Blue’s dominant defence faces Reilly and potent Lions attack

It’s a meeting between the CFL’s highest-scoring offence and the league’s most dominant defence.

The story heading into Friday night’s matchup in Vancouver between the B.C Lions (4-3) and Winnipeg Blue Bombers (6-1) essentially writes itself.No offence to CFL newcomer Taylor Cornelius and the Edmonton Elks who the Bombers defeated 37-22 at Commonwealth Stadium before their bye week, but this week’s date with Michael Reilly and the Lions will be a much tougher test.

Despite being 36 years old and battling through some injuries earlier in the year, Reilly is playing some of the best football of his career. The 11-year CFL vet is putting himself in the Most Outstanding Player conversation as he’s tossed 10 touchdowns to only one interception and has completed 74.2 per cent of his passes for a league-high 1,870 yards.

“I think injuries are insignificant to (Reilly) because he’s such a competitor. He’s strong as heck, tough as heck, and he wills a team to victory and he wills a team to play at a high level,” said Bombers defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall after Tuesday’s closed practice.

“I think he’s having an outstanding year, but he’s having the type of year that Mike Reilly always has. This is what he’s always capable of doing… When healthy, and even halfway healthy, you see what he’s capable of doing. We have our work cut out for us on Friday night.”

Reilly has taken full advantage of having two of the best receivers in the three-down game: Lucky Whitehead and Bryan Burnham. Whitehead closed out 2019 as a healthy scratch for the Bombers but has taken his game to a whole new level in B.C. since signing there as a free agent in February. The former Dallas Cowboys wideout leads the CFL with 665 receiving yards. Burnham, a three-time CFL all-star, is right behind him in fourth place with 484 yards.

“(Lucky) came to Miami this offseason and we worked out and he ran a route against me and I said ‘Whoah, you got way better from when you were in Winnipeg,’ and he said ‘Yeah, I’ve been working, man,’” said Bombers defensive back Nick Taylor. “… Then he got paired with Michael Reilly and I said ‘OK, they got something brewing over there.’”

But the Bombers have a brew that isn’t so bad either. Friday’s game will be a battle between the top two passers in the league as Zach Collaros is right behind Reilly in passing yards (1,731) and tied in touchdown passes with 10. Reilly and the Lions lead the league with 180 points scored this season while Collaros and the Blue and Gold are in striking distance at 173. It’ll be the first time the two have gone head to head since Oct. 8, 2018 when Reilly was with Edmonton and Collaros was throwing passes for Saskatchewan. Neither quarterback threw a touchdown in that meeting and the Riders came away with a 19-12 victory.

“I think Mike’s a great player and he’s been a great player for a long time. He’s a great person, too. I always look forward to watching him play. It just so happens that both of our teams have good records this year so I know it’s exciting for you guys to write about and for the fans to look forward to but it’s just another game for us,” Collaros said.

The Lions have had a dangerous air attack all season, but their run game has been close to non-existent. They’re dead last in the CFL with 66.6 rushing yards per game. If there’s been one sore spot on Winnipeg defence, it’s that they’ve struggled against the run at times, but limiting big plays through the air has yet to be an issue this season.

“In order to be successful in this league, you have to stop the big play… If you can force a team consistently throughout the course of a game to drive the ball against you, you’ve got a good chance to be successful,” said Hall.

“Teams, offensively, are always looking for chunk plays…but for the most part, we’ve minimized that and if you minimize those chunk plays, you have a great chance of winning football games.”

Twitter: @TaylorAllen31

Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen

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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