Ottawa-ON-August-04: Canadian Football League action between the Ottawa Redblacks and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers TD Place Stadium, in Ottawa, ON, Canada, (Photographed by Marc Bourget/marcbourget.ca)
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have been here before. Maybe not these Blue Bombers, but the headline setting up Friday night – ‘QB Makes First Canadian Football League Start’ – isn’t an unfamiliar one.
But a word of caution as the Bombers prepare to line up against the Ottawa REDBLACKS with third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley at the controls.
Check that… three words of caution: Bo… Levi… Mitchell.
It was July 26th, 2013 and the Calgary Stampeders rolled into Winnipeg with Kevin Glenn out with a wonky elbow and Mitchell getting the nod over Tate – then with the Stamps – who had a forearm injury.
Mitchell promptly lit up the Bombers, completing 29 of 33 for 376 yards and three touchdowns, and not only did the Stamps exit with a 37-24 victory, but a CFL star had been born.
“I’m anxious to see how this new quarterback plays, but obviously he’s got some good guys he can throw to… they’ve got some guys who can play,” said Bombers defensive back T.J. Heath. “It’s tough prepping for him. He’s barely even played, so we don’t know much about him. You just try and study as much as you can on the guy and go from there. The big part of it is knowing who he’s likely going to throw to, who his big guys are.
“We’re going in expecting anything, but I don’t think their offence will change. It’s one of those deals where you try to adjust to him during the game. They’ll do some things to get him comfortable. But we have to focus on us and what we do.”
Here’s a quick 4-1-1 on Lindley: a former sixth-round draft pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2012, he had stints with San Diego, New England and Indianapolis before coming north to Ottawa. He’s big at 6-4, 232-pounds and certainly flashed some skills coming off the bench in the win over Montreal last Sunday, completing seven of 14 passes for 76 yards while being picked once.
Lindley made six regular season starts in the NFL, all with the Cards, throwing three TDs against 11 interceptions. He also made one playoff start, completing 16 of 28 for 82 yards in a loss to Carolina in which Arizona managed just 77 yards offence, the fewest in NFL postseason history.
Of course, all of that means zilch when the ball is put on the tee Friday night.
“They have a great system over there in Ottawa,” said Bombers defensive tackle Jake Thomas who, along with Clarence Denmark, are the only two remaining players from the game against Mitchell four years ago. “Any quarterback they have, they’re there for a reason. If we had to play our backup quarterbacks, we’d be comfortable and so I’m sure they’re comfortable with him.
“That’s the way you have to look at it: Anyone in this league is a starter just waiting for their chance. He seems to be a traditional pocket passer and every team tries to bring in a guy who fits their system.”
Useless stat department: The Bombers are 14-8 dating back to 1950 in games in which they are facing a QB making his first start here in Winnipeg.
But two other words, just to hammer this home: Rocky Butler.
Bomber fans who remember the 2002 season will recall Butler – who began the campaign as Saskatchewan’s fourth-string quarterback – ran for three touchdowns in a Labour Day Classic win over the visitors.
So… yeah… football can be goofy sometimes.
“He’s played in big games, played in some big-time situations,” said Bombers QB Matt Nichols of Lindley. “He’s going to be well prepared to go in there and play a good game. Every starter in this league, at one time or another, was in this position so I fully expect him to go out and play well.
“He’s got a lot of great players around him.”
“They’re going to play their system and we’re going to play ours,” added Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea. “I imagine Lindley feels he’s the starter and is quite capable. This is his opportunity to show that to everybody.
“You’ve got to prepare and approach the game like it is: he’s out there trying to beat you.”
GAME 12 | REDBLACKS (5-7-1) vs BLUE BOMBERS (8-3)
Kickoff: 7 p.m. Friday, Investors Group Field
TV: TSN, RDS, ESPN 3
Streaks: Ottawa: 1W; Winnipeg: 1W
Vegas line: The Bombers are favoured by 7 points.
Home/Road: Winnipeg is 4-1 at home this year, the lone blemish a loss to Calgary in their home opener back on July 7th. The REDBLACKS are 3-3 on the road, including last week’s win in Montreal.
Recent history: The Bombers and REDBLACKS met earlier this year in Ottawa, back on August 4th, with Winnipeg winning 33-30 on a last-play field goal by Justin Medlock. The two sides split their season series a year ago.
The forecast: Environment Canada: Increasing cloudiness. A few showers beginning in the afternoon; wind from the north 20 km/h gusting to 40 with a high of 18. Cloudy with a low of 10 in the evening.
“I played college football in the Pacific Northwest in a lot of rain and have been up here a few years. I feel like I throw the football fine in bad weather,” said Matt Nichols. “That’s when you know the season is just getting going. It’s exciting times and I’m looking forward to whatever challenge the weather creates.”
THOSE EVIL ‘EXPLOSION’ PLAYS
Here’s how a scrum with Bombers defensive coordinator Richie Hall opened the other day, with CJOB legend Bob Irving opening with: “So, about those explosion plays – this must feel like a broken…”
“That’s an understatement,” answered Hall, jumping in before the question had even been finished. “When we looked at (game film from the Banjo Bowl) from the passes it was five plays for 270-something yards. We controlled the game the first couple of series and then, all of sudden one play 80 yards and then we had a bust on the second one. And for us to get to where we want to be at the end of the year, we can’t have those things.”
Some numbers that must change: Winnipeg is second last in points allowed per game at 31.3, second last in net offence allowed per game at 405.0, last in opponent yards per play at 7.1 and second last in yards passing allowed per game at 338.4.
What continues to annoy everyone involved is how the yardage and points against comes in giant chunks.
“They’re fundamental things. Every team is a good team and you’ve got to make them earn it,” said Hall. “Saskatchewan’s a good team, but if we don’t give up those explosion plays I don’t think the game’s even close. They weren’t able to move the ball, but were able to get a two-play (TD) drive and a one-play (TD) drive. You’ve just got to keep grinding.
“If the ball goes up and it’s 50-50, that’s football. If they do something fancy, that’s football. It’s when we concede, it’s like a charity. And that’s what makes it hard because how do you correct it? It’s nothing scheme-wise… I said to you guys before, schemes are overrated. You just play fundamental football. If you got man, this is your man. And your man beats you, your man beats you. But when you run right up the field, how do you combat that?
WHO STEPS UP?
The news that defensive end Jamaal Westerman will be lost for the season has been one of the main stories of the last few days. Westerman, who leads the team in sacks with seven and has 32 in 47 games as a Bomber, will miss his first action in three years. There are pieces to replace him in a rotation that will feature Jackson Jeffcoat, Tristant Okpalaugo and Trent Corney, but that’s a big void to fill on the field and in terms of leadership.
“Losing a guy like Jamaal is really rough, but at the same time, we have guys that are here and they’re here for reasons,” said Okpalaugo. “They brought us in to make plays… I’m not taking away from Jamaal and what he brings to the team, but we feel like we’ll step up and even surpass that.
“I’m going to do my job. I’m going to do what they brought me in here to do and that’s get after the passer and make plays.”
Okpalaugo had already been lining up opposite Westerman, but the two men who will see their snaps jump are Jeffcoat – who has four sacks in nine games – and Corney, the club’s first pick in the 2016 CFL Draft.
“I’m really excited to be playing more,” said Corney. “I got a lot of experience last year and I’ve been getting a lot of experience this year. I feel like I’m ready to get some more playing time. We’re all really sad with what happened with Jamaal and we’re not sure what’s going to happen down the road with him, but he’s still going to be with us on the sidelines and he’s still going to be our leader.
“He’s helped me a lot. He’s the main guy I’ve watched since I got here. I was told right away this is the guy I need to watch. We sit together in meetings. I’ve learned a lot from him and I’m going to continue to learn a lot from him even though he’s not going to be on the field.”
THESE GUYS CAN PLAY
All the attention on Ryan Lindley and his first CFL start has overshadowed what could be an intriguing matchup on the other side of the ball. Ottawa’s defence is their backbone – they are second only to Calgary in points allowed and are tied with the Stamps in quarterback pressures – and they like to get after it old school, with a lot of heat up front and man coverage in the back.
They’ll be lining up across a Bombers offence that is first overall in points scored, 34.5 per game, and is run by the CFL’s highest-rated QB in Nichols.
“They’re good,” said Bombers offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice of Ottawa’s defence. “Most pressures in the Canadian Football League, tied for first, so they pressure the quarterback very well. They play man (coverage) very well. They’re a good, sound defence. I have a lot of respect for them and our players do, too. They play hard. You watch what they did to Montreal and the B.C. Lions… they destroyed them. In the three games in our breakdown, they really played well and for us, it was down to the last minute playing them last time. They’re a good unit.
“We know what we’re good at and will continue to do that. But it’s also refining and throwing out what we’re not good at, and adding some things we’ve done before. The big thing is we try not to overload the players with too much, but you can’t also rest on yesterday, too. You’ve got to be pushing them to be better and excel at a higher level.”
- Matt Nichols starts for the Bombers and is now 18-6 since taking the No. 1 QB chores late last July. Nichols is the CFL’s top-rated quarterback with a QUAR rating of 89.5. He has thrown for 3,287 yards and 22 touchdowns against seven interceptions.
- Ryan Lindley will make his first CFL start for the REDBLACKS with starter Trevor Harris out with injury. Drew Tate, who was injured in the win over Montreal last Sunday, will dress as the third stringer, behind another CFL rookie, former Maine star Danny Collins, who apparently had a try-out with the Bombers and Edmonton and was playing with the Frankfurt Universe in Germany before Ottawa called.
3 BOMBERS TO WATCH
#43 Trent Corney, defensive end: A freakish athlete who has a non-stop motor, Corney will be busier on defence with the absence of Westerman. He has one sack this year, but uses his quickness of get off the edge and has a brute-force strength that could make him a factor against the run.
#9 Justin Medlock, kicker: He was six of seven, including the game winner with no time left, in the win in Ottawa this August. Dating back to last season, the veteran hoofer has hit 11 of 12 vs. the REDBLACKS.
#15 Matt Nichols, quarterback: His numbers speak for themselves. But his decision making, particularly against this tough, tough Ottawa D, will be critical Friday.
#54 Tristan Okpalaugo, defensive end: The Bombers signed him in the offseason to bring some heat on enemy QBs. Injuries have limited him to just five games this year and just one sack. He was a QB killer during his two seasons in Toronto, with 23 in 36 games, and the Bombers would love to see that kind of production again.
The Bombers unveiled their 46-man roster for Friday’s game and there are two changes: Safety Taylor Loffler is back after being a late scratch prior to the Banjo Bowl, while LB Kyle Knox returns from injury. Coming off the roster are DE Jamaal Westerman, who has been moved to the six-game injured list, and LB Kyrie Wilson.
Ottawa has made five changes to their 46, adding former Bombers WR/KR Quincy McDuffie, DB Nick Taylor, OL Jake Silas, and receivers Austen Hartley and Kevin Elliott. Out are DB Jerrell Gavins, DL Jake Ceresna, OL Nolan MacMillan and receivers Dominique Rhymes and Josh Stangby.
Bombers receiving corps vs. the Ottawa air defence
The REDBLACKS D has been getting a ton of props from the Bombers all week and it leads into a superb matchup Friday night. Ottawa has surrendered just under 300 yards passing per game (298.8) – fifth best in the league – and their linebackers and defensive backs love to get up in opponents’ faces and dare them to beat them.
Ottawa is tied with the most QB pressures, but the Bombers offence has surrendered the fewest.
“It’s going to be a big-time battle,” said Nichols. “It was a battle the first time we played them. They won a few snaps, we won some snaps and that’s how it goes. It’s definitely a good match up and it’s going to be a tough game against that group – they’re a well-coached defence and they have a lot of talent on that side of the ball.”
- The Bombers announced the addition of a new receiver on Thursday, one day after T.J. Thorpe opted to leave the team. Coming aboard is Chris Givens (6-0, 203, Wake Forest), who played in 60 NFL games before being released by Philadelphia prior to last season. A fourth-round draft pick of the St. Louis Rams in 2012, Givens last saw action with the Baltimore Ravens in 2015, appearing in 12 games and starting six. He has 107 career receptions for 1,779 yards and five TDs.
Check out more of his game here.
- Mike O’Shea celebrated his 47th birthday on Thursday, and as much as he despises it when he is the centre of attention, the players weren’t going to let him escape the moment. A cake was brought out to the breakdown after Thursday’s walk-through and he was serenaded with a ‘Happy Birthday’ and forced to dance.
“That’s a 9 out of 10, for sure,” said Nichols of the dance. “That was fun. Osh is a guy that doesn’t like a lot of attention. It’s great when some of the players caught wind that it was his birthday and we got him some cake out there, a birthday song and Jermarcus Hardrick had him up on his shoulders. It was a good time. You want to celebrate that kind of stuff.”
- O’Shea, just for the record, spent Wednesday night at Shaw Park watching the Goldeyes win their second straight championship.
“Awesome,” he said. “Any time you can witness a championship being won I think it’s something very special. I enjoyed the game. I enjoyed the crowd, the atmosphere. What I really enjoyed was watching the people watch the celebration at the end. There were a lot of people who stuck around just to stare onto the field. To be a part of something like that was pretty neat, just sitting back and watching the fans watch it. Congratulations to the Goldeyes. Back-to-back is not easy to do and they were by far the better team. It was something to watch.”
- Since opening in 2013, Investors Group Field has drawn 1,149,565 fans to 41 home games – an average of 28,038.
- The 48 points scored by the Bombers in the Banjo Bowl was their highest output since July 2, 2010. Their 34.5 points per game average this season is the highest since 36.2 in 1994.
- Winnipeg’s four-game home winning streak is their longest within the same season since a run in July through September of 2007.