Head to Head: Who has the edge in the Western Final?
The BC Lions will travel to IG Field to faceoff with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Western Final.
Each team boasts an electrifying offence led by an incredibly talented quarterback, with playmakers at seemingly every level of the offence. The pair of division rivals also feature two punishing defensive units.
While there are similarities between the Lions and Bombers, we take a deep-dive to find out who has the edge.
If Nathan Rourke looked fully healthy in the Western Semi-Final then I think this would be more of a conversation.
Zach Collaros had a restful month in October with plenty of time to study the Lions, and plot his game plan in the journey towards a third Grey Cup appearance. Tough circumstances for anyone to overcome, perhaps even a fully healthy Rourke.
These are the two best quarterbacks from the CFL this season. To see them head-to-head in a charged up environment is going to be electric. Rourke will have to harness all his experience, savvy and athleticism to keep it close if Collaros is operating at the height of his powers as I expect he will be.
Over the first half of the season I would suggest that James Butler was better than any combination of backs in Winnipeg.
However, in the second half of the year Winnipeg’s Brady Oliveira grew into the player we thought he would be. The Bombers offensive line have also really been helping to drive the ground game.
Dalton Schoen has somehow, in his rookie year, become the centrepiece of Collaros’ aerial attack.
I have immense respect for the Lions pass-catchers, but Winnipeg at home with those fans and that quarterback have felt damn near unstoppable for much of the season.
Part of this is Oliveira running with a true sense of purpose as mentioned earlier, but Winnipeg started the year unhappy with their run blocking aggression and finished it behind only Calgary in rush yards per game.
With Stanley Bryant once again nominated for top lineman in the CFL surrounded by veterans and a scheme as sound as any in the league, the advantage goes to Winnipeg despite BC’s ability to protect Rourke consistently through his magical start to the season.
The question with BC is whether Rourke can get the ball out as quickly as he did early in the season to help that BC line. But with Winnipeg, I know Collaros will deliver on time.
I can already see the Blue and Gold eyebrows raising as I type this.
Yes, Willie Jefferson is my favourite super hero too, but the facts are as follows.
Winnipeg’s sack rate is substantially down this season and while they have done a masterful job against the run, I think BC’s defensive line has done a tremendous job creating pressure with different looks up front.
BC’s Mathieu Betts has regained his early Edmonton form in a group that rolls eight-deep to stay fresh long into the fourth quarter. It’s minimal, and Jefferson could take over with just a few big plays as he is known to do, but I lean BC here.
Adam Bighill is the best at what he does, but is it enough to overcome a young and hungry group of Lions?
At the end of the day, Bighill’s experience, eyes and discipline while supported by his own collection of young physical backers gives the advantage to Winnipeg over a really fun collection of Canadian talent in BC.
The Lions have four of the top 20 interception leaders in the CFL this season and have been steady as a unit over the closing stages of 2022.
The one matchup they’ve really struggled with? Zach Collaros and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. While I give the Lions a hat tip here, like all of you, I am well aware of the challenge they face this Sunday.
Sunday’s matchup will be a showcase between two of the top-five return men in the CFL. Grant has three return touchdowns and would blow the snowy roof off IG Field if he added another this Sunday.
The Bombers kicking game is much less of a concern this year compared to last, but BC still gets the head-to-head benefit of the doubt, unless the conditions create mayhem.