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July 10, 2019

Game Preview | TOR at WPG

Winnipeg Blue Bombers #24 Mike Miller

Presented by:

GAME 4 | TORONTO ARGONAUTS (0-3) at WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (3-0)

THE 4-1-1

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. Friday, IG Field
TV: TSN, RDS, ESPN+
Radio: 680 CJOB
Home/Road: The Bombers are 1-0 at home this season, having won their opener over Edmonton a couple of weeks ago. They were 6-3 at IG Field last year. The Argos are 0-1 on the road this year, falling 32-7 to Saskatchewan on Canada Day. Toronto was 0-9 away from home last year and their 10-game road losing streak dates back to a 40-13 win in Vancouver in the last regular season game of 2017 – the same year the Argos upset Calgary in the Grey Cup.
Recent history: The Bombers are 3-0 to start a season for the first time since 2014 and are coming off a 29-14 win in Ottawa a week ago. The Argos, meanwhile, are coming off an 18-17 loss to B.C. in which the Lions won on a single following a missed field goal on the last play of the game.
Series: The Bombers are 57-60-2 against the Argos all-time, but 38-22-0 at home against their East rivals.

3 STORYLINES

1. STOMP THAT FOOT DOWN, BOMBERS

The Bombers have an opportunity to open a season 4-0 for the first time since 2003 and the days of Dave Ritchie, Khari Jones, Milt Stegall, Doug Brown and Charles Roberts.

Of the nine previous times in club history it has opened 3-0, it has improved to 4-0 six times (1939, 1947, 1961, 1965, 1987, 2003). The concern here, of course, is that in facing a winless Argos squad the Bombers might somehow take their foot off the gas pedal. The Bombers insisted Wednesday that won’t be the case and that was a common refrain from everyone in blue and gold.

“To us, records really don’t talk that loud until the end of the year and it’s time for playoffs,” said slotback Nic Demski. “We’re going to go in with the mentality that we need this win just as badly as they do.

“If we just play our football and focus on us, we’ll be alright. Obviously, we’ve done our homework on where to attack them, but if you focus on the other team too much or something like your own personal goals then you’ve already lost that week. Pay attention to your details and what we need to do.”

2. A DEFENSIVE FORCE GAINING STRENGTH

The Bombers defence emerged in the second half of last season as a real CFL force, and despite a number of personnel changes this winter, is again morphing into a power.

Just to repeat some juicy stats that have been shared this week:

  • The Bombers have allowed just one offensive TD against this season, dating back to the third quarter of the win over B.C. in Week 1. That’s a stretch of 34 consecutive drives without giving up an offensive score.
  • The Bombers have forced a league-leading 10 turnovers, are holding teams to just 42.7 yards rushing and have allowed just 19.3 points per game.
  • Winnipeg’s D has not allowed a TD in two straight games, tying a club record that has been achieved eight times, most recently in 2005. That streak now covers nine quarters – with the club record of 13 set across four games in 1966.

“Honestly, I don’t think we really notice those numbers until after the game when we break down the scores,” said cornerback Chandler Fenner. “For us, it really is about taking things one play at a time, one series at a time and winning the game. Winning the game, obviously, is the focus.”

3. AN OFFENSIVE BALANCE AND THE MEN UP FRONT

Remember at the close of training camp and as the curtain lifted on the season when everyone across the CFL had circled the middle of the Bombers offensive line and pegged it a question mark?

The club has two dominant tackles in Stanley Bryant and Jermarcus Hardrick, but one of the narratives leading into the season was how the interior of the line – with Pat Neufeld injured and the untested Cody Speller, Geoff Gray at guard and Michael Couture at centre – was a massive concern.

Funny how those rumblings have now quieted to just a murmur.

Munch on these numbers:

  • The Bombers continue to be the CFL’s most balanced attack, with 53% of offensive plays being through the air and 44% along the ground.
  • Winnipeg’s red zone percentage through three games is a sparkling 90% (9 for 10), best in the CFL, while Matt Nichols is tied for the league-lead with seven TD passes.

“We’re proud of what’ve done so far,” said right guard Geoff Gray. “Obviously there’s still room to grow and there’s stuff we’re still learning. We’ve taken steps in each game and I think that’s all you can really ask for from our group.

“Our O-line and D-line have a reputation they’ve built and we wanted to uphold that. Every group is different, but it’s definitely helped us when you practice against our D-line every day.”

“They’re still young and learning as they go,” added Andrew Harris of the new faces in the middle of the O-line. “But the biggest thing I’ve liked is their aggressiveness and attitude. When you’re in the trenches like that you need to have guys who are – you don’t want to call them bullies – but they’re aggressive. It’s a mindset about firing off the ball and getting leverage and creating lanes.”

THE QBS

  • Winnipeg’s Matt Nichols is 41-26 as a starter in the CFL. The Bombers are 33-15 with Nichols at the controls dating back to late July of 2016, and he has a 6-1 career record against the Argonauts.
  • Toronto’s McLeod Bethel-Thompson is 2-7 as a starter and 0-0 against the Bombers – who brought him into the league as a member of their practice roster near the end of 2016.

 

3 BOMBERS TO WATCH

#15 Matt Nichols, QB: Nichols is tied for the CFL lead in passing touchdowns (7) with Hamilton’s Jeremiah Masoli, who has played one more game. His 120.7 QB-efficiency rating is also first in the CFL among pivots with more than one start.

#10 Nic Demski, SB: Coming off the first 100-yard game in his career – he had five catches for 105 yards, including an 82-yard TD last week. Demski has a rushing TD and a receiving score in the last two weeks.

#14 Marcus Sayles, DB: The Argos inside receivers feature future hall of famer S.J. Green, Armanti Edwards, who had 156 catches for 1,936 yards in 2017-18, and Llevi Noel, who is off to a superb start with 19 receptions through the first three games. Both Sayles and Alexander will be busy.

X FACTOR

#98 Steven Richardson, DT: The first-year Bomber has six tackles in three games, including two last week. But he’s doing more than what’s showing up on the stats sheet in terms of collapsing the pocket and being a force up the middle along with Drake Nevis and Jake Thomas.

NOTABLE:

The Bombers are making two changes to the 46-man roster this week, activating WR Kenny Lawler for Chris Matthews – who injured his hand last week – and also LB Adam Bighill, who replaces OL Jamar McGloster. McGloster, FYI, has spent the first three weeks as the club’s inactive player and has been moved to the practice roster.

NUMBERS GAME

  • From CFL stats guru Steve Daniel: across CFL history there have been just five occasions where an 0-3 team has knocked off a 3-0 club – and just once in the last 44 years. The most recent occasion came on July 24, 2011 when Saskatchewan – then 0-3 – knocked off the then unbeaten Alouettes.
  • Justin Medlock went 0-for-2 in field goal attempts for the first time since September 30, 2017, when he went 0-for-3. Worth noting: Medlock then went on a 20-for-23 run to finish the season.
  • Interestingly, dating back to 2015 there have been four punters who recovered their own kick – as Medlock did last week in a critical play in the win over Ottawa – and all four led to TD drives for their clubs.
  • In sweeping the Argos last year, the Bombers had a 12-5 turnover advantage and 6-1 quarterback sack advantage.