So we’re less just over three hours away from kickoff of what will be the Winnipeg Blue Bombers final home opener at Canad Inns Stadium.
We know you’ve heard that one before, but this time, you can pretty much take it to the bank.
The state of the Blue Bombers 0-4 start has been discussed at length, but here are a few things we’ll be looking for as the Blue and Gold face the Edmonton Eskimos for the second and final time of the 2012 season.
1) How will the Blue Bombers defence hold up?
After a pretty solid outing against the Toronto Argonauts last week, the Blue Bombers should have a little extra bounce in their step: a) because they’re playing at home for the first time and b) there should be some additional emotion in the year as Thursday represents the one-year anniversary of coach Richard Harris’ death. He meant a great deal to the organization and there are many players who are sure to be motivated to perform well.
Finding a way to contain Esks running back Hugh Charles is near the top of the priority list. Although he didn’t exactly run wild against the Blue Bombers a few weeks ago, he torched them on a couple of short passes, one of which turned into a 76-yard touchdown reception. Charles is coming off a 100-plus yard rushing game and playing with confidence and you can bet QB Steven Jyles will make him a focal point of the game plan.
Another Eskimo to watch this evening is SB Fred Stamps, who has been kept in check this season but could be due to break out.
2) Brink starts, but will he finish?
This is something that has nothing to do with injury, though Brink was knocked from the game the last time these two met (on a high hit from Eskimos MLB J.C. Sherritt. Brink has a full week of practice under his belt and at least starts the game with the entire receiving corps at his disposal (the first time the Blue Bombers have had that luxury this season). That should lead to better completion numbers than what he put up (9-for-34 with 0 TDs, 2 INTs, 1 rushing TD) against the Argos. Fans and media members alike were calling for Joey Elliott last week and if Brink struggles again, you wonder how long it will take for that to happen again (rhetorical question). Brink told the media he wasn’t worried about being on a short leash. Elliott said he expected Brink to start again this week and said he was there to support him. We think Brink will play better, but wouldn’t be surprised to see Elliott get some snaps if things aren’t going well, especially since he had a strong fourth quarter against the Green and Gold in mop-up duty at Commonwealth Stadium. After picking up only one catch last week, Chris Matthews should be more involved. Also, look for Kito Poblah to finally make a big impact within the offence.
3) What will Chad Simpson do for an encore?
His debut last week turned plenty of heads, but the former NFLer needs to be even better this week if the Blue Bombers want to find the win column. Simpson rushed for 91 yards and would have eclipsed 100 yards were it not for an offside penalty on Jade Etienne that nullified a 30-yard run. It’s become apparent the Blue Bombers need to have some semblance of balance on offence and getting Simpson involved early is the best way to ensure that happens. The Eskimos front seven is physical, so the onus is on the offensive line to open up some holes for the speedy Simpson. If he rushes for a hundred yards or more, the Blue Bombers will certainly give themselves a chance.
There are plenty of other storlyines, but that’s what we’ll be watching closely, at least initially.
Four first half turnovers sunk the Blue Bombers in a 42-10 loss to the Eskimos on Friday the 13th, they’ll need to protect the football to have a chance in this one.
I think the Blue Bombers will play their best game of the season, but am not sure it will be enough.
The Eskimos defence is too strong right now — look for Winnipegger Don Oramasionwu to have another strong effort in his homecoming game against his former team — and that’s what will help put them over the top in a game that stays tight until the fourth quarter.
Eskimos 27 Blue Bombers 17
What’s your call?
Either Kirk Penton or I will check back in with some post-game thoughts here.
Enjoy the tilt.