WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Montreal Alouettes have a trio of key similarities heading into their clash on Thursday night.
Both CFL clubs are riding four-game win streaks, both will have their starting quarterbacks back from injury and both are coming off one-point victories that were nothing to brag about.
“To me that’s kind of all outside noise,” Blue Bombers receiver Nic Demski said after Winnipeg’s walk-through on Wednesday.
“At the end of the day, both teams are coming in to compete (Thursday) and it doesn’t really matter what those little certain, extra factors are.”
The West Division-leading Blue Bombers (8-2) are favoured at IG Field, where they’ve only lost one game this season. The Alouettes (6-3) are trying to put up a five-game win streak for the first time since 2014 and close the gap on the East Division’s top Toronto Argonauts (7-1).
Winnipeg quarterback Zach Collaros missed last week’s 19-18 victory over the Calgary Stampeders after injuring his neck in the previous week’s win over Edmonton.
Collaros was replaced by Dru Brown following his second-quarter injury against the Elks. Brown engineered a 39-29 comeback victory after being down 22-0.
In last week’s slim win over the Stampeders, the Bombers didn’t score an offensive touchdown.
“That is out of our character,” Demski said. “We set our goals each week to come out with points. Field goals are nice, but at the end of the day we want to end drives with seven points on the board, not just three.”
Collaros said he’s ready to hit the field against a team that’s been playing great lately.
“They’re a very physical bunch,” Collaros said of Montreal’s defence. “They’re fast. They take the ball away well. They do a really good job playing man coverage when asked to.
“Week to week, depending on what type of zone structure they want to play, their players really understand what they’re trying to do. And they’re multiple in a way that it can mess with the quarterback’s eyes and try to get you to throw hot when you’re not hot and vice versa.
“A really good bunch. It’s going to be a great challenge.”
Cody Fajardo is back under centre for Montreal after missing the past two games with a left-shoulder injury. Caleb Evans had the controls in his absence.
In last Saturday’s 25-24 win over Ottawa, the Alouettes climbed back from a 17-3 halftime deficit and won in the final minute.
Fajardo was asked by reporters in Montreal on Tuesday if he’ll wear extra padding on the shoulder he injured.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “Just because the way that it works is it's not really a contact thing. It's more just a habit of how you get hit and fall on the ground. You can't really protect it.
“It's something I've never dealt with, but the reason why we took the two weeks off is so that when I take the field again, I don't have to think about it. I don't have to worry about it.”
Montreal has given up 35 quarterback sacks this season (eighth most in the league), with 29 of those taking down Fajardo. It’s last in the loop with 18 sacks.
Winnipeg’s defence has recorded 29 sacks (tied for second) and allowed 24 (tied for third fewest).
When the Bombers beat the Alouettes 17-3 in Montreal on July 1, Winnipeg defensive end Willie Jefferson sacked Fajardo twice and added one forced fumble and three defensive tackles.
“Going to try to do that again,” said Jefferson, who’s third in the league with eight sacks.
“Having Jackson (Jeffcoat) back and then having the defence playing the way that we’re playing, especially in the second half, it’s going to be a good game for us. And, hopefully, a bad game for Cody.”
Heading into Winnipeg on a short week has been a balancing act for Montreal head coach Jason Maas. It’s about letting players physically recover, but also having them absorb the game plan.
“The message to our guys is mentally we got to be there,” Maas said. “Physically we're going to give them enough rest to recover from games.
“And it is hard on a short week for guys to recover, but, ultimately, we've done our part. We've taken care of in the last three weeks so that they would be ready for this week. And that's what you got to do. If you keep running them into the ground, it’s going to be even worse.”
MONTREAL ALOUETTES (6-3) AT WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (8-2)
Thursday, IG FIELD
ROLLING ON THE ROAD: The Alouettes have won seven of their last eight road games, their best stretch in 20 years. The club won eight of nine games away from home over the 2002-03 seasons.
FINAL PUSH: Montreal leads the CFL in fourth-quarter scoring with 85 points through nine games. It’s allowed 41 points during the same frame. Winnipeg has scored 60 points in the fourth quarter through 10 outings but has allowed 58 points.
-- With files from Daniel Rainbird in Montreal
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 23, 2023.
Judy Owen, The Canadian Press