CFL Preview - Winnipeg (2-6) at Saskatchewan (3-5) (ET)
GAME NOTES: The Winnipeg Blue Bombers find themselves under new leadership as they prepare to take on the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Sunday afternoon at Mosaic Stadium.
Less than a year ago the Blue Bombers were challenging the Lions of British Columbia in the Grey Cup, and with still half the season remaining in 2012 the squad has decided to sever ties with head coach Paul LaPolice. To lay all the blame on LaPolice, who was dismissed over the weekend, probably is the easiest way out for a Winnipeg squad that opened 2011 with a 7-1 mark and then folded down the stretch in the regular season by going 3-7.
This year, the Bombers began a mere 2-6 and are still winless on the road after four opportunities, but key injuries have certainly played a part in the program's demise. As for leadership on the field now, Winnipeg has turned to defensive coordinator Tim Burke who has been named the head coach for the time being.
During Week 9 action, the Bombers were again matched up with British Columbia and once more Winnipeg came up short, this time in a 20-17 final at home. Joey Elliott, the third starting quarterback for the team already this season, converted 20-of-42 passes for 256 yards and an interception, six of those passes being caught by Chris Matthews who turned them into a game-high 101 yards.
Former starter and now backup signal-caller Alex Brink scored on a one-yard run in the third quarter, while the other points were registered by kicker Justin Palardy who knocked through three of his four field goals as the team fell for the second time in the last three outings.
Frankly, if any team in the CFL deserves to scrutinize their head coach a bit more these days it would be the Roughriders, considering the team has gone from winning the first three games of the 2012 season to dropping five in a row now following a 17-10 setback versus Calgary last Saturday. Honesty, the game wasn't nearly as close as the final score indicates because the Stampeders were ahead 17-0 after three periods of play against Saskatchewan and head coach Corey Chamblin.
Quarterback Darian Durant was largely ineffective as he converted 17-of-29 passes for 179 yards and one interception while being sacked twice. With a three-yard TD run in the fourth quarter, Kory Sheets gave the team some hope but it turned out to be too little, too late.
Sheets finished the outing with a team-best 74 yards on 11 carries, but while the entire Saskatchewan rushing attack was generating 152 yards on 23 attempts, the defense was giving up 159 yards on 24 carries to Calgary back Jon Cornish.
Now last in the West Division standings, the Riders have watched Durant complete a modest 63.2 percent of his pass attempts, but his touchdown total (eight) is now matched by his number of interceptions and that is far from a prescription for winning games.
Having Sheets coming out of the backfield has certainly taken some of the spotlight off of Durant, with the running back now second in the league with 542 yards and leading the way with seven majors. A consistent producer, Sheets has gotten the job done without the benefit of a single 100-yard game, the only runner among the top seven to not reach that landmark.
Winnipeg, the lowest-scoring team in the league, is bringing up the rear in the East Division after just two wins in eight opportunities. Elliott came on in a big win in his first start a few weeks back, but already the luster may have worn off with him having just as many passing TDs (two) as he does picks.
But as much as the quarterback position has been turned upside-down in Winnipeg, Matthews continues to try and make any and all signal-callers comfortable and is second in the league in receiving yards (676) and among the leaders with 43 receptions and five majors.
Winnipeg still owns a commanding 113-85-3 advantage in the all-time, regular- season series between the teams, but it was the Roughriders who won the most recent matchup, 45-23, on the road last September which means Saskatchewan has taken eight of the last 10 matchups overall.
As is generally the case, a team like Winnipeg will get up for a game under a new head coach and put forth a better than normal effort. With Saskatchewan hitting the skids as much as it has in the last month and a half, expect to see the Bombers drop in for a win on the road this week.