June 20, 2023

Game Preview | Lions At Blue Bombers

On paper, you would be hard-pressed to find a week three game as big as this. A Western Final rematch, a matchup of two undefeated squads who appear to be on a collision course to meet once again in November is no doubt ripe with some storylines.  The facts are also this: The Lions and Blue Bombers will meet a total of three times before Thanksgiving and the West Division is sure to produce a logjam of a race in the middle. While this week is no doubt big, many members of the Lions are approaching it through a much wider scope.

“It’s definitely, obviously, the two best teams in the West right now but at the end of the day, it’s not the championship on Thursday,” said Lucky Whitehead who is slated to make his return to the lineup.

“We’ve got weeks of football left. It’s only week three and we don’t have anything to prove on Thursday. We know what kind of football team we are and like I said, it’s early in the season. Everyone is getting comfortable and everyone is trying to get in that groove right now.”

Rick Campbell echoed the statements while fully embracing the challenge:

“We always talk about wanting to get better. We’re running a marathon here, not a sprint, ” explained the head coach.

“We’re only coming up on game three of eighteen so we want to just make sure we’re improving each week and that will be our goal as we go along here.”

Through two weeks, the Blue Bombers appear to be as strong as they’ve been during this run of excellence as the division’s top team. Zach Collaros continues to play at an elite level while his offensive line has made CFL Honour role as the league’s highest-graded unit by Pro Football Focus following both of their wins. Willie Jefferson and Adam Bighill remain two key cogs in an elite defence capable of a big play at any moment. Add it all up and Winnipeg is still the standard this Lions team wants to reach.

“We all have to play as a unit. He (Collaros) is a tough guy, we’ve got to make sure he stays in the pocket,” said Bo Lokombo.

“When he scrambles, that’s when he extends plays and that’s when he becomes tough. Keeping him in the pocket, sending blitzes and making sure we’re sound; they’re a great unit. Collaros is the leader there but they have great receivers, their run game is good too. We’ve got out hands full but we look forward to the challenge.”

And let’s not forget the atmosphere. It should be amped up as always at IG Field.

“Great environment. It’s going to be just fun, all in general. That’s when football is fun: when you’re playing against the best,” added Whitehead.

Four Lions To Watch

OL Michael Couture # 51– the number one key to victory is protecting the quarterback and Couture should get a boost in making his return to the city he spent his first six CFL seasons in while winning two Grey Cups. Couture and the offensive line have allowed just one quarterback sack thus far.

WR Alex Hollins #13– the man known as “Alley B” has helped fill the void left by injuries with 13 catches for 132 yards through two contests. If the Lions are to pull off the road upset, it will require a balanced effort.

LB Bo Lokombo # 20- the pride of Abbotsford led all Lions with seven defensive tackles last week and will be counted on to once again back up the defensive front against an elite Bombers’ run attack. Brady Oliveria was listed as doubtful due to injury meaning Johnny Augustine will likely carry the load.

DB Garry Peters # 1- the Clemson product has a little extra bounce in his step after his interception return touchdown was wiped out due to a pass interference penalty. Garry has been locked in through two games with a big test coming against Winnipeg’s solid group of offensive playmakers.


Bomber X-Factor

Who else but return specialist Janarion Grant? His big major last week which was initially wiped out by a flag proved to be a major turning point in the Bombers’ triumph in Saskatchewan. You may also recall he took a punt return to the house in the Western Final and previously had returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown in the club’s first meeting last July. Grant is definitely in the “love to watch him play as long as it’s not against your team” camp. Mike Benevides and the Lions’ coverage units have no doubt talked about him plenty leading up to this contest.

Extra Yardage

Whitehead takes the roster spot of Dominique Rhymes who could not make it work on a short week after injuring his foot late in Saturday’s win. The hope is for both Rhymes and Keon Hatcher to be healthy for the squad’s next game on Monday, July 3 in Toronto. A long layoff before week four should prove to be beneficial.

Vernon Adams Jr. has eclipsed the 300-yard passing mark in both Lion wins while adding four total touchdowns: three through the air and one with his legs in Calgary in week one. His lone start against Winnipeg with the Lions resulted in a 42-32 victory in October of last year at BC Place.

The Lions are 7-3 on the road dating back to the start of 2022. It is the club’s best ten-game road record since 2011-12.

No West Division team has won on the road in Winnipeg since Saskatchewan did it in September 2018. The Blue Bombers are 16-1 in regular season home games since the start of the 2021 season. Montreal last season is the only team to win there in that span.

Including the Western Final last November, the Lions have dropped five straight decisions at IG Field with the last victory taking place on October 28, 2017. Chris Rainey was the top performer that night with 195 yards from scrimmage and a pair of touchdown catches as the Leos, who had been eliminated from playoff contention the prior week, prevailed 36-27.