GREY CUP PREVIEW

2022-11-18 · 6 min read · CFL/Football
Toronto Argonauts and Bombers Quarterback Zach Collaros

AP Photo/Larry MacDougal | CFL.ca

We are days away from the biggest game of the year in the CFL as the Double Blue meet the Blue and Gold at Mosaic Stadium on Sunday.
There are plenty of intriguing storylines ahead of this game, not to mention numerous question marks surrounding the health of the man expected to be named the Most Outstanding Player in the CFL this season.
Here is a breakdown of all the stories to watch out for and comparisons at every position heading into the 109th Grey Cup.
Injury News
All due respect to any players suffering knocks heading into this big game, but the only injury we are all talking about is the one to Zach Collaros.
The league leader in passing TDs this year (37) suffered a high ankle sprain in the West Final and did not practice with the Bombers on Wednesday.
In the one game he did not start, Winnipeg lost to the BC Lions, with Dru Brown throwing a pair of interceptions in a 40-32 defeat.
While there are plenty of weapons offensively for Winnipeg, if Collaros is not 100% and, more importantly, does not play, the Bombers’ odds of a threepeat go down.
Being thrust into the spotlight out of nowhere is something Argos coach Ryan Dinwiddie knows all about as he was forced into action for Winnipeg at the 2007 Grey Cup after Kevin Glenn broke his arm in the East Final against Toronto.
The Bombers lost to Saskatchewan on that occasion when Dinwiddie threw a pick to James Johnson in the late stages.
Should number eight be ruled out, it would not be the first time Winnipeg was without a starting QB in the Grey Cup.
Collaros was third on the Bombers’ depth chart when he arrived in 2019 but became the starter in the playoffs after Matt Nichols went down with an injury and Chris Streveler hurt himself as well.
Sean Salisbury was the third-stringer when he helped the Bombers capture the 1988 Grey Cup.
Sammy Garza, failed to deliver a championship to his father-in-law coach, the late Cal Murphy, as he took over for Matt Dunigan, when the current football analyst tore his Achilles tendon in 1993 as Winnipeg lost the championship game to Edmonton.
Grey Cup history
The Argos haven’t been to a Grey Cup since Marc Trestman led them to a victory over Calgary in 2017, but when they play in the big game, they rarely come up short.
Toronto has not lost a Grey Cup contest since Damon Allen and the Eskimos beat them in 1987.
They have played in six title games since that defeat, winning all of them, including back-to-back titles with Doug Flutie behind centre in 1996 and 97.
Before winning the cup in 2019, the Bombers had lost their last five championship games, and with a win on Sunday, they’d be the first CFL club to capture three in a row since Edmonton won five straight from 1978-1982.
You have to go back to 1950 for the last time these two teams met in the Grey Cup when the Argos blanked Winnipeg 13-0 at Varsity Stadium as Nick Volpe kicked a pair of field goals, and Joe Krol had two punt singles.
Toronto has won all six Grey Cup games played against the Bombers, with the closest being a 4-3 squeaker in the 25th edition of the championship in 1937.
Quarterbacks
Zach Collaros was unquestionably the best player at his position this season, completing 70% of his passes in the regular season, while only missing six throws in the West Final, despite not playing in a complete game since Week 18.
He had 23 completions of 30 yards or more in the regular season and a 116.2 passer rating, second only to Nathan Rourke.
McLeod Bethel-Thompson led the CFL in passing yards this season (4,731) with a completion percentage of 66.8.
He had a splendid outing in the East Final, tossing two touchdowns with zero interceptions as he prepares to play in his first Grey Cup game.
  • Edge: Winnipeg
I am giving Winnipeg the advantage on the assumption that Collaros will play; of course, if it’s Dru Brown behind centre, the scales would be tipped in favour of Toronto.
Even if Zach Collaros is not 100%, the Bombers pivot is still savvy enough to make plays in the pocket and has the experience and poise to outduel Bethel-Thompson.
Running Backs
Teacher versus student is the story here as former Bomber Andrew Harris seeks his third consecutive title when he squares off with the man he mentored in Winnipeg, Brady Oliveira.
Harris showed he could still step up in big games last week, averaging 4.7 yards per carry and a touchdown despite being sidelined for most of the 2022 campaign.
His Jedi trainee while in the Peg seems to have learned a lot from his mentor, playing a massive factor in the cold Winnipeg weather last Sunday, carrying the ball 20 times for 130 yards, while he rushed for over 1,000 yards in the regular season.
  • Edge: Winnipeg
Sunday could very well be the final game of Harris’ career, which should provide the 2019 Grey Cup MVP with extra motivation; however, Oliveira can give just as much physicality as Harris and is a real handful to bring down in the open field.
The fact that Oliveira has played all season and is hugely prominent in the backfield and catching passes has him ahead of the veteran Harris in my mind.
Receivers
Kurleigh Gittens Jr. is a legitimate star in this league, with nine catches for 97 yards and a score last week, while DaVaris Daniels also had a TD grab, catching three passes from Bethel-Thompson for 108 yards.
Brandon Banks can still work the sidelines effectively, and Markeith Ambles is dangerous in quick-passing situations.
When you look at his numbers in 2022, it’s hard to believe Dalton Schoen is in his rookie season.
The Bombers wideout was nothing short of spectacular this year, with 1,441 yards receiving and 16 TD catches, putting him first in both categories in the regular season, while he also had a touchdown grab last weekend.
He is far from the only dangerous pass catcher that Winnipeg possesses, as Rasheed Bailey caught nine touchdown passes in the regular season, and Nic Demski was one of the hottest receivers for a few weeks in September.
Drew Wolitarsky is sure-handed when his number is called, while Greg Ellingson has a Grey Cup ring with Ottawa and was developing some great chemistry with Collaros before he was injured.
  • Edge: Winnipeg
The Bombers should have the edge in this one, as their receiving corps is as dynamic and versatile as they come.
Offensive Line
The Argos allowed the second-most sacks among Eastern teams in the regular season, at 43, though Dejon Allen and company held firm against Montreal, as McLeod Bethel-Thompson was not dropped behind the line of scrimmage all game long.
Collaros’ high completion percentage with the Bombers can be attributed partly to his O-line, who allowed the second-fewest sacks this year (29), led by Stanley Bryant, the West nominee for offensive lineman of the year.
  • Edge: Winnipeg
Winnipeg’s O-line helped Oliveira all season, while the Argos were not bad at protecting their QB, but they were not as sharp when it comes to blocking for their running backs.
Defensive Line
Ja’Gared Davis had seven sacks, and Wynton McManis added 88 tackles to an Argos unit that allowed the third-fewest first-down rushes in 2022 (120).
A year ago, Winnipeg’s Willie Jefferson was at the top of his games and one of the best players at his position, but he both looked a little weaker than in 2021, registering only seven sacks, while Jackson Jeffcoat missed most of the year.
  • Edge: Argos
Toronto only had one more sack than Winnipeg, but by committee, the Argos seem to have a little more depth along the defensive line.
Linebackers
Henoc Muamba is the heart and soul of the Argos defensive unit, with 75 tackles in the regular season, while Wynton McManis chipped in with 88.
Adam Bighill, who was the top defensive player in the CFL last season, had 72 tackles in 2022, failing to register a sack, but had one interception.
  • Edge: Argos
Alden Darby Jr. is the deciding factor for me in this positional matchup, as the Argos linebacker has breathed new life into this group and is a huge game-changer.
Defensive backs
Jamal Peters has been a massive difference-maker for Toronto all season, leading the league with six interceptions, with DaShaun Amos adding another four as the Argonauts secondary allowed the third-fewest average yards per pass in 2022 (8.0).
The return of Brandon Alexander is significant for the Bombers, while Deatrick Nichols could be one of the most physical halfbacks in the league, while Winston Rose had three picks, as Winnipeg allowing the fewest TD passes in the regular season (19).
  • Edge: Argos
Toronto’s ability to create takeaways in the secondary instead of knockdowns is what tips the scales in favour of the Boatmen.
Return game
In 2014, Brandon Banks was one of the most dangerous kick returners in the game, recording 1,968 combined yards that season.
Fast forward to this year, and he only had 163 return yards, while Javon Leake didn’t fare much better, ending the regular season with 186.
Janarion Grant is what Banks was eight years ago, the most dangerous and dynamic return man in the CFL right now, running back a Lions punt, 92 yards for a TD in the West Final.
He also had a pair of kick return touchdowns in the regular season, leading the league with 817 return yards this year.
  • Edge: Winnipeg
The Bombers should have a decided advantage in this department, as Grant made life that much easier for perhaps the top offensive unit all season, providing his team with game-changing returns and instant field position.
Kicking game
The postseason is where kicking is magnified, and Boris Bede hit the fourth-most field goals in the CFL this year (43), while John Haggerty was second in punting yards (5,155).
Marc Liegghio was not the perennial choker that we saw in 2021, but he still had glimpses where he struggled, missing a convert in the West Final, failing to connect on an overtime field goal versus the Alouettes, one of seven misses for him during the regular season, while he was fifth in punting (4,264 yards).
  • Edge: Argos
Bede did miss a convert against the Bombers earlier this year which could’ve forced overtime, but throughout most of 2022, he was relatively composed and made the kicks down the stretch when it mattered most.
Overall, Toronto was more consistent in this department this year when compared to Winnipeg.
  • Prediction- Winnipeg Blue Bombers 37-30 Toronto Argonauts
Collaros’ status, as mentioned, is a big deal; however, Winnipeg have plenty of stars who can influence a game and be the hero, which was evident all season.
The locals in attendance will likely favour Toronto because this game is in Saskatchewan, the home of the Bombers’ bitter rivals.
Andrew Harris’ experience, along with Toronto’s terrific defensive backs, can keep the game close and give the Argos a chance.
Ultimately, I’m leaning on Grant being able to make life easier for Winnipeg’s offense to get into scoring range, plus Oliveira’s ability to take control of a contest, two areas that I believe the Bombers can take advantage of on Sunday.
When you add to that the experience of coach Mike O’Shea in these big games, I think he’ll put together a plan that’ll propel them to victory, whereas Dinwiddie has not convinced me that he can make those tactical adjustments needed to turn a game around.
Sports Tree Profile

By: Joel Lefevre

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