CFL Pass

Vanstone: Bombers are still the Riders' best matchup

Not for the first time, it must be declared: I unreservedly agree with my column.

Admittedly, the resolve was wavering as I revisited the content of Saturday’s offering, in which it was asserted that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers would provide preferable opposition for the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the CFL’s 2019 West Division final.

The headline went as far as to implore Roughriders fans to root for Winnipeg to defeat the host Calgary Stampeders in a divisional semi-final on Sunday at McMahon Stadium.

Winnipeg went on to McMahon-handle the Stampeders, 35-14, icing the game by scoring the final 30 points.

With the lopsidedness of that upset victory still resonating, should I reconsider (or recant) my contention that the Blue Bombers are a better opponent for the Roughriders than the Stampeders would have been?

“No,” CKRM football analyst Luc Mullinder responded on Tuesday, when he was the special guest on the Regina Leader-Post’s weekly Rider Rumblings video podcast.

“I think that if you line the Bombers up and the Calgary Stampeders up, I would prefer that the Saskatchewan Roughriders — if it’s about a win — would play the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

“When you have a team that literally puts all their cards on the table in the game before you play them, there’s no surprises now.”

Blue Bombers offensive co-ordinator Paul LaPolice added an element of surprise by using quarterback Chris Streveler as a complement to starter Zach Collaros.

While enduring a foot injury, Streveler rushed 13 times for a game-high 82 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown.

Streveler did not unfurl a single pass in 23 snaps, leaving the aerial football to Collaros.

The Stampeders were utterly bamboozled — much like they were, remember, back in 1997, when the visiting Roughriders surprisingly unveiled a quarterback-option package in the West semi-final and the host Calgary squad was powerless to stop the running of Reggie Slack.

“What we saw was a Calgary team that was unprepared for Chris Streveler,” Mulllinder said. “I think they had prepared during the week as if he might be playing. I don’t think they prepared for a direct package and how it was actually going to be implemented within the whole scheme for Winnipeg.

“Fortunately for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, you see it. You see the balance and potential that it now has with Chris Streveler being in the lineup and how LaPo unrolls it, especially throughout some of the situations.”

But much of the mystery is gone.

Streveler’s presence on the field virtually ensures that the Bombers will run the ball — with the quarterback, tailback Andrew Harris, or slotback Nic Demski.

“I think that the best part about that is it’s actually not a threat,” Mullinder said. “It is what it is.

“When Streveler goes in there, I look at the Saskatchewan Roughriders and say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to play man defence. You’ve got Streveler. You’ve got Andrew Harris. You’ve got Nic Demski. We’re going to line up. Wherever those guys are, because we’re in man (coverage), that’s where we’re going to be. Just don’t get out-leveraged.’

“If Demski goes from the left side to the right side, you’ve got to follow him. But if you’re going to follow him, you’ve got to be even with him. You can’t be behind him, because if he goes into the flat, you’re automatically out-leveraged.”

This is all easier said than done, of course.

The Bombers are an estimable foe, given the manner in which they dispatched the thrice-intercepted Bo Levi Mitchell and his Calgary cohorts from the playoffs.

The ingenious LaPolice can always transform a CFL game into a three-down version of Madden.

Bombers defensive end Willie Jefferson is eminently capable of taking over a game.

But the Bombers remain a third-place team that is quarterbacked by Collaros and Streveler — neither of whom should impede the West-leading Roughriders from advancing to the 107th Grey Cup game.

As quarterback combos go, we aren’t exactly talking about Tom Wilkinson/Warren Moon, Tracy Ham/Matt Dunigan, Dunigan/Damon Allen or Kent Austin/Tom Burgess.

Given a choice between Collaros/Streveler or the more-accomplished Mitchell, opt for the two-headed quarterback every time.

Of this, I am absolutely certain … maybe.