Winnipeg at Saskatchewan - West Semi Final Showdown
Published: Friday, Nov 9th 2018, 1:11pm
By: Stephen Safinuk (@Safimod)
After a long 21 week season, the Grey Cup Playoffs have finally arrived. This Sunday, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers travel to Regina to take on the 2nd place Saskatchewan Roughriders in what many predict may be the best game of the CFL playoffs.
The Riders won the season series (2-1) on the strength of back to back wins in the Labour Day/Banjo Bowl home and home series. The Bombers did come back and win the final meeting of the season in dominating fashion to give Winnipeg some hope heading in to the first playoff matchup between these two teams since 1975 (which the Riders won).
Let’s take a look at some of the keys to this Semi Final Matchup
Win the Turnover Battle
I cannot stress the important of this key enough. In the CFL if you win the turnover battle, more often than not, you win the game. That has certainly been the case for both of these teams in 2018. Both Saskatchewan and Winnipeg are undefeated this season when winning the turnover battle. Simply put – the Riders need to protect the football, which is always more difficult to do when the weather turns cold and the ball gets a little harder, and comes in with a little more oomph. With a group of young receivers, many of whom haven’t played a game in temperatures below 0, this will be huge. It isn’t exactly a bold prediction, but I will say it anyways. The team that wins the turnover battle on Sunday will win this game.
Protect Zach Collaros
Every week, this key finds itself on the list of important factors in a game, and never has that been more important than this week. After suffering his 3rd concussion of the 2018 season, Zach Collaros cannot afford to take any unnecessary hits. The Bombers certainly won’t look to hold back, as their odds of winning rise dramatically if Brandon Bridge or (god forbid) Drew Tate find themselves behind center for any meaningful amount of time. The Riders offensive line has done a solid job of this all season long, finishing the season with the fewest sacks given up while also finish 2nd in rushing yards per game. Give Collaros time to go through his reads without constantly looking over his shoulder, and I like our chances.
Stop Andrew Harris
The Riders defense has done a great job this season, with the exception of the first half of Labour Day, with keeping Andrew Harris contained. With the weather expecting to dip below -10, they will likely see a healthy dose of the hard-nosed running back both in the running game and as a check down option. He is the key to the Bombers offense, and if they can contain him, their chances of success skyrocket.
Don’t Give Up Big Plays
This goes both ways. If the unthinkable happens, and the Rider offense turns the ball over, they need to keep those turnovers out of the end zone and let the defense come out and do what they do best and keep those mistakes to 0 or 3 points. On the flip side, the Riders gave up touchdown plays of 72 yards (Darvin Adams) and 32 yards (Weston Dressler) in the 31-0 defeat in October. Not to mention several other plays of 30+ yards throughout their matchup. If the Bombers are to score, the Riders defense needs to make them earn it, marching up the field.
As mentioned several times, the weather is expecting to be -10 at kickoff, which is not fun weather to be playing football in. The ball is harder, the hits hurt more, and it’s harder to stay loose. Players need to keep moving, especially on the sidelines, to keep the blood flowing and stay warm.
Keep the Crowd in the Game
This key is almost as important as the turnover battle. The Riders need to make sure and take advantage of the Mosaic Stadium atmosphere, and keep the crowd in it. Easiest way to do that is to score early, and score often. Failing that, the Riders need to look for big plays on both sides of the ball that get the crowd on their feet. Nothing gets a crowd going like a huge sack, a long completion (or touchdown) or big special teams play. I still remember the electric crowd on November 11th, 2007. I’m still not sure I ever heard Taylor Field louder than when DJ Flick took the opening offensive play for a 61 yard touchdown en route to that 26-24 victory over Calgary. Those kinds of starts, and those kinds of plays, get a crowd into it early.
On the flip side, we cannot allow Winnipeg to take the crowd out of it quickly. Both sides of the ball need to make sure they don’t give Winnipeg fans anything to get riled up about early in the contest. Protect the ball and keep Winnipeg out of the end zone early (and often, would be great too).
These two teams match up very well. Both teams have offenses that can march the field, but the Winnipeg offense did a far better job of finishing drives. On the flip side, the Riders defense showed consistently throughout the year that they will make you pay instantly for mistakes and special team’s coverage problems. I give Winnipeg the edge offensively, Saskatchewan the edge defensively, and Saskatchewan the edge on Special Teams (mostly from their ability to flip the field on almost any return). This game will be close, but I have the final score as….
Riders 27 Winnipeg 23