It’s an easy sell this week.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers (2-0) take on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (0-2) Friday night at IG Field in a rematch of the 2021 and 2019 Grey Cup championship games.
The Bombers, as you know, won both of those and clearly have Hamilton’s number. But the Blue and Gold have made it clear all week: That’s in the past and doesn’t mean anything now.
“We’re a different football team than we were in 2021 or 2019. Same goes for Hamilton and I’m sure they’re approaching it the same way,” said Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros after Thursday’s walkthrough.
“We go into every week thinking we’re going to get everybody’s best shot. It’s professional football.”
The Bombers are coming off back-to-back wins over the Ottawa Redblacks. A win’s a win, but neither performance had the folks in Bomberland beaming with pride. But things could be worse, as the Tabbies are without a victory in 2022 and blew a 24-point lead to the Calgary Stampeders last week. Despite Hamilton’s early struggles, Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea doesn’t envision the Ticats playing like a team that’s desperate for a win.
“The ball is kicked off and you’re playing your play. You’re not worried about what your record is, what it should be, or how you played the last game… I don’t know that I’ve ever known a pro athlete that’s approached a game in desperation,” said O’Shea.
Here are five storylines to watch out for in this Week 3 tilt:
MORE POINTS NEEDED
The Bombers have yet to score 20 points in a game this season. That’s not going to cut it moving forward and the numbers back it up. Between 2015-21, the Bombers went 3-21 when they didn’t put 20 or more points on the scoreboard.
The unit as a whole needs to be better and that starts with Collaros. The Bombers averaged 233.5 passing yards against the Redblacks which puts him in last place in the nine-team loop after two games.
Yes, the chemistry with veteran passcatcher Greg Ellingson has been on full display and rookie Dalton Schoen has impressed, but Nic Demski needs to be more involved.
With Kenny Lawler signing in Edmonton in the offseason for big coin, the assumption was Demski was going to get a bigger slice of the pie.
It’s still early, but Demski has only had a sliver so far as he had one catch for no gain in last week’s 19-12 win at Ottawa. Demski did have a pair of carries for 21 total yards, but that’s not enough action for arguably the most electric player on offence.
OLIVEIRA IS DUE
Speaking of offence, I wrote a story after Week 1 saying how running back Brady Oliveira needs to be better. He improved a bit in Week 2, taking 14 handoffs for 48 yards and catching three passes for 27 yards, but it wasn’t an eye-popping performance. If you look back at his last three games in 2021 and the first two of this season, Oliveira is averaging 3.4 yards per carry on 57 carries 194 yards.
Oliveira taking the baton from Andrew Harris, a fellow Winnipegger and Oak Park High School product, is an incredible story, but let’s be honest: These are not starting running back numbers.
It’s not all on the 24-year-old Oliveira, as the interior line play hasn’t been as dominant as it has been in previous years, and it might drop off more with centre Michael Couture added to the six-game injured list, but if things don’t turn around soon, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Johnny Augustine handle the majority of the carries.
But there’s hope for Oliveira. He shredded the Ticats in Week 1 last season for a career-high 126 rushing yards on 22 attempts. Perhaps a date with the yellow and black is what he needs to get rolling again.
EVANS COSTING TABBIES WITH TURNOVERS
Football isn’t rocket science. If you turn the ball over, you’re probably not going to win. There’s only been one instance this year where a team pulled off a victory despite losing the turnover battle (Toronto Argonauts in last week’s 20-19 result over the Montreal Alouettes).
And that has been the downfall of the Tabbies so far. With Jeremiah Masoli now in Ottawa, the reins have been officially passed to Dane Evans at pivot. But Evans, who left last year’s Grey Cup in the second quarter with a neck injury, leads the league in turnovers with four interceptions and three lost fumbles.
Say what you will about the Bombers, but they are plus-three in the turnover column so far.
But that’s not the only issue with Hamilton’s offence. Oliveira looks like the second coming of Barry Sanders compared to what’s going on in Steeltown. Evans currently leads the team with 23 yards on the ground.
Their run game will have to get going without No. 1 tailback Don Jackson as he’s been taken out of the lineup for ratio reasons. The Tabbies will look to a pair of Canadians at running back in Sean Thomas-Erlington and Maleek Irons.
NO ROSE FOR BOMBERS
Cornerback Winston Rose has been many things this season, but good is not one of them. Rose was in a walking boot briefly after the preseason but hasn’t missed any regular season time until now.
It’s possible his foot played a part in him playing so poorly in the Ottawa series, and if that’s the case, giving him the time to fully heal is the right call. In the meantime, the Bombers will turn to second-year player Demerio Houston in Rose’s spot.
The Bombers have only surrendered one touchdown thus far, but coughing up 711 yards in the air in two games is a cause for concern. Is Houston the answer to the problem? Probably not. But it’ll be interesting to see how the secondary fares with Rose sidelined.
Earlier in the week I asked Willie Jefferson if it’s bugging him he doesn’t have a sack yet.
“I’m not losing sleep, but I’m having more nightmares,” he admitted.
“When my time comes, it’s going to be big and it’s gonna be felt. Bomber nation, just get ready.”
Fellow Texan and star defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, who missed Week 1, didn’t register a sack last week either.
Hamilton’s O-line got torn apart in their opener as the Saskatchewan Roughriders had eight sacks. The unit rebounded in a big way last week with Calgary only taking the quarterback down once.
If the Ticats block like they did against Saskatchewan, Jefferson and Jeffcoat could in for a big night.
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of…
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