There was no proverbial switch to be flipped and no need for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to shift into some sort of mystical playoff gear.
It’s true, the defending Grey Cup champions now have an opponent for Sunday’s Western Final at IG Field in the Saskatchewan Roughriders, but their approach as their playoff week unfolds already looks, sounds and feels just like every other moment over these past few months.
“It’s been this way all season,” said Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros in a press conference on Tuesday. “On off days it’s usually a full house (around the locker room), unless we have the COVID-protocol where we’re getting tested and not allowed in the building. It’s a veteran team, it’s the culture, it’s the standard that’s been set here.
“Each position group the leaders are in here on the off days wanting to get better. There’s a time and place about when to step away. But I could feel it all season long – guys just wanting to continue to try and get better with their craft and learn more about the game and all those things.”
The Bombers are currently 8-point favourites for Sunday’s divisional final after sweeping the Roughriders during the regular season in their annual Labour Day Classic/Banjo Bowl doubleheader. This is a squad that also had 15 players named to the West Division All-Star team and three players who are finalists for the Canadian Football League’s Most Outstanding Player Awards.
And if anyone thinks that extra kind of attention will somehow be a distraction for the home side on Sunday, well, they certainly haven’t been following along this season. This team is always all in on the moment with the belief taking care of those details will lead to success in the big picture. It’s also a veteran squad that has been there/done that before and that straightforward vibe, mood, atmosphere – whatever you want to call it – has been overwhelming since the first day of training camp. Head coach Mike O’Shea used the term ‘workmanlike’ when asked Tuesday to describe his team’s demeanour this week. And so, not surprisingly, it’s head down and business as usual for Sunday. Just as the boss would have hoped.
“As the head coach and coaches in general you’re always observing – whether it’s the team or your group – for any sort of anomalies or anything you would want to take note of,” said O’Shea. “But when you do have a team that is chock full of veteran guys that have been in big games before there’s just a knowledge and a trust that they’re going to make the right decisions and do the right things. They’ve already been through the process so they know what it takes and they’re going to share that with the younger guys who might not quite get it yet.”
Asked if he’s seen growth in that area even compared to the 2019 Grey Cup run, O’Shea offered this:
“I don’t know if it’s growth. I see the same things, the same workmanlike attitude. It’s a little more matter-of-fact, maybe, if that’s growth. It’s ‘That’s that group, they’re coming in, they’re doing extra film work. Yup. OK, they ordered lunch together and they’re hanging out to watch more film.’ It’s ‘These guys have got this plan… Biggie (Adam Bighill) has asked James (Stanley, linebacker coach) for a couple carded looks of something so he can walk through it with the guys in meeting setting.’
“It’s the things that would normally happen are happening. It just seems like ‘Yeah, yeah… they’ve already got it.’ There’s no need for me to ask them to do it, they’ve already got it figured out.”
Scoring: Wpg: 25.8 (1st); Sask: 20.7 (7th)
Rushing: Wpg: 119.7 (2nd); Sask: 93.0 (5th)
Passing: Wpg: 245.6 (7th); Sask: 233.8 (8th)
Yards per game: Wpg: 353.4 (2nd); Sask: 307.6 (8th)
Sacks allowed: Wpg: 16 (1st); Sask: 40 (T-7th)
Bombers defensive coordinator Richie Hall on Riders QB Cody Fajardo’s scrambling abilities: “You’ve always got to take into consideration the quarterback’s ability to scramble and extend plays and move the chains. It’s stuff that we’ve talked about over the last number of years as far as being very conscious and conscientious regarding when you rush the passer because he does make plays.”
Points allowed: Wpg: 13.4 (1st); Sask: 20.3 (4th)
Rushing yards against: Wpg: 86.6 (3rd); Sask: 82.5 (2nd)
Passing yards against: Wpg: 216.4 (1st); Sask: 273.6 (9th)
Yards per game against: Wpg: 281.3 (1st); Sask: 334.3 (5th)
Sacks: Wpg: 39 (3rd); Sask: 47 (2nd)
Bombers offensive coordinator Buck Pierce on the Riders defence:“They’re playing with confidence, which is a key component of playoff football, and starting to click on that side of the ball. At this point of the season they’ve found their identity of what they want to do. They still do a lot of the same things we’ve seen in the past. They’re well coached, they do a good job of stopping the run. They’re doing a good job in the back end, communicating well and making plays on the ball.”