Blue Bombers hit road to take on Argonauts
Toronto, ON (SportsNetwork.com) - The Winnipeg Blue Bombers will try to complete a season sweep of the Toronto Argonauts, as the two teams meet up on Tuesday evening at Rogers Centre.
With a win over Toronto, the Blue Bombers (5-2) would move into first place in the West Division by leapfrogging both Calgary and Edmonton, who are both 5-1. Both squads play this weekend, however, and can retake the lead.
The disparity between the two divisions is highlighted by Toronto's 2-4 division-leading record, especially considering that no West Division team has a record that dips below .500. Toronto is staying afloat thanks to three other 1-5 records in the East.
This will be the second time these teams have met during the regular season. Toronto made the trip to Winnipeg in Week 1, and ended up getting clobbered by the 2013 last-place finishers, 45-21. Fresh off his first preseason with the Bombers, quarterback Drew Willy filled up the stat sheet with 308 passing yards and four touchdowns through the air to help bury the Argos.
Lead tailback Nic Grigsby gained 122 yards on the ground stemming from 21 carries, while Willy's top receiver, Aaron Kelly, hauled in five catches for 100 yards and two majors. The Bombers led Toronto 17-0 at the end of the first quarter, and 24-7 at the end of the opening half, and never looked back.
It was almost a surprising start to the year for Winnipeg, which opened up the 2014 campaign with a 3-0 record before eventually falling in Week 4 to division rival Edmonton. Since the 3-0 start, the Blue Bombers are 2-2 and are coming off a Thursday loss to Saskatchewan, 23-17.
Winnipeg and Saskatchewan were knotted in a 3-3 tie at the close of the first quarter. It was Winnipeg that jumped ahead in the second stanza after the Blue Bombers marched down the field on a 13-play, 99-yard drive that was capped with a Willy quarterback scamper from seven yards out.
It was Willy's first rushing score of the year, which simultaneously gave the Bombers a 10-3 lead as the teams parted for the locker rooms at the half. When the Winnipeg offense came back out on the field for the second half, that's when things headed south. A Willy fumble in the third quarter was recovered by Roughriders lineman David Lee, who rumbled into the end zone for his first career major that also led to a tie score. Another defensive touchdown - Terrell Maze's pick-six with 2:16 remaining - stunned the Bombers and the home crowd.
Willy finished the evening with 303 passing yards and a touchdown, but was intercepted three times in the loss. He was also the team's leading rusher with 21 yards on just two carries, adding the seven-yard score to his resume. Demond Washington paced the team with eight tackles in the defeat.
Toronto has been off since the team handedly defeated Montreal, 31-5, back on Aug. 1. Although Montreal took a 4-3 lead into the second quarter of the matchup, the rest of the contest was heavily in the Argos' favor.
A single was all the Alouettes could manage the rest of the way, while Toronto registered seven points in the second quarter, the third quarter, and dropped 14 on the home squad in the final period. Ricky Ray put up a smooth passing line of 186 yards with two touchdowns - both to former West Virginia standout Steve Slaton. Slaton racked up 48 receiving yards and two scores, and also led the team in rushing with 52 yards on the ground.
Alouettes quarterback Troy Smith didn't stay true to his word following a 41-5 rout in Vancouver prior to the clash with Toronto. Smith, who vowed to get better, struggled mightily against the Argonauts defense and only passed for 63 yards on the night. Smith got the hook and was benched in favor of veteran Alex Brink on Montreal's first possession in the second quarter.
The home advantage for Toronto certainly gives the Argos a boost going up against a team that made light work of them back in Week 1. The home crowd will be able to fuel some life into the surprising division leaders. Toronto will attempt to maintain the flow of the league's leading offense (395 ypg) led by Ray, who is tied at the top of the CFL in passing ypg with 281.
The quarterback with whom Ray is tied is Winnipeg's Willy. The Bombers' signal caller leads the CFL with 1,965 passing yards (he's played one more game than Ray). Toronto's offense leads the league in passing ypg, with Winnipeg a very close second. Winnipeg's leading receiver, Clarence Denmark, (second in the CFL in receiving yards with 435) should be busy yet again.
The deciding factor will be on the defensive side of the ball, and how each team can handle the opposing passing game. Winnipeg and Toronto are ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, in the league in passing defense. Willy has thrown eight touchdowns to seven interceptions, while Ray is at an 8-4 ratio.
Neither side has found any success on the ground, with the Argos' backfield ranking seventh in the league (88.7 rushing ypg) to Winnipeg's 68.6 rushing ypg (last in the CFL).
Only taking into consideration regular-season matchups, Toronto is barely maintaining its 56-52-2 series advantage over the Bombers since 1961. The Argos play this matchup Tuesday and must bounce back almost immediately for a Sunday contest at home against British Columbia.
08/11 12:09:39 ET