Head to Head: Who has the edge in the Western Final?

If you are a Riders fan, look away OR embrace the fact that you are the savvy underdog ready to strike the giant that is the 2021 Winnipeg Blue Bombers!

Sports psychology and coaching will be big in this one during the week of preparation as the classic debates of rest vs. rust, heavy favourite pressure, etc. will own the week and if Winnipeg lets Saskatchewan linger deep into the fourth quarter, the pressure of all those storylines will come to a head.

Let’s examine the position groups at play Sunday who will decide this iconic matchup from IG Field.


Quarterbacks

As always, I’ll go much more in depth on the featured passers as the week goes on but needless to say after a four interception performance, Fajardo has to take the back seat to 2021 MOP lock Zach Collaros.

ADVANTAGE: WINNIPEG


Running Backs

If Andrew Harris can’t play this becomes more of a debate, but behind the powerful Bombers offensive line with emerging superstar Drew Desjarlais playing next to Most Outstanding Lineman nominee Stanley Bryant, I believe any of Harris, Brady Oliveira or Johnny Augustine could have an impressive afternoon against the Riders.

Winnipeg will undoubtedly start the game with a couple runs right at the Riders front seven to send a message. How those plays unfold could be very telling for the Riders chances.

ADVANTAGE: WINNIPEG


Receivers

I love what Duke Williams has brought to Saskatchewan, but who is the Robin to Duke’s Batman? Shaq Evans hasn’t been able to produce much since returning from injury and in his place Canadians Kian Schaffer-Baker and Brayden Lenius have picked up the slack but is it enough?

I don’t believe it is against a healthy, rested and motivated Kenny Lawler who has sit atop of nearly every target and tendency metric alongside Montreal’s Eugene Lewis in 2021.

ADVANTAGE: WINNIPEG


Offensive Line

I respect how Saskatchewan’s offensive line has evolved through the season with the addition of Logan Ferland and Evan Johnson being right at home – literally – in green and white, but the bodies, continuity and physicality of the Bombers front makes this the easiest choice of the bunch.

ADVANTAGE: WINNIPEG


Defensive Line

WHAT?! But Willie Jefferson, Jackson Jeffcoat and on and on and on..

I agree, but if you take away the name brand notoriety of the Bombers front and compare the down-to-down impact, A.C. Leonard and Jonathan Woodard have been pretty spectacular this season.

Factor in Micah Johnson against Steven Richardson and you have a great matchup between a series of marquee names. Winnipeg SHOULD have a bigger impact, but Saskatchewan’s front has the potential to make a mess up front on pass plays, which is why I expect Winnipeg to run the rock with aggression early and often.

ADVANTAGE: PUSH


Linebackers

Deon Lacey has been sensational this season after being forced to kick inside when Larry Dean went down with the freakish Achilles injury just before training camp opened up.

However, nobody owns the middle of the field – or the edges for that matter – with communication and omnipresent playmaking more than Winnipeg’s Adam Bighill.

ADVANTAGE: WINNIPEG


Defensive Backs

Last week I took Saskatchewan’s defensive backs over Calgary’s which after three interceptions by Jonathan Moxey feels like the wrong call, but I do believe Nick Marshall – when not taking late hit out of bounds flags – can be a game changer by getting to many anticipation throws.

Winnipeg lost some names coming into 2021 but Brandon Alexander has owned the free safety spot with his physical approach, and the young playmakers around him (Deatrick Nichols and DeAundre Alford) made this year’s defensive backfield feel even more dangerous than 2021. Then GM Kyle Walters re-added Winston Rose and well, that was the nail in the coffin.

ADVANTAGE: WINNIPEG


Return Game

As if the Bombers needed another advantage, Janarion Grant gifted them an extra pop in the return game down the stretch, but Jamal Morrow of the Riders showed in the Western Semi-Final why he deserves to be feared on each snap.

The key here might not actually be the return men, but their blockers and specifically the discipline required to avoid illegal block penalties which take the wind out of a celebrating sideline faster than anything.

ADVANTAGE: WINNIPEG


Kicking Game

Sergio Castillo is exceptional, but he’s recently back in the CFL and hasn’t blown anyone away. Meanwhile Brett Lauther struggled early but finished strong Sunday in Regina with a 34-yard field goal to extend his team’s season.

This year in Winnipeg has seen Tyler Crapigna and rookie Marc Liegghio try it out, before Ali Mourtada took over and went 8-15. Lauther is 40-47 on field goals this year, for 85.1 per cent.

Nobody wants to win this game on field goals in a low scoring knock ’em down, drag ’em out Western Final.. or do they? If the answer is yes, advantage Riders.

ADVANTAGE: SASKATCHEWAN

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