Gather round, football fans and statistical geeks of all ages, as we embark on our annual discussion on some notable Winnipeg Blue Bombers numbers…
And let’s open with this: Of all the outstanding stats posted by the football club in 2018, which would you consider the most significant?
Is it the 1,390 rushing yards by Andrew Harris, which represented not only a career high, but led the Canadian Football League for the second straight season?
Is it the 10 wins the Bombers racked up, marking the first time since 2001-2003 that the team has posted three consecutive double-digit win seasons?
Is it something like the 49 forced turnovers, which tied for the league lead with the Calgary Stampeders?
Or, gulp, is it the long Grey Cup drought that now dates back to 1990?
There really are no wrong answers here. But before the calendar turns on 2018, we thought we’d toss out the numbers that resonate – from this perch, at least – in our second annual instalment of 10 Notable Numbers…
The stat: The Bombers led the CFL in points in 2018 – 550 – and also in offensive points scored – 507, or 28.2 points per game.
What it means: As recently as 2015, the Bombers were dead last in offensive points scored and they finished last in points scored in three of four years from 2012-2015. The last time the Bombers led the CFL in this category? Try 2002, when Paul LaPolice was in his first of three stints with the club.
Talking point: The offensive totals are significant, because even though the Bombers led the league in rushing, they also opened the season with rookie Chris Streveler as their starting quarterback for three games while Matt Nichols recovered from a knee injury and had only one player – Darvin Adams – finish in the Top 20 in receiving yardage. LaPolice withdrew his name from consideration for the Toronto Argonauts head coaching vacancy this week, FYI, but remains a popular candidate for his offensive wizardry.
The stat: The Bombers defence surrendered an average of 20.8 points per game this past season, ranking second in the CFL to the Calgary Stampeders (17.8).
What it means: It represents significant progress for the Bombers defensive unit after allowing 26.6 points per game in 2017, which ranked seventh overall. That’s 5.8 points less per game. The Bombers allowed 419 points in 2018 – including points scored against the special teams and offence – which was the team’s best total since giving up 404 in 2007.
Talking point: A defence which had been in the crosshairs at the end of the 2017 season helped redeem itself in 2018. Those numbers were solid in the postseason too, when the Bombers allowed just 40 points in two playoff games and only 314 passing yards combined in the win over Saskatchewan and loss to Calgary.
The stat: The Bombers finished +13 in the turnover ratio (takeaways minus giveaways), tied for first in the CFL with Calgary.
What it means: Over the last three years the Bombers are a whopping +56 in the turnover ratio, followed by the Stampeders (+52), Saskatchewan (+3), Hamilton (-5), Edmonton (-9), Montreal (-17), Ottawa (-13) and B.C. (-29) and Toronto (-38).
Talking point: The Bombers racked up 151 points off turnovers in 2018, after registering 166 in 2017 and 149 in 2016 – first in the CFL in each of those three years. It could be argued no stat represents the club’s turnaround over the past three years better than the turnover ratio and the points generated off the mistakes of their opponents.
The stat: Bombers running back Andrew Harris accounted for 297 of the club’s 772 offensive touches in 2018– 239 carries, 58 receptions – or 38.4 percent.
What it means: It just hammers home how much of a workhorse Harris is in the Bombers offence, given the number was 37.8 percent in 2017. That total is, by far, the highest in the CFL. A related stat worth noting: there were only three players in the league this year who accounted for 20 or more percent of their team’s total yards gained: Harris was first at 27 percent, followed by Ottawa REDBLACKS running back William Powell (23 percent) and Edmonton Eskimos receiver Duke Williams (21 percent).
Talking point: Harris averaged 5.8 yards per carry in 2018 and 7.8 yards per reception. Those are both solid totals, especially as defences have increasingly fixated on limiting that damage. But is 38.4 percent of the total touches too much as it relates to offensive balance? Discuss amongst yourselves.
The stat: The defensive tackle totals by Bombers middle linebacker Adam Bighill, tying him with Hamilton’s Larry Dean for third most in the CFL behind Calgary’s Alex Singleton (123) and Henoc Muamba of Montreal (108).
What it means: The CFL started tracking tackles as a stat in 1987 and Bighill became just the sixth Bomber to hit the century mark in tackles after Greg Battle (108 in 1989, 100 in 1990), K.D. Williams (102 in 1996), Barrin Simpson (110 in 2006 and 112 in 2007), Henoc Muamba (106 in 2013) and Khalil Bass (102 in 2015).
Talking point: What doesn’t show up in the stats is Bighill’s ability to lead and make those around him better. The big question heading into the offseason – with Bighill as a pending free agent – is how many dollars GM Kyle Walters might have to pile up to have him return.
The stat: Chris Streveler passed for 11 touchdowns and rushed for 10 more in his rookie season with the Bombers.
What it means: Those are dandy totals, not just because Streveler started only three games at the beginning of the season when Matt Nichols was on the shelf with a knee injury, but as it is also a perfect representation of his skillset. Consider that Streveler became the first Bomber QB in 25 years to hit double-digit totals in passing TDs and rushing TDs. The last? Matt Dunigan, who threw for 36 and ran for 11 in 1993.
Talking point: The Bombers have Streveler under contract for 2019 and it will be intriguing to see if his role in the offence expands. There’s no question he is a dangerous runner, but can he continue to work on his ability to read defences in the passing game to improve his stock as a future starter in the CFL, and/or will he draw interest from down south?
The stat: The Bombers averaged 8.7 yards per punt return and 19.7 yards per kickoff return – both totals ranking 8th, or second-last, in the CFL.
What it means: Those numbers are about two yards less per return from 2017, when the club ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, in punt and kickoff return yards. The Bombers had one return touchdown all year – a 110-yard missed field goal TD by Kevin Fogg in the season-opening loss to Edmonton, after finishing with three in 2017. Three teams in the league – Winnipeg, Toronto and Edmonton – did not register a punt or kickoff return touchdown this year.
Talking point: The Bombers leading punt and kickoff return men from 2018 – Kevin Fogg, Nic Demski and Ryan Lankford – are all pending free agents. There is a sense from the Bombers coaches that Charles Nelson, who dressed for the regular season finale and then started in the West Final, could be an answer as a returner. He was a Pac-12 All-Star as a returner in 2015 while at Oregon.
The stat: The Bombers were nailed for 107 penalties in 2018, one fewer than a year ago. That total was the CFL’s lowest, as was the total penalty yardage of 1,019.
What it means: It’s significant, given where the Bombers have come from in this category over the last few years. The Bombers penalty total in the past four years has dropped from 202, to 166, to 108, to 107.
Talking point: The last time the Bombers took less than 107 penalties in a season was way back in 1974, when they were nailed for 90 infractions. Teams were also playing a 16-game schedule then, too.
The stat: The passing yards surrendered by the Bombers in 2018 – or 267.4 yards per game. That ranked fifth overall, behind Saskatchewan (245.5), B.C. (247.2) Hamilton (247.7) and Calgary (251.9).
What it means: Ranking fifth in anything in a nine-team league is hardly worth planning a parade, but it is worth a hearty slap on the back given where the Bombers have come from in this department. Winnipeg was dead last in passing yards against in 2017 at 5,788 or 321.6 per game. That’s 974 yards less a year ago, or over 54 yards per game.
Talking point: Defensive coordinator Richie Hall had been roundly criticized by fans after playoff losses in 2016 and 2017 were pockmarked by the work of the defensive dozen. But that chatter died down considerably in the second half of this past season as the defence morphed into a force. Hall deserves credit, as does head coach Mike O’Shea for standing by his defensive boss and increasing his role on that side of the ball. What shouldn’t be overlooked is the work of two new defensive assistants in Jordan Younger and James Stanley, along with Glenn Young, who had his role expanded from linebackers coach to Front 7 coach in 2018.
The stat: The Bombers won-lost record in games in which Matt Nichols has started since replacing Drew Willy at the end of July, 2016 (he is 32-19 overall as a starter in Winnipeg).
What it means: The club has stability at the position after a scary revolving door of pivots dating back to 2011. Nichols winning percentage is .667, and just FYI, the team was 1-2 under Streveler this year, 11-18 with Drew Willy at the controls and 13-14 with Buck Pierce under centre. All the other QBs – from Justin Goltz to Robert Marve to Max Hall, Brian Brohm, Dom Davis, Dan LeFevour – combined to go 7-16. Put that all together and the collection of QBs other than Nichols who started games for the Bombers were a combined 32-61, for a winning percentage of .344.
Talking point: Both Mike Reilly of the Edmonton Eskimos and Calgary’s Bo Levi Mitchell are pending free agents this winter, prompting many in Bomber Nation to suggest the club should offer up a blank cheque to both to see which of the two pivots might be tempted. That’s fair comment, as every GM in this league will undoubtedly make inquiries. But as Kyle Walters indicated in his season-ending media availability, there is real belief in the locker room and coaches’ offices that this team can win with Nichols at the controls