We begin with a question today in providing our analysis of the how and the why behind the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ seventh-straight victory Saturday afternoon at Investors Group Field…
So, just what do you call it, anyways, when you see an entire offensive line – led by right tackle Jermarcus Hardrick – offer up their version of the ‘Lambeau Leap’ and throw themselves into the crowd after a touchdown?
Does ‘The Jermarcus Jump’ work?
“The ‘Hardrick Hop’ or the ‘O-Line Leap’… it doesn’t matter,” Hardrick said with a smile in a euphoric Bomber dressing room after Saturday’s 46-29 victory. “I’m just showing love to the fans, man. It was my idea to bring the whole O-line. It was fun.”
“There might be some cracks in the wall. I hope not.”
“That was incredible,” added quarterback Matt Nichols. “I didn’t know if that was planned or what. They kinda told me to come with them. I didn’t know what was going on and all of a sudden I looked up there and there was 2,000 pounds up in the stands.
“It’s awesome seeing those guys being excited. They don’t get a lot of glory for what they do.”
But it’s also no secret that part of the winning formula the Bombers have created since late July has been the work of the big-eaters up front, who have dominated the line of scrimmage. Winnipeg has used four different combinations along the offensive line with the current crew – Stanley Bryant at left tackle, Travis Bond at left guard, Matthias Goossen at centre, Sukh Chungh at right guard and Hadrick at right tackle – in place for five games, including the last four.
It also says a lot about this bunch that they’ve been able to morph into a force with Patrick Neufeld, who started the first five games at right tackle, and Jeff Keeping – injured during training camp – on the shelf and not available to offer depth.
The Bombers gave up one sack against the Argos, but the combination of some stability up front combined with Nichols’ quick-read-and-release skillset has brought the QB kills totals down dramatically. Winnipeg surrendered 19 sacks in its first six games, but has given up just four in the last four.
“Our O-line has been playing amazing and I think I only got sacked one time today and we’re running the ball for over 100 yards… those guys are playing great up front and I can’t say enough good things about them,” said Nichols. “I’m happy they got to go out there and have a little fun.
— Matt Nichols (@MattNichols16) September 18, 2016
“They’re pretty much always in the right spot and it makes my job a lot easier because I don’t have to worry about them blowing calls or anything like that.”
The Bombers have controlled the line of scrimmage for a good chunk of their current win streak, and it’s not just represented by the sacks for and against totals. The offence remains committed to the run, and that was evidence by Timothy Flanders rushing for 102 yards on 19 carries on Saturday in his first action since the preseason.
Also of note; while the defence had issues trying to finish tackles on the Argos’ beefy QB Dan LeFevour in the first half – he shrugged off tackles to extend plays and find receivers downfield in throwing for three scores and 211 yards in the opening 30 minutes – he was limited to just 60 yards passing in the second half.
Chris Randle, making his first start since being placed on the six-game injured list, was representative of that bounce back. He was in coverage on a couple of Argos’ scores, but picked off a pass and finished with one tackle and one knockdown.
“It was a great experience to come back with that type of team,” said Randle. “They’re winning, so the mindset of this whole team has just changed since I’ve been in there. We had some ups and downs in the whole first half and to come in here and have this team believe and know that they can win and make big plays helped me out a lot.
“That’s what we did in the second half: we executed at a higher level.”
More on the Bombers seventh-straight victory with our weekly post-game collection of notes, quotes and anecdotes we call ‘Upon Further Review’:
TIMOTHY FLANDERS IS SIMPLY… the latest in a series of depth players who have been solid after being activated from the practice roster. But he hadn’t carried a ball in game action since June 13th – a span of 96 days – and that’s an eternity in the course of a football season.
Flanders said repeatedly post-game that he felt ‘blessed’ with the opportunity to just be earning a paycheque playing the game. Still…
“I saw a lot of guys go up and be on the active (roster) and I’m just sitting there left behind,” he said. “We’ve been doing that all season, especially on our receiving corps and with a couple of guys on defence. As long as they can come in, fill in and do what they’re asked and we can come out winning, that’s all that matters.
“It’s hard. I’m a competitor. I always want to play. But I just sat there and practice, practice, practice. It’s something I had to get used to, but I feel like I’m good now.”
Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea raved about Flanders afterward and, in an effort to point out how committed to the cause he is, shared this story:
“I can’t say enough about Timothy Flanders,” said O’Shea. “He does all the scout team work on special teams and he pays such close attention to what the opponent is doing when he steps out there (for practice) he’s putting people in the right spots. So he’s telling his teammates that are on the scout team what to do and how to do it to give us a look on our special-teams practices. Those are the little things that a coach notices and says, ‘Holy man… that is awesome.’
“So I’m very happy for Timothy Flanders that he got his opportunity and he did great with it.”
MORE ON FLANDERS… Nichols, for one, didn’t seem the least bit shocked that the man filling in for Andrew Harris would have such a big day.
“It didn’t surprise me,” said Nichols. “I follow the FCS and he’s from Sam Houston State, at Eastern Washington’s level (where Nichols played his college ball), and I remember seeing his name for about four straight years. It seemed like he was rushing for about 200 yards a game.
“I just remember the name because ‘Flanders’ is an easy name to remember. I remember when he came up here I had already heard of him and he was a great college player. He ripped off a 80-100-yard game in the preseason and you could see he was a hard worker, a guy that was ready to go and I knew he was going to have a big game today.”
THERE WERE MANY TURNING POINTS… in Saturday’s win, but one of the biggest was a miss by Lirim Hajrullahu on a 38-yard field goal attempt that would have cut the Bomber lead down and made the score 36-32. It broke a streak of 15 consecutive for Hajrullahu but, painted against Justin Medlock’s work on the afternoon, also highlighted why the Bombers opted to go out and spend big on their new kicker in free agency.
Medlock finished the day six-for-six, hitting from 13, 48, 37, 53, 46 and 32 yards. This coming off a 1-for-3 performance in the Banjo Bowl that was stuck in his craw all week.
“It was a bounce back for me,” said Medlock. “It wasn’t like (last week) was the first time I ever had a bad game so I kind of figured I would bounce back.
“Last week fuelled me, but it also bugged me. I was pretty pissed the whole week. I watched a lot of film and had a good week of practice, but I steered clear of everybody. I knew what I was capable of and the team put me in a good spot.”
Medlock has now made 41 of his 48 field-goal attempts this season (85.4 per cent) and is nearing Troy Westwood’s club record for threes in a season. Westwood connected on 47 field goals twice in his career, in 1992 and again 2003.
FYI… two moments that popped out for yours truly Saturday were the Quincy McDuffie 98-yard kickoff return touchdown and Matt Nichols cranking out nine yards on a third-and-one gamble that led to a fourth-quarter TD. “It kinda surprised me when I squirted out of there,” said Nichols. “I think I might have tripped over my own feet at about the four-yard line so I didn’t have power to get all the way in. The guys did a great job up front for us to finish it off and it was a huge touchdown for us to put us up two touchdowns.”
The McDuffie return flashed his explosiveness and, as he crossed the goal line, stretched out his arms as if he were a sprinter finishing off a 100-metre dash. (2:28 mark below)
AND, FINALLY… near the end of his scrum with the media, Flanders was asked where the Bombers confidence level was at right now after seven straight W’s. And his answer perfectly summed up the vibe around this club right now.
“On a scale of 1 to 10… probably like a 12,” he said with a size-large grin. “It takes a lot for us to come out here and keep winning. We’re putting it on people.”