LIVESTREAM PPV: Montreal Alouettes @Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Sept. 21, 7:30p (8:30p ET, 2:30a Sept. 22 CET)

WINNIPEG — Two squads in desperate need of a victory will square off in the Week 15 edition of Friday Night Football, as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers entertain the Montreal Alouettes at Investors Group Field.

The Bombers have dropped four straight, sinking to last place in the ultra-competitive West Division in the process, and are now improbably behind the eight ball in the playoff race after starting the season 5-3.

Montreal, meanwhile, fell 32-14 to BC last week; the loss knocked Mike Sherman’s team down to 3-9 on the season, and two and a half games out of the final playoff spot in the East Division — held by the Lions.

Winnipeg needs to stop its free fall in order to stay relevant in the West Division, while another loss for the Alouettes would all but finish their slim playoff chances.

The big story out of Montreal was an announced quarterback change early in the week, as Coach Sherman and his staff pivoted away from sophomore Antonio Pipkin in favour of the now-healthy Johnny Manziel.

Much was made of Manziel’s comments in the run-up to last week’s loss to BC — he openly questioned whether the organization still believed in him following his time on the injured list — but his head coach insists the change under centre was unrelated.

The reality for the Alouettes is the team is entering a do-or-die portion of their schedule — and they know it.

“The mindset is to win. I’m not thinking about the playoffs or anything like that. I just want us to win this game,” offensive lineman Tony Washington, who will be playing in his 100th CFL game, told MontrealAlouettes.com.

Blocking for mobile quarterbacks like Manziel and listed backup Antonio Pipkin is a bit more of a challenge for Washington and the Montreal line.

“It’s different because they get out of their pocket while we have to stick to our blocks,” explained Washington. “Usually, the defensive line runs at you, but when the QB is moving, you just don’t know what’s going on behind you. It makes it a little harder, but at the same time, if he can get outside the pocket, it means he can make things happen with speed.”

While Montreal will need to move the chains on offence, it will also have to deal with dual-threat Winnipeg running back Andrew Harris.

“I think the run is a big strong game for them,” said Als defensive back Tevaughn Campbell. “If we stop the run, I think we’ll have a good game.”

The Regina product’s 2018 season, which only began in Week 10 due to injury, is off to a flying start: Eight tackles on defence, an interception and a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown in four games.

“I feel like I did (have something to prove), just because it ended with a decent note last year and I wanted to come back strong,” said Campbell of his hot midseason start. “(I) didn’t get an opportunity to do that, so when I came back halfway through the season I had something to prove.”

It’s been a tough stretch for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who have suffered through multi-score losses to Ottawa and Calgary before their most recent two-game sweep at the hands of the prairie rival Roughriders.

Despite the struggles of quarterback Matt Nichols, who has thrown seven interceptions against two touchdowns over his last three starts, Winnipeg head coach Mike O’Shea will stick with his starter this week.

That said, the Bombers understand they are not facing the same Montreal team they dominated in Week 2.

“Defensively… if you get (defensive coordinator) Rich Stubler in there and anybody who’s been around the league whose been around Stubler knows it’s going to take some time for the guys to understand exactly what he wants and how they are executing his plays and his system,” O’Shea told BlueBombers.com. “They’re playing well now… certainly a drastically different team than when we played them the first game in Week 2.”

It has been a season of segments for O’Shea’s 31-year-old starting quarterback; between Weeks 6 and 10, Nichols tossed eight touchdowns against two interceptions — nearly the exact inverse of his line over three most recent outings.

“I need to go out and do what I’m coached to do and help put this team in a position to win,” Nichols told media during the week. “It’s not something where I need to make something that’s not there, what’s got me here is trusting my eyes, having fun and sticking to the script.”

As for the challenge posed by Montreal’s secondary, Winnipeg’s quarterback knows he will face a much-improved unit.

“They found a line up they like in the secondary, they do a good job with a lot of veteran guys back there,” explained Nichols. “ John Bowman makes a world of difference for them. Their front is different. You can see they’re playing better week in and week out.”

Winnipeg remains a team with a potent ground attack, with the most rush yards (135 per-game), highest average rush gain (6.0) and most rush touchdowns (15) in the CFL.

By The Numbers:

7– Sacks allowed by Montreal in last week’s loss against BC — the most surrendered in a single game by a CFL team this season.

27-3 – Winnipeg’s record when it wins the turnover battle. When the Bombers lose that battle? 0-14. Turnovers matter.

70 – Tackles on the season for Bombers linebacker Adam Bighill, who is on pace for 100-plus tackles. If the 29 year-old eclipses that mark, he would be the first Winnipeg player since Khalil Bass in 2015 to do so.

81.8 – Per cent of meetings between the two clubs since July 2013 won by the Bombers (9-2), who have won the last four in a row including a 56-10 beatdown earlier this season.

It’s Week 15, and that means we are entering not only the final third of the CFL regular season but ‘must-win’ territory as well.

While the Bombers could still be within range of BC and the crossover playoff spot after a loss on Friday, the optics — a home loss against the league’s last-place outfit, a fifth on the hop — would be terrible and send morale plunging further in Winnipeg.

Montreal, on the other hand, is quite literally in a must-win position: The Alouettes are running out of real estate to try and mount an unlikely late-season surge, and with Saskatchewan (7-5) and Calgary (10-2) looming on the schedule, it’s now or never for Mike Sherman’s team.

Neither team has tasted victory in a few weeks, and neither team can afford a loss on Friday night.

Something has got to give.

– With files from MontrealAlouettes.com/BlueBombers.com

AFI, Yare Media and the CFL

American Football International is collaborating with Yare Media and the Canadian Football League to present 2018 CFL games live. This is more than a livestream. This is a stream of the top flight TSN network television broadcast.

LIVE STREAM PPV: CFL – Montreal Alouettes @Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Sept. 21, 7:30p (8:30p ET, 2:30a Sept. 22 CET)

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