WEEK 8 | WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (5-1) at TORONTO ARGONAUTS (0-6)
Kickoff: 6 p.m. CT, Thursday, BMO Field, Toronto
TV: TSN 1/4/5, RDS, ESPN2
Radio: 680 CJOB
Vegas line: The Bombers are favoured by 10 points.
Home/Road: The Bombers are 2-1 on the road this year after last week’s loss in Hamilton. Toronto, meanwhile, is 0-2 at home this season.
Recent history: The Bombers knocked off the Argos 48-21 on July 12th at IG Field, a game in which Lucky Whitehead returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and the Bombers led 37-6 at halftime en route to their third straight win.
Series: The Bombers are 58-60-2 against the Argos, including a 6-1 record in their last seven meetings.
1. NO ROOM FOR ERROR
The Bombers are saying all the right things about not looking past the Argos, even with their 0-6 record and having already stomped on them earlier this year in a 48-21 victory in which they led 37-6 at halftime. Still, there are some rather nasty Argos-related numbers here that feed into the mismatch storyline:
- The Argos aren’t just 0-6 this year, but 1-15 in their last 16 games – the lone victory a 26-22 victory over Montreal last October.
- Ten of those 15 losses have been by 10 points or more, including a 64-14 loss to Hamilton in their 2019 home opener.
- The average margin in those 15 losses has been a whopping 16.3 points per game.
- Since winning the 2017 Grey Cup, the Argos are just 4-20.
So, just why shouldn’t the Bombers take the Argos for granted?
“The fact that we had a loss last week… I don’t think we can take anyone lightly,” said Andrew Harris. “They’re playing better football overall than they were a few weeks ago. So, I don’t think you can take anyone lightly in this league. There’s a lot of good players and a lot of good coaches and coaching staffs and I really believe on any given point in a season, at any point in time, anyone can win a football game, so you’ve got to come to play.”
There are more reason to being careful here. After this week, the Bombers enter a stretch of five straight games against West Division opponents through the Banjo Bowl with Calgary and B.C. heading to Winnipeg in the next two weeks, followed by trips to Edmonton, to Saskatchewan for the Labour Day Classic, and a return visit from the Riders for the Banjo Bowl. The Bombers then enjoy their second bye week before the stretch run.
And with both Calgary and Edmonton just two points back at 4-2, the Bombers must be wary of giving up the early-season lead they worked so hard to establish with two-thirds of the schedule remaining.
2. PROTECT THY PIGSKIN
It’s one of the commandments of football – thou shalt not turn thy ball over – and the Bombers were guilty of that sin six times in last week’s loss to Hamilton: Three interceptions, two fumbles on kick returns, and a turnover on downs on their final possession.
It was, frankly, ugly with a capital ‘Ugh’ and completely out of character for a club which entered the game with a turnover ratio of +9 (now +4).
“We all know how important it is to protect the ball,” said offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice. “But, it’s going to happen. They’re (the opposition) getting paid, too. We’ve just got to correct our mistakes and move on.
“You have to keep trusting the process with what you’ve been taught. If a ball gets tipped and it’s intercepted, if a ball comes out of his hand strange and it’s intercepted… well, that’s going to happen in pro sports. It’s just part of the business.”
Here’s the data that backs up football’s most basic tenet about turnovers: Teams that win the turnover battle this year are 17-3. That total was 61-9 last year and 55-13 in 2017.
3. STEP IN, STEP UP
The Bombers depth will be tested again this week with the absences of two starters in defensive back Brandon Alexander and wide receiver Darvin Adams. Now, it says something of this team’s talent when Adams is to be replaced by Chris Matthews, the 6-5, 230-pound former CFL all-star, rookie of the year and NFL talent (not to mention fuelling the debate about why he wasn’t in the lineup the last two games), while Alexander’s spot will be filled by Chris Humes, who has been in the lineup the last three weeks as a designated import and in his last start – the regular season finale in Edmonton last November – led the team in tackles.
But it’s one thing to preach next man up, it’s quite another for that next man up to make an impact. That puts a size-large target on Matthews and Humes – Matthews, in particular – to be difference makers.
- Winnipeg’s Matt Nichols is 43-27 as a starter in the CFL. The Bombers are 35-16 with him at the controls dating back to late July of 2016.
- Toronto will start McLeod Bethel-Thompson at QB. He is 2-10 in his career as a starter, and 0-4 this year. He could share time with Dakota Prukop, who made two appearances in the Argos loss to Edmonton last week.
3 BOMBERS TO WATCH
#14 Marcus Sayles, DB: He has somewhat quietly authored a solid start to his sophomore campaign and is coming off a game in which he had seven tackles, including a tackle for a loss, forced a fumble and had a pass knockdown.
#15 Matt Nichols, QB: The Bombes pivot will be looking for a bounce-back effort after throwing three picks in last week’s loss. He still leads the CFL with 13 TD passes and a QB-efficiency rating of 109.0
#8 Chris Humes, DB: He’s proven his versatility in being able to play corner, half and Dime and will now be asked to step in for Alexander at a critical position in the secondary. The inside defensive backs figure to get a healthy dose of S.J. Green, one of the best interior receivers in CFL history.
#13 Chris Matthews, WR: Thursday is really a chance for Matthews to hit the reset button on his season after suffering an injury in training camp and then, upon his return to the lineup, banging up his hand in the win in Ottawa. He’s simply too talented not to make an impact if he can stay on the field and in the lineup.
The Bombers are making four changes to their roster for this week’s game. Coming aboard are WR Chris Matthews, DE Jonathan Kongbo, WR Rasheed Bailey and DB Dexter Janke.
Meanwhile, DB Brandon Alexander and WR Darvin Adams have both been moved to the six-game injured list, with DB Dondre Wright and WR/KR Kenny Walker shifted to the practice roster. Thursday’s game will mark the CFL debut for Kongbo, one of the Bombers two first-round draft picks (along with OL Drew Desjarlais) in 2019, while it will be the Winnipeg debut for Janke, who has 16 games with Calgary from 2015-17 to his name.
The Bombers defence has limited opponents to a second-down conversion rate of just 33.8, best in the CFL.
- The Argos are in the midst of a run of seven straight games against West Division. They opened at home with a 64-14 loss to Hamilton and have since dropped games to Saskatchewan, B.C., Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton. This week’s meeting with the Bombers is followed by a bye, and then a visit by the Eskimos to Toronto.
- Winnipeg is 6-1 in its last seven games against the Argos, the lone blemish a 29-28 loss in October of 2017. Matt Nichols has started all seven of those games and has completed 67.8 percent of his passes for 1,680 yards with 11 touchdowns against one interception.
- Andrew Harris has posted some gaudy numbers against the Argos. He rushed for a career best 161 yards in a win over Toronto last July and has five TDs in five games against the Argos as a member of the Bombers.
- The Argos have not lost their first six games of any season since 1981, when they opened with 11 straight losses.