eskimo was just added last weekend in the wake of the injury to Brandon Alexander. He can play corner or on the inside and was taking reps earlier in the week in Alexander’s spot before Chris Humes returned from a day off practice. He could get some reps in passing situations.

NOTABLE:

The Bombers are making four changes to their roster for this week’s game. Added are WR/KR Janarion Grant, Canadian WR Malcolm Williams, LB Korey Jones and DB Mercy Maston. Coming off are WR Rasheed Bailey, DB Mike Jones, DB Dexter Janke (moved to one-game injured) and DE Jackson Jeffcoat (moved to six-game injured list).

JUICY NUMBER: 6

The Bombers have won six straight home games dating back to last September. A seventh win match their longest home winning streak since 2002-03.

FYI

  • The Bombers gave up a 20-point lead in last week’s 28-27 loss to Toronto, equalling the longest blown lead in club history (September 20, 2013 vs. Edmonton, a 35-27 loss).
  • These two sides have split their meetings in the last two years, but Calgary holds a 15-3 advantage in the last 18 games against Winnipeg.
  • Adam Bighill’s 10-tackle effort in last week’s loss to Toronto was the eighth double-digit tackle game in his career.
  • Stamps DE Cordarro Law has six sacks in his last five games.
  • The 50/50 draw Thursday night will start at $100,000, with the winner taking home half of the total funds. It’s also Military Appreciation Night and the band Crown Lands will be featured at halftime as part of the Concert Series. The tailgate area opens at 5:30 p.m. with a pre-game special of $10 for a hot dog and a tallboy can of Budweiser or Bud Light.

QUOTABLE:

“Ever since I’ve been here we’ve been in first. We got off to a good roll for the organization and these two games we dropped, we don’t want that to put a damper on our season. It’s early. We know what we’re good at, we know the things we need to fix. It’s the little things… they’re major for us right now.” – Bombers DE Willie Jefferson.