When the Winnipeg Blue Bombers run out of the tunnel at Tim Hortons Field on Sunday, they will look to accomplish something that hasn't been done since 2010: repeat as Grey Cup Champions.
Standing in their way is a familiar opponent, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the team they defeated to win their first championship since 1996. This is the first Grey Cup rematch since the Montreal Alouettes and Saskatchewan Roughriders played in 2009 and 2010.
Seeing the Grey Cup in person again this week provided the Blue Bombers with a reminder of what they spent the entire season working toward. Here is a look at what the team needs to do to become just the second team in the last 20 years to win consecutive titles.
CONTROL THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE ON OFFENCE
There is no arguing that the Blue Bombers have the best offensive line in the CFL, and the line were the unsung heroes in their win over the Tiger-Cats in the 107th Grey Cup.
Hamilton's strength on defence comes from their defensive line, with Ja’Gared Davis having a breakout performance in the CFL playoffs with four sacks in two games. It will be up to veterans on the offensive line to slow down the Tiger-Cats pass rush; Blue Bombers offensive lineman Stanley Bryant believes the continuity that this group has built will be crucial in this game.
"It's be a great matchup for us this time around again, they play physical and move guys around," Bryant said. "As long as we got out there and play physical, we can dominate and come out on top."
Defensive lineman Ted Laurent (appendicitis) is likely out of Sunday's game for Hamilton, which would be a tough loss for them. If he cannot play, Lee Autry would take his place. The challenge for Winnipeg will be to limit the effectiveness of Davis and Dylan Wynn by protecting quarterback Zach Collaros.
Of course, the biggest boost the team got was seeing running back Andrew Harris back on the field and putting up a dominant performance against the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The strength of the offensive line comes from their ability to provide gaps for Harris to burst through and help control the pace of the game.
EXECUTE ON THE BIG PLAYS
In the East final, the Toronto Argonauts tried to challenge the Tiger-Cats with deep throws, but weren't able to execute.
Winnipeg knows that this defence doesn't give you a lot, which is why converting on any chances they give will be crucial.
"That's one of the main things that we keep saying in our meetings, is we got to make the play when the ball's in the air," Nic Demski said during CFL media day. "What stands out to me about Hamilton is just their defence as a whole, they communicate well, their D-line really complements their back end as well. They have good linebackers that are physical and fast. So, you know when that when you have the opportunity to make a play, we're going have to make a play and extend the drive."
The Blue Bombers have the advantage with the playmakers at receiver with Demski, Darvin Adams, Kenny Lawler and Rasheed Bailey. Collaros has also shown an ability to extend plays with his legs and give his receivers time to get open.
KEEP EVANS IN THE POCKET
Like the Tiger-Cats, the Blue Bombers defensive line is one of the toughest units to go up against.
Willie Jefferson and Jackson Jeffcoat were a force to be reckoned with in the 2019 Grey Cup and the reason Hamilton couldn't get anything going on offence.
While the switch to Dane Evans provided the spark Hamilton needed against the Argos, their offensive line still allowed five sacks in the game. The Tiger-Cats also have struggled to put up points, especially early on in the game.
There isn't a weakness on the Blue Bombers defence considering their linebacking group is led by Adam Bighill and their defensive backs feed off the defensive line's ability to get to the quarterback quickly.
"I feel pumped up when I see Willie Jefferson, Jackson Jeffcoat, Steven Richardson and the guys like that get a sack, especially as a DB, because that means we did our job well," defensive back DeAundre Alford said. "It just feels good to be able to play off those guys and feed off their energy. I feel like their energy transitions to everyone around on the field, which plays a big part in what we do on defence."
Winnipeg's defence will give their offence opportunities to put up points, and if they can get a decent lead in the final, Harris can help ice the game by chewing up time with tough yards on the ground.
LIMIT HAMILTON'S SPECIAL TEAMS AND SILENCE THE CROWD
It is expected to be a Hamilton-dominated crowd at Tim Hortons Field, but the Blue Bombers don't expect it to faze them considering they are used to playing in hostile environments.
One way they can make the crowd a non-factor is by limiting the big plays on special teams, which, given Mike O'Shea's background as an offensive co-ordinator, will likely be a focus. Papi White got the Tiger-Cats back into the East final with a punt-return touchdown that cut the Argos lead in half.
Getting off to a good start will also be crucial, as the Blue Bombers were fortunate to overcome five first-half turnovers to win the West final. It's that ability to remain composed, even while facing adversity, that's going to be crucial in this game.
"I think everybody understands that, we're not going to be able to win this football game turning the ball over at that rate. Our goal every week is to win the turnover battle. You know, we were lucky to pull that one out last week," Collaros said. "With that being said, I think at halftime, we all kind of went into the locker room and looked at each other and said, 'Hey, you know, it's really nothing that they're doing to stop, it's more, you know, we're giving this away, so let's protect the football, let's do what we've done all season long, let's execute and hopefully end up in the end zone at the end of drives.' And I think for the most part in that second half, we were able to do that."
Given how many games the Blue Bombers were able to win convincingly by taking their opponent out of it early, this likely remains the formula for them going into the Grey Cup final.