The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are just the third team in CFL history to advance to a fourth consecutive Grey Cup. While they’ve already put themselves in modern day dynasty territory, the question still remains: can they make it three Grey Cup wins in four years?
With their showdown against the Montreal Alouettes in the 110th Grey Cup fast approaching, here are four keys if the answer to that question is to be yes.
Get Brady Oliveira going early
Establishing the run early in a game is a typical key to success in most offensive game plans, regardless of the stakes or time of year. But with this running back in particular, and when breaking down this matchup, getting Brady Oliveira involved regularly right from the get-go is going to be crucial.
Oliveira, who took home 2023 Most Outstanding Canadian Player honours earlier this week, shapes his team’s offensive approach more than any other CFL tailback. Oliveira is a workhorse and his physical and unrelenting brand of football can set the tone for a football game early. Oh yeah, and Oliveira just happened to lead the league with 1,534 rushing yards, 260 attempts, and nine rushing touchdowns.
Oliveira, who ran for 109 yards and a touchdown in the Western Final last week, racked up 120 and 119 yards in Winnipeg’s two head-to-head matchups with the Alouettes during the regular season. There’s one difference, though. Linebacker Darnell Sankey wasn’t on the other side in either of those games, which means Oliveira will need to be that much more dialled in come Sunday.
Getting Oliveira involved successfully early on serves many purposes. It allows the Bombers to play a deliberate, ball control game. It opens more looks and options for quarterback Zach Collaros in the passing game. And, perhaps most crucially, it limits the chances for this Montreal defence to force turnovers, which was something they did nine times last weekend in Toronto.
Next man up!
Winnipeg has been living by “next man up” for the last few seasons, so injury concerns are nothing new. But there’s a good chance the Blue Bombers will be without both Dalton Schoen and Adam Bighill on Sunday night. That’s the league’s best receiver and a sure-fire Hall of Fame linebacker likely unavailable for the biggest game of the year.
Fortunately, Winnipeg has plenty of depth at receiver. Kenny Lawler, a bona fide elite pass-catcher himself, led the way with 83 yards in last weekend’s Western Final with Schoen not available. Things are also trending positively for Nic Demski and Rasheed Bailey despite questionable tags for the second straight week. Both played last weekend despite being game-time decisions.
Making up for Bighill’s probable absence will have to be by committee, too. Shayne Gauthier is the likely next man up in Bighill’s regular MIKE spot. He and WILL linebacker Kyrie Wilson, also trending positively despite a questionable designation, will take on the immediate task without Bighill. But they’ll also need help from Malik Clements, Brian Cole, and others.
Get to Cody Fajardo
Yes, much like establishing the run, getting to the opposing quarterback isn’t exactly football rocket science. But this battle at the line of scrimmage could impact Sunday’s game in a very meaningful way.
With 53 sacks during the regular season, Winnipeg was in opposing backfields more than all but two other teams. And, led by the Texas Connection of Willie Jefferson and Jackson Jeffcoat at defensive end, the Blue Bombers got to BC’s Vernon Adams Jr. for nine sacks in the Western Final.
Making things more interesting is what we’ve seen from Montreal’s offensive line. Fajardo has been sacked 10 times in two playoff games, which is slightly alarming. That average of five sacks against in the 2023 post-season is higher than their 3.39 average during a regular season where they allowed more sacks (61) than any team other than Ottawa (71). This Als’ front five has a mammoth challenge on its hands.
It’s likely because injury limited him to just eight games during the regular season, but it feels like Janarion Grant isn’t as front of mind for Sunday’s Grey Cup as he should be. Let’s not forget that when healthy, Grant is one of the league’s elite returners and has the chance of busting off a big one at any time.
Grant also has developed a reputation of getting it done on the biggest stage. He had electrifying punt return touchdowns in both of Winnipeg’s playoff games last year including a record-setting 102-yard major in the 109th Grey Cup. Everyone knows what Grant is capable of in the blink of an eye, including the Alouettes.
But that doesn’t mean Grant won’t find a way to impact the final game of 2023.