West semi pre­view

A po­si­tion-by-po­si­tion look at the West semi­fi­nal be­tween the Bombers and Roughrid­ers

Winnipeg Sun - - SPORTS - TED WY­MAN THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

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.

QUAR­TER­BACKS

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

RUN­NING BACKS

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.

Ad­van­tage: Bombers

RE­CEIVERS

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

OF­FEN­SIVE LINE

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

DE­FEN­SIVE LINE

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).

Ad­van­tage: Rid­ers

LINEBACK­ERS

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.

Ad­van­tage: Rid­ers

DE­FEN­SIVE BACKS

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.

Ad­van­tage: Rid­ers

KICK­ING

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).

Ad­van­tage: Bombers

KICK RE­TURNS

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.

Ad­van­tage: Rid­ers

COACH­ING

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

KEVIN KING/WIN­NIPEG SUN

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.

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

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.

AN­DREW HAR­RIS

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