There is extreme optimism in Winnipeg this week as the Bombers prepare to take on the Argos on Saturday night at Canad Inns Stadium. Winnipeg is coming off an enormous victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in which Blue Bomber fans witnessed the return of Buck Pierce to the starting lineup. Pierce, absent from the Bombers starting lineup since Week Three, racked up 288 yards passing and one touchdown against the Ticats last weekend. The victory also keeps the Bombers playoff hopes alive as they now trail the Tiger-Cats by just two points for third place in the Eastern Division.
It has been a controversial season in Winnipeg with the firing of Paul Lapolice and the quarterback carousel that ensued following Buck Pierce’s early season ankle injury. At the time of Lapolice being relieved of his Head Coaching duties, the Bombers’ were 2-6 and last place in the Eastern Division. Interim Head Coach, Tim Burke is 1-3 since taking over as the Bombers’ Bench Boss and has received plenty of criticism for his team’s performance over the course of the last month. The Bombers have had three different starting quarterbacks so far this season. Alex Brink immediately took over the Bombers starting job when Buck Pierce went down due to injury but Joey Elliot also received an opportunity shortly after and was Winnipeg’s starting quarterback until Pierce’s most recent return to the lineup.
In the Bombers’ first meeting of the season with the Argos’ on July 18, running back, Chad Simpson rushed for 91 yards in his CFL debut. Simpson currently ranks fourth in rushing yards in the CFL. He has recorded 682 yards rushing and two touchdowns in just nine games as the Bombers’ starting running back. Last week in Winnipeg’s 32-14 victory over the Ticats, Simpson rushed for a career-high 134 yards on nineteen carries. The Bombers’ will look to utilize their crafty tailback against a stiff Argonauts defence that has held opposing offences to just a 55% completion percentage. The Bombers’ would also like to get Chris Matthews more involved this weekend against the Argonauts. Matthews had a tremendous start to the 2012 season as he recorded a touchdown in each of the Bombers’ first three games. However, Matthews has recorded just eight receptions for 73 yards with no touchdowns in his past three games.
Linebacker, Henoc Muamba has been fantastic for the Bombers’ over the course of this 2012 season. Muamba has recorded 12 tackles and two sacks in the last three games and overall has amassed 37 tackles on the season. The Bombers’ will need another big performance from their line backing core in order to stop Chad Kackert and the Argonauts’ offence on Saturday night.
Demond Washington currently ranks third in the CFL in return yardage. The rookie cornerback/ returner has also recorded two return touchdowns this season and against a struggling Argonauts’ special teams, Washington may be able to add another big touchdown on Saturday night.
The Bombers’ enter Saturday’s contest looking to win back-to-back games for the first time this season as they hope to return to the form that led “Swaggerville” to the Grey Cup last November.
Toronto Argonauts (6-6)
The Argos’ enter Saturday’s game in Winnipeg having lost consecutive games for the first time this season. The Argonauts’ will have Jarious Jackson under centre on Saturday evening as he will make his first start of the 2012 season replacing injured starting quarterback, Ricky Ray. Jackson stepped in to the game last week following Ray’s knee injury and completed 15-of-31 passes for 198 yards and one interception. His last start was on August 12, 2010 at Saskatchewan as a member of the B.C Lions. Jarious has made four career starts against Winnipeg (3-1) and overall as a starter has a 14-8 record with a career completion percentage of 55.8% along with 31 touchdown passes.
Ricky Ray’s absence from the Argonauts’ starting lineup will snap a 31-game consecutive starts streak dating back to November 6, 2010.
Chad Owens looks to continue his record breaking season on Saturday evening. The 30-year old Fly’ in Hawaiian is on the verge of becoming the first-ever professional football player to record three consecutive 3,000-yard seasons. He requires only 85 all-purpose yards against the Bombers’ in order to complete his journey for another 3,000-yard campaign. Since Labour Day and his 402-yard performance against the Ticats, Owens has caught 31 passes for 437 yards. He currently leads the CFL in receiving with 73 receptions and 1,025 yards. Owens reached the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his CFL career last weekend against the Alouettes. In the Argos’ only meeting with the Bombers’ so far this season, Owens recorded four catches for 63 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown reception on July 18 was Owens’ first since the 2010 CFL season. Owens is on pace for more than 4,000 yards in 2012- which would be the most in a single season by any player in professional football history. In order to do so, Chad needs to average 180.8 all-purpose yards in the remaining six games of the season.
The last time Chad Kackert faced the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, he recorded 74 yards rushing and two touchdowns in an Argonauts’ loss. Kackert’s great performance came on July 23, 2011 in relief of former Argo, Cory Boyd. Kackert leads all running backs with a 7.4-yard per carry average in 2012. He also ranks third in the CFL in yards per game, averaging 74.8 in his six games as the Argos’ starting running back.
Linebacker, Robert McCune leads the Argonauts’ with 61 tackles so far this season. It is a new career-high for McCune who has averaged close to eight tackles per game in his last eight games. The Argonauts’ secondary has been one of the best in the CFL so far in 2012. Rookie Cornerback, Pat Watkins currently ranks second in the CFL in interceptions with four and Safety, Jordan Younger is third with three. Cornerback, Ahmad Carroll also has three interceptions on the season. The Argonauts’ defence has recorded the second most interceptions in the CFL in 2012 with sixteen in just twelve games.
The Argos’ will look to improve on special teams this weekend in Winnipeg. Argonauts’ kicker, Swayze Waters was 2-for-4 on field goal attempts last weekend in Montreal and one of his missed kicks was returned 129 yards for a touchdown. The Argos’ have surrendered two return touchdowns off of missed field goals so in 2012 and that certainly cannot be the case this weekend against Demond Washington who currently ranks third in return yardage in the CFL.
The Argonauts’ will finish their season long three -game road trip on Saturday evening. The Argos’ have a 52-50 all-time record against the Bombers’ and are 1-0 against them this season. Toronto currently sits in second place in the Eastern Division and trail the Montreal Alouettes by four points for top spot.
– Daniele Franceschi –