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CFL Preview: Montreal Alouettes (6-3-0) at Winnipeg Blue Bombers (8-2-0)

WINNIPEG — Sitting alone atop the West Division standings, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will attempt to increase their lead when they welcome the Montreal Alouettes to IG Field on Thursday night.

The Alouettes have other plans as they continue their pursuit of Toronto in the East Division.

This will be the second and final meeting between these two teams this season. The Blue Bombers won the first, 17-3, back in Week 4.

As well as Dru Brown played in place of Zach Collaros over the past two weeks, he’ll turn the ball back over to the Blue Bombers starter.

With Brown completing 17 passes for 171 yards in a 19-18 victory of the Stampeders in Week 11, head coach Mike O’Shea now has two quarterbacks he should feel confident giving the reigns to.

Against the Als earlier in the season, Collaros threw for 177 yards and two touchdowns. He connected with Dalton Schoen for 86 yards and a touchdown and Wolitarsky pulled down the other major.

Collaros will try to continue to spread the football like Brown did against the Stamps. Seven different receivers had at least two receptions with top target Schoen leading the way with 50 yards.

The Alouettes front of defensive lineman Shawn Lemon and Mustafa Johnson, and linebacker Tyrice Beverette all had a sack in their win over Ottawa a week ago and putting pressure on Collaros will be a top priority. It’s a front that also needs to be cognizant of the ability of running back Brady Oliveira. With another 80 yards against the Stamps, Oliveira brings 783 into the game.

After giving up 130 passing yards versus the REDBLACKS, the job ahead of the Als secondary gets much tougher. Defensive back Reggie Stubblefield had a pick and needs to step up again in support of top playmakers Marc-Antoine Dequoy, Kordell Rodgers and Wesley Sutton.

Much like their opponent, Als head coach Jason Maas is going back to his starter this week. Cody Fajardo has missed the past two games with a shoulder injury and Caleb Evans filled in admirably, including last week when he threw for 333 yards, two touchdowns and rushed for 49 more.

Fajardo doesn’t seem too concerned about the missed time as he prepares for a strong Bombers defence.

“Honestly, I’ve played a lot of football in this league,” Fajardo told reporters. “It’s one of those things where you kind of have a bye week or an extended period of time and you don’t really think about it. Football is football when you get back out there. I’m just excited to be out there and being a part of the team.”

It was Fajardo under centre when the two teams last met and he threw for 270 yards.

Facing a Bombers front that has 29 sacks and coming off a game where they gave up four, the Als front needs to keep Fajardo on his feet if he’s to stay healthy and be successful. Defensive lineman Willie Jefferson and Cameron Lawson both had a pair of sacks on Fajardo in the first go around.

Fajardo has several options when he’s able to get the ball off, as Austin Mack leads the league in receiving yards with 773 after a 116-yard game against Ottawa. Tyler Snead and Hergy Mayala also had strong games and should be targeted often. They’ll be watched closely by Demerio Houston who has eight interceptions.

O’Shea knows his defence will have their hands full with the talented Mack.

“That was a great find for them,” O’Shea told “He’s having a great year. He seems to always be open, there’s something about him. He’s got to be a precise route runner, good hands, good physical stature. (He’s) got the great connection with their quarterbacks.”

Don’t be shocked to see Maas utilize several rushers, including Walter Fletcher and Jeshrun Antwi, on the ground to compliment William Stanback. The Bombers offence has allowed fewer than 20 points in three of their past four games, so the Als will take offence from wherever they can get it.

Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET on TSN/RDS in Canada or CBS Sports Network in the U.S. and CFL+ Internationally.

Mikey Balhan Sports

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