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October 4, 2019

Game Preview | WPG at SSK

Winnipeg Blue Bombers #37 Brandon Alexander during practice at IG Field October 1, 2019.

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WEEK 17 | WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (9-5) at SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS (9-4)

THE 4-1-1

Kickoff: 6 p.m. CT, Saturday; Mosaic Stadium, Regina
TV: TSN 1/3/4, ESPN+
Radio: 680 CJOB
Vegas line: The Riders are favoured by 5 points.
Home/Road: Saskatchewan is 6-1 at home; Winnipeg is 3-4 on the road
Streaks: Winnipeg: 2L; Saskatchewan: 2W.
Recent history: This will be the third and final regular season meeting between the two clubs this season. Saskatchewan captured the Labour Day Classic with a 19-17 victory; Winnipeg countered with a 35-10 win in the Banjo Bowl a week later.
Series (since 1936): The Bombers lead the all-time series 136-105-4.

3 STORYLINES

1. HELLO, BOMBERS… THIS IS YOUR WAKE-UP CALL

The Bombers lost whatever wiggle room they had over the Riders and Calgary Stampeders with their recent two-game stumble that has dropped them out of first place in the West Division to third, based on winning percentage.

But as we’ve stated before, they still have both hands on the wheel right now with a chance to win the season series against the Riders with a victory on Saturday and a split with the Stamps in their two-game set at the end of the schedule, having won their first matchup in early August.

“We’ve got another opportunity to get back out there and right the wrongs we’ve had from the last two weeks,” said Andrew Harris. “It’s a great opportunity.

“If it was a situation where we couldn’t control our destiny there might be a little bit different vibe, but the work we put in throughout the week and the product we put out on game day needs to be in a winning fashion. So for us to be able to control our destiny is crucial and an opportunity we’re excited about.”

2. TIGHTEN UP, D

They are the kind of numbers that likely had the Bombers’ defensive players cringing while watching game film afterward: over the two-game losing skid, the club surrendered over 800 yards through the air and seven passing touchdowns.

Those are scary totals, given that seven plays against the Alouettes and Tiger-Cats featured pass plays covering 30 yards or more.

“It’s really about getting back to what we’ve done really well in winning football games,” said linebacker Adam Bighill. “We’ve shown we can do a lot of great things, make a lot of plays and cause a lot of problems for people.

“The last two games are not indicative of what we’ve shown and we have to get back to that, especially as we’re talking playoff football and playoff atmosphere now it’s mandatory to get back to playing how we play.

“We’ve been doing a great job holding teams on the run, but we’ve got to stop the pass a little bit more. We’ve got to be a little bit tighter on our responsibilities, we’ve got to be a little better in special situations, whether it’s end of game or whether it’s two, three minutes left on the clock. Playbooks get limited in that sense with offences and we’ve got to be able to understand those situations and play accordingly.”

3. FIND MORE BALANCE, O

Some conflicting offensive numbers came out of the Bombers loss to Hamilton that only fuel the discussion about the occasionally confounding nature of the attack. To that point, Winnipeg continues to lead the CFL in rushing yards per game at 144.8, but ranks last in passing yards per game at 215.6.

Chris Streveler threw for 304 yards against the Ticats – the first 300-yard game by a Bomber QB since Matt Nichols a year ago against Calgary – but a good chunk of those numbers came late.

At the same time the Bombers had just 98 yards rushing, just the third time this year they had not cracked the century mark (the others: vs. Hamilton on July 26 with 63 yards and 83 yards vs. Edmonton in the home opener).

“Hamilton did a good job of keeping us off the field,” said Bombers offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice earlier this week. “When you don’t have a lot of plays you’re not able to do a lot of things. I know Andrew’s rushing numbers were down (10 carries for 37 yards), but also our play count was down.

“You’ve got to make sure you stay on the field against them and be able to run plays. You want to be better on second and long than we were last week. We’ve been good all year on second and long and that was one of our worst all year. You stay on the field and you can keep getting other people touches.”

Further to that, Winnipeg was just 10 of 25 in converting second downs last week – their second-lowest total of the season – and were just two of 12 on second and long (seven yards or more).

THE QBS

  • Winnipeg’s Chris Streveler is 3-6 as a starter over the last two years – 2-3 this year – and 1-1 versus the Riders.
  • Saskatchewan’s Cody Fajardo is 9-3 in his career as a starter, all 12 starts coming this year. He is 1-1 versus the Bombers.

NOTABLE:

The Bombers are making three changes to their 46-man roster this week. Coming aboard are DB Brandon Alexander, DB Nick Taylor and WR Malcolm Williams. Off are WR Drew Wolitarsky, DB Anthony Gaitor and DB Mike Jones.

The changes mean Daniel Petermann will start at receiver for Wolitarsky, Marcus Rios will move from halfback to dimeback for Gaitor, with Taylor sliding into a starter’s role in Rios’ old spot. As well, Brandon Alexander will now start at safety for Jeff Hecht.

Jake Thomas is now listed as a starter at DT over Steven Richardson, to compensate for the Bombers going all-American in the secondary.

3 BOMBERS TO WATCH

#25 Nick Taylor, DB:  The 31-year-old vet, who has 35 games under his belt with Ottawa and Edmonton, is scheduled to make his Bombers debut on Saturday and the club hopes his experience can be a plus.

#33 Andrew Harris, RB: The Bombers’ best player did not suit up in either the Labour Day Classic or Banjo Bowl as he served his two-game suspension. Harris had two of his best games of the season against the Riders last year, rushing for 158 yards on just 15 carries in the Labour Day Classic and then 19 times for 153 yards in the playoff victory last November.

#39 Marcus Rios, DB: He’s a solid cover guy who will move from halfback to dimeback and the spot held down by Anthony Gaitor, easily the most difficult spot to play in the back end of a defence. Gaitor has had a solid season, but did not finish the loss to Hamilton due to injury.

X FACTOR

#37 Brandon Alexander, DB: The change isn’t about pointing the finger at Jeff Hecht, but the Bombers needed to do something in the secondary to offset the yardage surrendered in the last two games. Alexander has the versatility to play virtually every spot in the secondary, but this will be his first at safety since his college days.

JUICY NUMBER | 12

Rushing TDs for Chris Streveler this year, a new record for a Bombers QB. And just two shy of tying the CFL record of 14, set in 1991 by Doug Flutie and tied last season by Toronto’s James Franklin.

Streveler is sixth in the CFL in rushing with 536 yards – first among quarterbacks – and has three rushing TDs in two games against the Riders this year.

MILESTONE WATCH

Andrew Harris has 13,740 career yards from scrimmage (rushing and receiving), ranking him ninth all time. He needs 77 yards to move past Terry Vaughn into eighth spot and is 97 yards behind Nik Lewis at No. 7.

FYI

  • With a victory on Saturday the Bombers would reach the 10-win mark for the fourth consecutive year – a feat not accomplished by the franchise in 32 years dating back to 1984-87.
  • Willie Jefferson leads the CFL with 12 pass knockdowns. A defensive lineman has led the league in pass knockdowns since Fred Perry had 10 in 2006.
  • Riders RB William Powell averaged 15 carries in the first seven games, but has averaged just six carries per game since.
  • Mike Miller’s 22 special-teams tackles is first in the CFL. He needs three more special teams tackles to move past Wade Miller into second spot on the all-time list with 185.
  • Cody Fajardo is the first Rider QB to make his debut and throw for 3,000 yards in his first season. Only 21 QBs in CFL history have posted a 9-3 record in their first 12 starts, as Fajardo has this season.