HAMILTON - Despite winning just twice in their first 11 games, the Bombers are still in the hunt for a playoff spot with two weeks to go.
Yes, that’s the wacky CFL for you, but the Bombers aren’t about to complain. Winnipeg has to win its final two games and hope Edmonton drops its last two contests. That’s the only way the Blue and Gold will sneak into the post-season.
First up for the Bombers are the Tiger-Cats, who are basically in the same situation. They also need to win their final two games and get plenty of help. Hamilton, however, can still finish second in the East Division. The best Winnipeg can do is third.
Here’s what the Bombers must do on Saturday afternoon against the Tabbies in the final game at Ivor Wynne if they’re going to keep their playoff dream alive.
1. Continue to play keep-away
The Bombers have had three games this season in which they didn’t have a giveaway. Two of those games were the victories over Hamilton. That’s no coincidence, folks, as any football coach will tell you that’s the key to victory. The scary part for the Blue and Gold, however, is they’ve forked the ball over at least seven times in two of their last four outings, so they are prone to turnovers. It looks like the conditions will be ugly on Saturday, so they must focus even more on ball control.
2. Stuff the run
If the weather turns out to be as bad as the forecasters are predicting, the teams will probably spend more time on the ground. The Bombers would love that, because they’re on a season-long streak of three games with fewer than 100 rushing yards allowed, including a season-best 53 against Toronto last week. Perhaps not coincidentally, big nose tackle Andre Caroll joined the Bombers lineup five games ago. Hamilton, however, has topped the 100-yard rushing mark in six of its last eight games after doing so just twice in its first eight matches. “The conditions aren’t going to be conducive to the speed we have, but it’s definitely conducive to the type of game I like,” Ticats tailback Avon Cobourne said Friday. “So I’m hoping the O-line comes off the ball and pushes them around and opens up some lanes for us and we break some tackles and win this game.”
3. Chad is the man
Bombers tailback Chad Simpson is probably making injured starter Chris Garrett nervous with his play of late. Simpson had 20 carries for a season-high 136 yards in last week’s win over Toronto, and he has three touchdowns in his last two outings. He has a sparkling six-yard average per carry and last week had a season-high eight runs for first downs. Offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton has been calling some great games as of late, and Simpson is reaping the rewards of that. Ride him.
4. Stick a fork in ’em
The Ticats were 3-2 after five weeks of play this season. They are 2-9 since then and are coming off a disheartening loss in Calgary that was the result of Andy Fantuz being unable to put the ball on the tee for what would have been the game-winning field goal. Before that they got stomped 37-17 by the B.C. Lions at home and 35-20 by the Edmonton Eskimos on the road. Their confidence level can’t be very high right now, while the Bombers are feeling mighty fine about themselves with three wins in their last five matches. Winnipeg needs to strike early and get Hamilton doubting themselves once again.
5. Bring out Bad Hank
Henry Burris is churning out the touchdown passes this season (he’s on pace for more than 40, which would make him just the seventh pivot in CFL history to do so), but the Bombers have had his number the past couple of seasons. They have sacked him no fewer than three times in each of the last five games they’ve played him, and they’ve forced him to fumble seven times during that span. Not only that, but he’s thrown for fewer than 200 yards in two of his last three outings against the Bombers. On the other hand, the ailing Winnipeg secondary needs to be aware that Smilin’ Hank has eight touchdowns and one interception in his last five games against the Blue and Gold.