West semi preview
A position-by-position look at the West semifinal between the Bombers and Roughriders
The combatants in the CFL’S West Division semifinal are familiar with one another.
They play home-and-home rivalry games every September, met three times in each of the last two seasons and have the two fan bases that seemingly care most about beating one another.
They also match up extremely well, with Winnipeg having a more productive offence and Saskatchewan having a defence that can stifle any opponent and scored an absurd number of touchdowns in the 2018 regular season.
With that in mind, here’s a close-up look at each position and how the two teams stack up.
Unlike for last year’s playoff game, the Bombers have a healthy Matt Nichols under centre and an excellent backup in rookie Chris Streveler. Both are sure to see action Sunday, with Streveler handling short yardage and occasionally staying in to run or pass the football and keep the defence off-balance. The Riders have starter Zach Collaros coming off a concussion and while his status is somewhat unclear, the scenario behind him is even more muddied. Brandon Bridge and David Watford have been the backups all year, but the team signed veteran Drew Tate, a short-yardage specialist, just last week. How they’ll use their quarterbacks, at this point, is anybody’s guess. Advantage: Bombers
Winnipeg led the CFL in rushing with 135 yards per game, while the Riders finished second with 111 yards per game. The Bombers attack, featuring
CFL rushing leader Andrew Harris (1,390 yards) is tough to stop, though the Riders did it in two of the three games between the teams this season. Saskatchewan’s leading rusher, Tre Mason, will not play this
week and it’s expected to be Cameron Marshall (220 yards this season) who gets the bulk of the carries.
Neither team set the world on fire in the receiving department this season, though Darvin Adams of the Bombers went over 1,000 yards and scored 10 touchdowns to earn an all-star nod. Jordan Williams lambert of the Riders is the West Division finalist for rookie of the year after he caught 62 passes for 764 yards and four touchdowns. Shaq Evans was the Riders leading receiver with 50 catches and 785 yards, which left him 13th in the CFL. The Bombers also have veteran slotbacks Weston Dressler and Nic Demski, though neither put up huge numbers this season. Advantage: Bombers
The Bombers placed three offensive linemen on the West Division all-star team and tackle Stanley Bryant is the division finalist for most outstanding offensive lineman for the second straight year. They are a group that can protect the quarterback and open big holes for the running backs and took great pride in the fact that the Bombers led the league in rushing yards per game (135) by a wide margin. The Riders have all-star guard Brendon Labatte, and a capable group of linemen around him — they allowed only 27 sacks this year to the Bombers 36 — but they’ve been a bit banged up and the Bombers are healthy. Advantage: Bombers
The Riders have, hands-down, the best defensive line in the CFL, with ends Willie Jefferson and Charleston Hughes leading the way. Hughes had a league-high 15 sacks, while Jefferson had 10. Jefferson, the team’s nominee for most outstanding player, also had two interceptions, both for touchdowns. Their inside linemen have been strong as well and the Riders are second in the league against the run, allowing 91.9 yards per game. Winnipeg’s defensive line has been steady all season, with Drake Nevis and Brandin Bryant doing solid work in the middle and a rotation of Jackson Jeffcoat, Craig Roh and Tristan Okpalaugo working the ends. They are not as dynamic as the Riders but generated the same numbers of quarterback sacks (45) and were third against the rush (95.5 yards per game).
The Bombers have the best defensive player in the West Division in middle linebacker Adam Bighill, but they will likely be missing starting weak-side linebacker Jovan Santos-knox, who got injured in the season finale against Edmonton. The Riders have a terrific weak-side linebacker in Samuel Eguavoen and a very strong dime back in Derrick Moncrief, and, believe or not, are happy with the work of former Bomber Sam Hurl in the middle. We’ll give Moncrief a slight edge over Bombers dime back Anthony Gaitor and Eguavoen an edge over second-string weak-side Ian Wild, which offsets the huge advantage of Bighill over Hurl.
Both teams have ball hawks in the defensive backfield and an all-star apiece in Riders halfback Ed Gainey and Bombers safety Taylor Loffler. Saskatchewan tied for the league lead with 21 interceptions, while the Bombers had 19. Where the Riders really made their mark was in scoring defensive touchdowns — they had a remarkable 11 touchdowns on defence — and that could be what gives them the edge in this matchup. The Riders finished third in the league against the pass (245 yards per game), while the Bombers finished fifth (264). This is close to a toss-up but the Riders have been the bigger game-breakers all year and that gives them the edge.
The Bombers have one of the best kickers in the history of the CFL in Justin Medlock, who has distance and accuracy on his side. Brett Lauther has been just as good this season (90% to Medlock’s 89.4%) so that is clearly a toss-up. The Bombers may have a slight edge in the punting game, where Medlock leads in average yards (44.5 to 40.9), net yards (36.7 to 33.4) and punts inside the 10-yard line (13 to 10).
This one is not even close. The Riders had four kick-return touchdowns this season, two on punt returns by Kyran Moore, one on a punt return by Christion Jones and one on a kickoff return by Marcus Thigpen. The Bombers’ only kick-return touchdown of the season was on a missed field goal return by Kevin Fogg in the first game of the season. Since then they’ve been terrible at kick returns. This could be a big problem on Sunday, when it’s supposed to be a high temperature of just minus-10 C and there will almost certainly be lots of punts.
Bombers coach Mike O’shea has coached in two playoff games and on both occasions he made critical mistakes that cost his team. Chris Jones won a Grey Cup with Edmonton and has done a great job with the Riders this season, especially on the defensive side of the ball. In this contest, Jones will match minds with Bombers offensive co-ordinator Paul Lapolice, who is creative and has many weapons to deploy. Riders offensive co-ordinator Stephen Mcadoo has taken a conservative approach all season and saw his team fail to score an offensive touchdown in the last two games against Richie Hall’s defence. Advantage: Riders
Blue Bombers’ MattNichols (right) gives the Blue Bombers the edge at quarterback over the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Below: It’s unclear whether Zach Collaros will even play in Sunday’s West semifinal.
Above: Roughriders’ Charleston Hughes sacks Hamilton Tiger-cats quarterback Jeremiah Masoli during a July game. Hughes led the league with 15 sacks this season. Below left: Blue Bombers’ Justin Medlock is one of the best kickers in CFL history.