WINNIPEG — Joey Elliott will get his second straight start on Saturday afternoon, as the Bombers look for two points against the Stampeders in an important duel at Canad Inns Stadium.
The Blue and Gold look like a team with renewed confidence entering Saturday’s meeting, the second of the season between these teams, fresh off a thrilling 27-22 win over the Alouettes in Montreal.
The result was surprising to many outside the Winnipeg locker room, especially for a team without Buck Pierce in the lineup going up against the East-leading Alouettes.
Elliott took care of business though, throwing for 335 yards and three touchdowns on 17-25 passing and giving the Bombers a consistent attack through the air. His career day earned him Offensive Player of the Week honours – but more importantly, it kept his team alive and well in the playoff hunt.
Suddenly, the Bombers have won two of three games, and now sit just two games out of a playoff spot behind the Eskimos, while just a game back of the third-place Ticats.
With Pierce ruled out for Saturday’s game, it’ll be up to Elliott to work his magic for a second straight week.
“It’s a good opportunity,” said Elliott. “I’m glad to be playing in front of the home fans, and to get another opportunity.”
“Hopefully we can have another performance like we did in Montreal. We’ve shown glimpses that we can move the ball when we want, and other times we haven’t done so well.”
Elliott has a team-high 1,691 passing yards this season, and has been the Bombers’ primary backup since replacing an ineffective Alex Brink soon after Pierce was initially injured.
He battled with Brink for the number-two job in training camp and pre-season, and after starting the season as the third string quarterback, moved up midway through the regular season.
Now, on top of being heralded as the guy who can help get the team closer to the playoffs with a big win over the Stamps, Elliott could be playing for his future in the CFL, too.
“I think if Joey could have a really good game this week, certainly that would say to us as an organization ‘hey, we’ve got a pretty good backup here’ at least,” said rookie head coach Tim Burke. “It would be a pretty tremendous confidence-booster for Joey and the entire team, for sure.”
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The 26-year-old product of Purdue has shown the Bombers he has plenty of upside, but part of the problem has been consistency – something common with younger quarterbacks.
In his first start of 2012, he eclipsed 400 passing yards in a thrilling last-minute win over the Ticats. But since then, he’s thrown seven interceptions, including three in the second half alone against the Argos two weeks ago in relief for Pierce.
But last week’s game showed once again why Elliott might be worth the Bombers’ patience.
“I thought he really did a great job making decisions, and I think he’s learned to let plays develop and not just check the ball down real quick,” said Burke of his quarterback’s progress.
“He was in command of the game. I thought he managed the game really well. That tells you that he’s not just concentrating on what he has to do, but he’s concentrating on what the offence has to do.”
The last time these two teams met was back in Week 12 at McMahon Stadium, when the Stamps rolled to a 44-3 win over the Bombers. In that game, Elliott was pulled for Brink after going 5-8 for 26 yards and an interception in the first half.
The Bombers should expect to look like a different team in this one, though, coming off a statement win over the Alouettes and hungry to prove everyone wrong once again.
“I think when we play up to our ability level and if we’re focused and we play with emotion, that’s the kind of team you can expect,” said Burke.
One team that won’t be overlooking Elliott’s potential is his next opponent, at least according to defensive lineman Charleston Hughes.
The Stamps defender remembers clearly the quarterback’s performance on September 14th, but said his defence expects a different Elliott this weekend.
“I think what gave him more success was that he showed more poise in the pocket. Before, against us, he had happy feet. He just wasn’t comfortable, within the scheme, it seemed to me. I think now he’s more comfortable with what’s going on,” said Hughes, who had four tackles and a sack in that game.
The 28-year-old has already tied his career high with seven sacks this season, and knows he’ll need to get pressure on Elliott in order for his defence to stay successful on Saturday.
|The last time they met|
Rob Cote scored from 26 yards out on a fake field goal for the game’s opening touchdown, and the Stamps never looked back en-route to a 44-3 win over the Bombers at McMahon Stadium. Kevin Glenn threw for 298 yards and a touchdown on 17-23 passing, while Nik Lewis had seven catches for 131 yards to become just the 16th player in history to eclipse 10,000 career receiving yards. The Stamps defence, meanwhile, held the Bombers to just 91 yards through the air, as Joey Elliott was pulled early in the second half with just 26 yards.
“You never know when his breakout game will be, so you can’t underestimate his ability,” continued Hughes. “But I don’t really pay much attention to who’s playing at what position because it’s football, and what it comes down to is you’ve got to beat the man in front of you.”
Hughes apparently won’t be the only one chasing down the quarterback for the Stamps defence on Saturday. Calgary added veteran defensive end Anwar Stewart through the week, bringing the pass rusher back to his point of CFL origin.
It’s uncertain at this point whether Stewart will play, but the former Alouette said if it were up to him, he’d be ready to go this weekend.
“Hey, I feel good,” assured Stewart following his second full-tempo practice since last November when he was still with Montreal. “I woke up this morning at 6:15, ready to go to practice. I think that’s a great sign. I wasn’t sore. Just very anxious about getting here and getting going.”
All indications from first-team reps are that the 36-year-old Stewart will re-launch his stellar career on Saturday against the Bombers.
“They fire me in there, I’m ready. I’ve been running around the last two days. I feel great about everything. I want them to know if they throw me in there, they can count on me.”
Count the man who’ll book-end Stewart on the defensive line, Hughes, as one of those impressed by the veteran campaigner so far.
“He looks good at practice. Man, you can tell he’s still got it. Even in the meeting room, he brought a lot of experience. Brought his insight to the D-line. So he should make us better overall.”
The Stamps could use Stewart’s presence in the lineup, after getting just one sack on Travis Lulay in last weekend’s 27-22 loss to the BC Lions, in a battle that was for top spot in the division.
Calgary now sits two games out of first place, and with just four games remaining and the Lions already clinching the tiebreaker, something pretty drastic would have to happen in order to knock the Lions out of top spot.
But with the Stamps still in reach, while also sitting in a second-place tie with the Riders and looking to host a home playoff game in early November, winning down the stretch will be critical for John Hufnagel’s group.
Kickoff is at 1:00 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live via Game Tracker on CFL.ca and CFL Mobile.
– With files from Postmedia and BlueBombers.com