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Collaros, Bombers look to snap dismal start to 2024 CFL season

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros (8) throws the ball while under pressure from Ottawa Redblacks' Damon Webb (9) during CFL action in Ottawa on Thursday, June 13, 2024. It's only their third game of the season but it's certainly an important one for Collaros and the Blue Bombers. Winnipeg (0-2) hosts the B.C. Lions (1-1) on Friday night looking to put a halt to their surprisingly slow start. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle

It's only the third game of the season but it is an important one for Zach Collaros and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Winnipeg (0-2) hosts the B.C. Lions (1-1) on Friday night following an uncharacteristic slow start to the 2024 campaign. Not since 2016 have the Blue Bombers -- who've reached the Grey Cup four straight years -- been two games below .500.

Again, it's early, but what's been very surprising has been the lack of production from a Winnipeg offence that last season averaged a CFL-high 31.7 points per game. Through two games, the unit is last in both offensive scoring (13.5 points per game) and net offence (296.5 yards, compared to a league-high 414.7 last year).

A ground attack that was the league's best last year (139.1 yards per game) has averaged just 67 yards thus far. Brady Oliveira, last year's rushing leader who was the CFL's top Canadian and a finalist for its outstanding player award -- ran for 38 yards in 11 carries in Winnipeg's opening 27-12 loss to Montreal before sitting out last week's 23-19 defeat to Ottawa with a knee ailment.

Johnny Augustine had 31 rushing yards and a TD on seven carries against Ottawa as Winnipeg ran for 42 yards on 13 attempts (three-yard average). And the Bombers were six-of-18 on second-down conversions.

It's also been an uncharacteristically slow start for Collaros, who threw for a career-high 4,252 yards last season and league-best 33 TDs. The two-time CFL MVP has completed just 54.7 per cent of his passes and has more interceptions (three) than scoring strikes (none).

A telling statistic thus far has been Winnipeg's offence converting a league-low 34.1 per cent of second-down chances.

But Winnipeg's defence -- which is without starting linemen Jackson Jeffcoat (retired) and Ricky Walker (signed with Calgary as free agent but currently not playing) and cornerback Demerio Houston (Calgary, free agent) -- has also had its ups and downs. While the Bombers are tied for fourth in fewest offensive points allowed (25 per game), they've only forced one turnover.

Last year, Houston had a CFL-high 10 turnovers himself (league-best seven interceptions, three fumble recoveries) and already has an interception with Calgary.

Kicker Sergio Castillo -- who made over 90 per cent of his field goals last year -- is two-for-four so far. Myron Mitchell is averaging 5.6 yards on 11 punt returns while his predecessor Janarion Grant, now with Toronto, is averaging a CFL-best 14.3 yards although the Argonauts have only played once this season.

Winnipeg faces a B.C. team coming off a 26-17 home win over Calgary. Quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. threw for 277 yards and two TDs while rushing four times for 16 yards and a touchdown.

The contest is also an important one for B.C., which has lost to Winnipeg in the West Division final the last two years. The Lions have been picked by some to play in the Grey Cup, which will be held at B.C. Place Stadium in November.

The Bombers have won eight of the last 10 matchups although B.C. was victorious in Winnipeg last year.

Collaros is 6-1 as a Bomber versus B.C. and Winnipeg hasn't started 0-3 since 2012.

Pick: Winnipeg.

Ottawa Redblacks versus Montreal Alouettes (Thursday night)

At Montreal, the Alouettes (2-0) will raise their championship banner in their home opener. Starter Cody Fajardo is 6-1 versus Ottawa (1-0) and has won seven straight regular-season games. He's supported by a defence that's tops in fewest offensive points (15 per game) and turnovers (six). Dru Brown threw for 238 yards and a TD to help the Redblacks beat Winnipeg -- Brown's former team -- last week.

Pick: Montreal.

Edmonton Elks versus Toronto Argonauts (Saturday night)

At Toronto, McLeod Bethel-Thompson returns to BMO Field for the first time since helping the Double Blue win the 2022 Grey Cup. Edmonton (0-2) heads on the road following two home defeats. The Argos (1-0) were off last week after downing B.C. 35-27 in their opener. They've won 10 straight regular-season home games but the Elks do have solid tape on starter Cameron Dukes and Co.

Pick: Edmonton.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats versus Saskatchewan Roughriders (Sunday night)

At Regina, Saskatchewan (2-0) outscored Hamilton (0-2) 16-3 in the fourth quarter for a wild 33-30 road win Sunday night. Quarterback Trevor Harris was again a key figure, passing for 390 yards and two TDs. The loss tarnished another solid outing by Ticats' starter Bo Levi Mitchell (27-of-38 attempts, 380 yards, three TDs, one interception) despite his receivers having key drops.

Pick: Hamilton.

Last week: 3-1.

Overall: 4-4.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 19, 2024.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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