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August 12, 2019

Need to Know | August 12

Winnipeg Blue Bombers #23 Anthony Gaitor

There’s an old quote about expectations from William Shakespeare that seems a propos to the offence of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers these days.

It goes like this: ‘Expectation is the root of all heartache.’

We bring this up on a day the Bombers returned to work following last Thursday’s 26-24 win over the Calgary Stampeders and with the Bombers attack once again under the microscope for not finding the end zone in the win – both scores came courtesy Janarion Grant’s punt returns – and finishing with under 200 yards passing.

The criticism began during the victory and has only grown since, despite the fact the Bombers, at 6-2, are now in sole possession of first in the West Division, rank second in offensive points (26.4), first in offensive touchdowns (23), first in passing TDs (15), second in rushing yards (137.8 per game), second in fewest sacks allowed (11) and rank third in net offence (358.1).

Granted, there are some other numbers that must be concerning – the team ranks seventh in two-and-out possessions (46) and seventh in passing yardage per game (230.8) – but a win over the Stamps at any stage of the schedule shouldn’t be under-valued.

Yet, this is where meeting expectations of armchair quarterbacks can be virtually impossible.

The Bombers sport the CFL’s rushing leader – again – in Andrew Harris, while Matt Nichols leads the CFL with 14 passing touchdowns. Against the Stamps the Bombers managed  to control the ball for 33 minutes and 41 seconds – to Calgary’s 26:19 – while averaging 5.9 yards on first down and converting 42% of second-downs against a stingy defence.

“You have to realize and understand that time of possession can be just as important as yardage,” said Harris after practice Monday. “There’s definitely a lot of benefits to keeping our offence on the field and their offence off the field. When our defence is playing as good as they were, especially when they tightened up in the second half, keeping the ball out of their hands is crucial.”

While the passing totals were just 177 yards, Nichols did complete 18 of 22 (81.8 percent) with the longest a 29-yard strike to Kenny Lawler. The offence also had a potential TD pass to Drew Wolitarsky wiped out when it was ruled he was juggling the ball as he went out of bounds, while another deep strike to Chris Matthews was broken up by Raheem Wilson.

All of this isn’t to make excuses. But sometimes ugly is in the eye of beholder and in the two-point game, the Bombers offence only turned the ball over once – on a short-yardage attempt that was stuffed – while Calgary’s Nick Arbuckle threw two critical interceptions.

“I thought it was very good,” said Nichols when asked to evaluate the Bombers offensive performance. “Obviously we would have liked to have finished a couple more drives, but I thought we did a good job. Time of possession, second-down conversions, ran the ball extremely well, we were efficient in the pass game.

“Overall, we had a good gameplan going in, we executed the gameplan well and beat a good team.”

Harris was particularly busy against Calgary, rushing 19 times for 100 yards and pulling in a game-high eight catches for 44 yards. As to those who bemoaned Nichols checking down so often to Harris, here’s the Bombers workhorse tailback explaining why he was so busy:

“We knew that was going to be there. (Calgary) is a team that drops out and their linebackers and DBs sit at the sticks (first-down marker). We talked about it all week: getting that ball and just getting north-south and trying to split tackles and break tackles to get first downs. When you’re in second and five those dump-down passes are easy targets, they’re contested catches and you’ve just got to get north-south with those as quickly as possible.”

Asked about the criticism after the win and the importance of blocking out the ‘noise’, Nichols said: “I don’t hear any of the criticism. I’m pretty dark on the internet these days.”

Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea was also asked what he might say to the critics of the offence and of Nichols, even after the win, and he was succinct:

“Nothing. I don’t need to answer to those critics. Anybody can go on social media and make a comment.”


With the Bombers returning to practice Monday for their first session in advance of Thursday’s home date with the B.C. Lions at IG Field, here are some other items to help get you up to speed in this week’s NEED TO KNOW…

OUCH REPORT:

Among those not practising on Monday were OL Cody Speller, WR Darvin Adams, DE Jackson Jeffcoat, DB Chris Humes, LB Thiadric Hansen and OL Pat Neufeld. Drew Desjarlais worked in Speller’s left guard spot on the O-line, just as he finished up there on Thursday.

11<43:

Bombers defensive coordinator Richie Hall lamented last week that his unit had made 43 mistakes in the loss to Toronto. By his count, that number had dropped to 11 in the win over Calgary.

“I thought they did a solid job,” said Hall. “They minimized their mistakes, and when we minimize our mistakes I think we’re a pretty good unit. We only had 11 mistakes last week and when you look at it, Calgary’s a very good football team and I thought we held our own and then some. We out-played their defence. We made one or two more plays than their defence did and that came out to be the difference in the game.”

Here’s Hall, assessing the work of DB Mercy Maston, who only arrived on the Sunday before the Calgary game and was pressed into action with the injury to Humes:

“He did a good job, from a guy that came off the couch and has been here for three days, and it wasn’t like he took every rep during practice. The thing is when you come in halfway through a season like that it’s just a matter of your conditioning. He’s a veteran, so he understands what we’re doing, he’s just adapting himself to the terminology and just playing, just running out there. You go from being a back-up and playing a few special teams to all of a sudden you’re playing 50 snaps. If you’re not used to it, it takes a toll on your body. I was happy regarding his performance.”

HIGH PRAISE:

Nichols was asked Monday to elaborate on his post-game comment in which he referred to Andrew Harris as ‘the greatest that ever played.’

“It’s a culmination of things. The stats speak for themselves, up against anyone who has ever played. For me, I’ve been playing for a long time and I’ve just never been around someone that can do all those great things, also work extremely hard in practice, also care about his teammates, also work hard at protections. He’s just a well-rounded person, a well-rounded player and an awesome guy to play with.

“… Those are the things that go into a comment like I made after the game… it’s exactly those types of things. The on-field performance is one thing, but the way he attacks every game is very impressive.”

TAKE NOTE:

A number of fans have been inquiring as to why Bombers head coach O’Shea did not challenge the pass to Wolitarsky on the side of the end zone that was ruled incomplete. First, all potential scoring plays are reviewed by the command centre and the pass to Wolitarsky was automatically reviewed.

LIONS WATCH:

The Bombers face a Lions squad that had their moments in last Saturday’s 35-34 loss to Hamilton – they held a 15-point lead heading into the fourth quarter – and finished with QB Mike Reilly hobbling about on a sore ankle. The Lions remained in Hamilton after the game and practised on Monday at McMaster University.

This update courtesy of bclions.com:

“It’s a short week so you never feel great on Day 1 just from all the bumps and bruises from the previous game,” said Reilly. “We’re less than 48 hours from that game so I think everybody out here was feeling it from the long road trip and staying back east and being so fresh off a game. But, outside of that and just normal wear and tear on the body I feel pretty good.”

The Lions also made a trade on Monday, re-acquiring DE Shawn Lemon from Toronto for DT Davon Coleman and a conditional eighth-round 2020 draft pick.