BOMBSHELLS: Bombers know first hand how much things can change in final third of the season
MONTREAL — While they are currently in first place in the very tight West Division, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers proved last season how much things can change in the final six weeks.
At this time a year ago, the Bombers were 5-7 and in last place in the West.
But they went 5-1 over the last six games, finishing at 10-8 and in third place in the division. They then advanced to the West Final after dispatching the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the semifinal.
While their season ended there, their play down the stretch was paramount to their eventual success.
All this is to say that just because they are 9-3 now, it doesn’t mean much. The Bombers have a very tough schedule until the end of the season, with two games against Montreal (currently 6-5), two against Calgary (currently 8-4) and one each against Hamilton (9-3) and Saskatchewan (8-4).
“Every week is good competition,” said Bombers quarterback Chris Streveler, who is 2-1 since taking over for the injured Matt Nichols.
“This is professional football. We don’t look ahead or anything like that because every single week is a test. It’s nearing the end of the season so it’s going to be big games, but every week is a big game.”
But everyone in the CFL knows now that fall has arrived, the biggest games are riding shotgun.
“Every game is crucial,” linebacker Adam Bighill said. “We’ve got three in the East and three in the West and they’re all important.”
The Bombers can clinch a playoff spot this week, but head coach Mike O’Shea has no interest in going there.
“Don’t think about it,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of football left to play and this opponent’s gonna be tough to beat so we’ve got everything focused on that.”
STREVELER OFF SCHEDULE
Streveler has proven to be a quarterback who can make something out of nothing with his feet and his ability to bowl over defenders.
Now, if only he could make things happen the way they were supposed to happen a little more often, the Bombers would be a far more dangerous offensive threat.
“Some of the things he can do when he gets off schedule keep you on the field and then you can run more plays,” offensive co-ordinator Paul LaPolice said.
“Last game, we had something covered on one play and he pulled it down and created. It was maybe a three-yard gain that turned into a 20-yard gain. If we can continue to get our on-schedule stuff better, it’s hard to defend us.”
Steveler was named the CFL’s top performer of the week after leading the Bombers to a 35-10 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Sept. 7. He threw for 186 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 70 yards and two more majors.
“Watching him each game, you see things that he gets better at,” LaPolice said. “He threw the ball well last game and he’ll continue to get better at some of the throws he’s got to make and the pictures he’s got to see. He’s a talented player.”
ALOUETTES CAN RUN
While the Bombers have the best rushing attack in the CFL and the best rush defence, the Alouettes aren’t far behind.
Led by dynamic running back William Stanback, the Alouettes have the league’s second-best rushing game. They average 126.3 yards per game along the ground, while the Bombers are at 146.3.
“I classify him as an NFL-style running back,” Bombers defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall said. “Downhill runner, physical runner. He’s got deceptive speed, but you’ve got to tackle him because he’s a big man and he runs hard. He’s a very physical running back.”
Of course, no team has been able to run against the Bombers this season. They are far and tops in rushing yards allowed at 67.8 per game. The next best is Calgary at 89.6 and Montreal is fourth at 100 yards per game.
That bodes well for their game plan Saturday at Percival Molson Stadium.
“They run the ball well,” Hall said. “We have to stop the run because that’s where everything starts.
“We need to make them one-dimensional and then, on second down, get them off the field. If we’re not able to control the line of scrimmage on first down, then it’s gonna be real tough for us.”
Stanback is fourth in the league in rushing with 746 yards in nine games (Andrew Harris of the Bombers is first at 908 yards in 10 games). The Alouettes also have a quarterback who can run in Vernon Adams, Jr. He has 294 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground.
Bombers defensive end Willie Jefferson, who has established himself as a candidate for the league’s most outstanding player with his performance through 12 game, said the Bombers have a nice advantage this week.
While they were on a bye week, the Alouettes were playing a tough game in Saskatchewan, which they eventually lost 27-25 on a last-minute field goal. The Als had 344 passing yards and 74 rushing yards in the loss.
“The way they played against Saskatchewan last game, we got to sit back and look at it, evaluate that, and then go over there and try to pretty much copy the same thing Saskatchewan did and get a win,” Jefferson said.
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