It can become mesmerizing watching the Winnipeg Blue Bombers crank out win after win after win as if they were efficiently built on an assembly line. The pieces all seem to fit together perfectly in what has become a standard formula for the Bombers, and it it essentially goes like this:
Defensive dominance + owning the line of scrimmage + solid ground game + dangerous passing attack + steady special teams = win.
All that said, let’s not portray what the Bombers have done lately as somehow simple or robotic. Wins aren’t easy to come by in any pro sports circuit, including the Canadian Football League. That’s why what they’ve done in posting a 7-1 record so far this season that has them atop the West Division and the entire league has been so impressive. Couple that with the glorious Grey Cup run at the end of 2019 the Bombers have now won 11 of their last 12 games.
They have also won 15 of their 16 at IG Field dating back to the fall of 2018, are unbeaten against the West in five games this year and on an 8-0 run against their division rivals dating back to the final regular season game of 2019.
Over the 11-1 span, they’ve kept teams to 15 points scored or under eight times, including five games this year in which their opponents were limited to under 10 points.
There’s more… The Bombers head into Friday’s match-up with the Edmonton Elks at IG Field on a five game winning streak – the second time they’ve managed that feat in as many seasons after opening 20-19 on a 5-0 run – with an eye on extending that to six games. As B.C. Lions quarterback Michael Reilly said after last week’s 30-9 win by the Bombers:
“They’re the best in the league and definitely showed tonight. They’re athletic, they’re physical, they’re aggressive. They were punishing all night. That’s one of the strengths of theirs; not just their defence, but their entire team. It was not necessarily unexpected, but definitely challenging to play against.”
With all that serving as a juicy background, let’s look at 3 Storylines for Friday’s showdown with the Elks:
1. ZACH AND THE ATTACK
We threw a lot of numbers out at the top of this piece, but here’s another: the Bombers are now 11-1 with Zach Collaros at the controls. Think about that for a moment: 11 and 1, including two playoff victories and the 2019 Grey Cup.
Collaros leads the league with 2,148 passing yards, is second in passing TDs with 12 (Montreal’s Vernon Adams, Jr. has 13) and has a 111.1 QB efficiency rating.
What he did in last week’s win over B.C. – throwing for over 400 yards – has him very much in the conversation for the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player award.
Earlier in the week, Bombers offensive coordinator Buck Pierce was asked if Collaros was playing more ‘free’ this year. His answer was a glowing endorsement for the Bombers pivot.
“’Free’ is a good word,” Pierce began. “I think confident is also a way to describe Zach. When you hear people say, ‘The quarterback’s really seeing it well’ I think that’s a mixture of his preparation, his film study, his understanding of the offence, his understanding of what we’re trying to do and what he’s seeing on a weekly basis.
“Also, it’s a trust factor he’s continuing to develop with myself and the coaches and the offensive line and everybody that’s a part of this offence. He’s just continuing to grow each week and take those strides and it’s shown on the field. He’s a competitive guy and he’s working extremely hard.”
2. STEP ON UP, MR. McKNIGHT
The common refrain from the Bombers after any injury or absence over the last few years – and it’s certainly no different this week in the wake of the Kenny Lawler suspension – has always been ‘Next Man Up.’
It’s a mantra that works because of the team’s depth. We saw it in 2019 with three different quarterbacks starting games, with Johnny Augustine filling in for Andrew Harris for a pair, and a host of other changes all throughout the season.
The evidence is there this year, too, what with Mercy Maston going down in training camp, followed by his replacement Josh Johnson, with Steven Richardson injured in Week 1 and Kyrie Wilson just making his debut a week ago, with Brady Oliveira filling in for Harris, with Darvin Adams out for a couple… and so on and so on.
And now it’s Kelvin McKnight stepping in for Lawler. They are huge cleats to fill, seeing as Lawler not only leads the CFL in receiving, but is coming off a 12-catch, 205-yard effort against B.C. last week.
“I’m really just going to do my assignment to the best of my ability,” McKnight said. “If my number’s called, make the play, just do my assignment; don’t go out there and put an ‘S’ on your chest, don’t try and force a big play. The plays come when you’re just doing your job.”
3. THE (TREVOR) HARRIS EFFECT
It’s an odd thing, studying the numbers Trevor Harris of the Elks has posted in games against the Bombers. He threw for 710 yards and four touchdowns against zero interceptions against the Bombers in 2019… and Edmonton lost both games. He has a career record of 2-4 in games against the Bombers over the years, but those losses include a buzzer-beating FG by Justin Medlock and another lost in OT – both during his days in Ottawa.
And no offence to Taylor Cornelius, who started for the Elks in their 37-22 loss to Winnipeg back on September 18, but there is a huge gap in the experience level between a CFL rookie and a vet like Harris.
“One of Trevor Harris’ biggest strengths is his film study,” said Bombers defensive backs coach Jordan Younger. “You can tell that he spends a lot of time studying his opponents, the contour of defences, the way people move. So he has an idea of the coverages they’re playing and that’s why he’s able to get rid of the ball so quickly. His experience in the league, the time he’s spent, he’s seen a lot of defences, played against a lot of different coverages and he puts the work in off the field to understand how those coverages move. The ability to get rid of the ball quickly is what makes him special.
“With Trevor playing quarterback this week the amount of plays may change – they may be comfortable giving Trevor a bigger playbook – and the timing of the plays change based on his ability to get the ball out and understand who should be open based on coverage and adjustments. ith a newer guy sometimes they’re not able to anticipate the throws as well as veteran quarterbacks. That, I think, is probably the biggest challenge from the last time we played them to this time.”