VANCOUVER — After an early start to the week on Tuesday, the action continues with a West Division battle between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the BC Lions on Friday night.
To add to the excitement, two of the league’s best quarterbacks will be going toe-to-toe in prime time. BC’s Michael Reilly and Winnipeg’s Zach Collaros are among the league leaders in passing yards and touchdowns.
BC will be looking to rebound after a tough 31-24 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Week 8. Winnipeg enters Week 9 looking to continue improving upon their impressive 6-1 record, leaving off with a commanding 37-22 win over the Edmonton Elks in Week 7 before entering their bye week.
ZACH COLLAROS AND THE BOMBERS ARE LOOKING FOR THEIR SEVENTH WIN OF THE SEASON THIS WEEK (PETER POWER/CFL.CA)
The passing ability of Collaros has been on full display this season, his 1,731 passing yards are among the league’s best, and many are putting the quarterback in the early conversation for Most Outstanding Player.
Consistency has defined the first half of the 2021 season for Collaros, however, head coach Mike O’Shea believes consistency is something that has always been a part of his quarterback’s identity.
“I would think that’s the way he’s always been,” said O’Shea of his quarterback. “He’s a consistent competitor, he’s always competing and always wants to be better, he sees the game well.”
In his last three starts for the Blue and Gold, Collaros has completed 56 of his 73 passing attempts for 775 yards and four touchdowns. What’s more impressive, is how effective Collaros has been when putting the ball in the air, he has averaged just 5.6 incompletions per game since Week 5.
Despite his incredible play and personal accolades, Collaros is quick to attribute his success through the 2021 season to his team.
“I think the offensive line has done an amazing job, and with Andrew (Harris) and Nic (Demski) and (Drew) Wolitarsky when they have to come in to protect,” said Collaros of his teammates. “It’s my job to get the ball out on time and the receivers to catch the ball, and they’ve done a great job of that.”
On the opposing sideline, the Lions boast and equally impressive passing game, headlined by an equally impressive quarterback in the form of Reilly.
Reilly has continued to be known as one of the CFL’s best passers and has lead the Leos to a record of 4-3, cementing BC as one of the leagues most revered passing attacks.
For the Orange and Black this season, Reilly has thrown for a league-leading 1,870 passing yards. He has also connected for 10 touchdowns while only throwing one interception. The signal caller has been one of the most accurate quarterbacks through 2021, completing 74.4 per cent of his 199 passing attempts.
In his last three starts, the Lions pivot has thrown the ball 86 times, collecting 896 passing yards and eight touchdowns, while completing 78 per cent of his passes, showing that he is one of the most tactical quarterbacks in the league.
“You can knock him down, but he keeps getting up, and he keeps performing,” said Winnipeg defensive coordinator Richie Hall of Reilly. “The biggest thing you have to go against with him is his mentality, he’s got that mindset where he just doesn’t get defeated.”
The Lions offensive scheming has been predicated on their ability to put the ball in the air and be effective in their downfield passing attack. BC averages 9.5 yards per pass and are averaging 7.9 yards gained per first down, turning 88 first downs through the air.
BC’s passing offence has been complimented by the explosive play of receiver Lucky Whitehead. Whitehead has totalled 665 receiving yards and six plays of 30 yards or more through his first seven weeks and has proven to be a big play threat at any moment.
The speed and one cut ability of Whitehead makes him a danger to score even on a short yardage route, as on the season the Lions receiver has run for an eye-popping 339 yards after the catch.
BC is a team that relies on its ability to throw the ball deep and make teams pay trying to guard their athletic receivers downfield, an aspect of the Lions offence that the Winnipeg coaching staff is well aware of.
“You know that Reilly is going to throw a deep shot,” said O’Shea of the Lions quarterback. “He always does, he’s got a good arm.”
Though it will be a challenge, the Bombers have the defensive skill to compete with a fast Lions offence.
Winnipeg has been one of the most aggressive fronts in the league, forcing eight fumbles and 10 interceptions this season while also boasting a league-best turnover ratio of plus 15. Their ability to take away the ball has rewarded them with points, having scored 50 points off turnovers this season.
The Bombers have also proven to be a tough team to score against. Allowing just 98 points on their season, the Blue and Gold have held teams to an average of 14 points per game. Winnipeg has shown to be especially tough to throw against in scoring situations, allowing just two passing touchdowns all season.
The Lions are going to play aggressive in the air and throw the ball down field, however the Bombers have the defensive play calling that may just provide the perfect counter to the big play ability of the BC offence.
Kickoff is slated for 10:00 p.m. ET and can be watched on TSN and ESPNews or followed along on CFL.ca’s Game Tracker.