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October 9, 2021

Upon Further Review | EDM 3 WPG 30

Andrew Harris 33 walkout

Even watching it unfold in the moment, it seemed almost wrong – maybe ‘harsh’ is a better term – to be criticizing the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in what ultimately would become a 27-point victory.

And now, given a couple more days to digest Friday night’s 30-3 evisceration of the Edmonton Elks that was the Bombers’ sixth straight win and improved the club to 8-1, it still has us contemplating where we’re at as we watch this squad continue to transform before our very eyes. The Bombers didn’t just feast on the Elks Friday night, they chomped down on them early and flailed the carcass around for a while before leaving just the bones.

And yet, while everyone was content to salute the defence for another stellar performance, there were the Bombers immediately after the game fixating on the points left off the board with some offensive gaffes, while the struggles to hit field goals surfaced again as a concern. Those are talking points, no doubt – especially the kicking – but let’s also remember to take a step back and fully digest what we’ve seen this club do dating back to the championship run of 2019.

Consider:

  • The Bombers are now 12-1 in their last 13 games, including the ’19 playoffs.
  • Their 8-1 record is the best since a 10-0 start to the 1960 season.
  • They have now won 16 of their last 17 at IG Field dating back to the fall of 2018.
  • The defence shut out Edmonton in the second half and has now out-scored the opposition 81-6 in the fourth quarter this season.

Not to get too far ahead of things – remember, the goal is to go 1-0 this week – but the Bombers have a cushion atop the West over the second-place Saskatchewan Roughriders, a team they’ve already swept this season. The remaining schedule features a return to Edmonton to face the Elks again next Friday, the B.C. Lions at home, a bye week, a home-and-home doubleheader with the Montreal Alouettes and a trip to Calgary to meet the Stampeders.

There’s work to still do, of course, but the Bombers are inching closer to finishing first in the division for the first time since 2011 and just the third time in the last 20 years, dating back to 2001 (with 2001 and 2011 as members of the East Division). More on the Bombers big win Friday night in this week’s edition of UPON FURTHER REVIEW…

WE’D BE REMISS IF WE DIDN’T HEAP… more praise on the Bombers defence because, well, they’ve damn well earned every word of it.

The defence limited Edmonton to just 159 yards of net offence, registered three sacks and forced five turnovers. The Elks’ drive chart is the picture of defensive dominance, as they punted six times, conceded three safeties, had one field goal, one fumble, and, on their final four possessions turned the ball over on downs three times and were intercepted once.

“I don’t think there was much not to like,” said Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea in his post-game media Zoom conference. “The first half, we could have started out with the pick and probably could have another interception – we had one hit our chest after one hit our hands – and those are in scoring positions where we’re going to get points or should get points.

“That’s as far as you can go, really, with asking them to do more. They were terrific tonight. They played a very clean game, they will still want to have plays back, but I thought they were pretty stifling.

“I think they can be better and they’ll know that, too,” he added. “I don’t think it’s always going to look like that, but they certainly forced the issue tonight in a lot of ways. Some of the good punting to pin and good tackling on the field goal teams to pin them down and the defence rose to those occasions and kept them down there a few times, which forced the safeties. We’ll just keep talking about the things we need to improve on.”

WHAT’S INTERESTING ABOUT THE DEFENSIVE STAT SHEET… from Friday is the dominance came on a night in which defensive ends Willie Jefferson and Jackson Jeffcoat were limited to one tackle and one special teams tackle combined.

The Elks often brought in a fullback and extra help at the line of the scrimmage to try and mitigate the damage of the two defensive ends, but the Bombers still got sacks from Jake Thomas, Casey Sayles and Thiadric Hansen and a tackle for a loss from Kyrie Wilson in limiting Edmonton to 134 passing yards and 62 along the ground.

“I see the way the guys work. I see the way we practice, I see the way we don’t take things for granted,” said linebacker Adam Bighill, who led the Bombers with five tackles. “I see everyone with the humble attitude of coming in to get better, getting coaching playing for each other. That’s what is elevating us week in and week out and allowing us to be successful. That’s where we’ve got to keep our eyes and our mindset.”

Asked where this Bombers defence ranks compared to the others he’s played on his career, Bighill mulled the question over for a moment.

“I don’t really look at the stats as to what we’ve done and where we’re at compared to what the history is,” he said. “All I know is we’re playing good football. With that being said, I know we’re doing some special things. I’m not sitting here trying to see how special, I’m trying to help us push the bar higher and win the game that really, really matters at the end of the year.

“Right now it’s one game at a time, how can we win this next game and whatever it takes. I’ll tell ya, it’s a lot of fun playing with the guys out there and the energy we have, the commitment we have for each other, it’s a lot of fun. That’s what I feel the most, really, is how much fun we’re having together out there. That’s part of why we’re having so much success – we play for each other.”

Bighill, FYI, now has 724 career defensive tackles and has moved past Kevin Eiben into 9th place on the CFL’s all-time list.

CONSIDER THIS… two years ago this weekend the Bombers made the trade to acquire Zach Collaros from the Toronto Argonauts.

The Bombers are 12-1 with him under centre, have won a Grey Cup, and he has thrown for 15 touchdowns against six interceptions. We also went back to see what was on our site at the time of the trade and the comments in this story seem prophetic now.

After Friday’s win Collaros lamented the missed opportunities, praised his offensive line and receivers and – as part of what makes him such a good fit with this team – never made it about ‘me’ or ‘I’. That trade doesn’t just look like thievery because of all the wins, but because his quiet leadership melds so perfectly with what was already in the Bombers locker room.

IT’S ABOUT THE SIZE-LARGE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM… The Bombers placekicking woes surfaced again Friday as Ali Mourtada went 1-for-4, missing from 42, 47 and 46 yards and also missed a convert. He’s now 4-of-10 this season and, combined with Marc Liegghio (5-of-8) and Tyler Crapigna (3-of-5), Bombers kickers are now just 12 of 23 on field goal attempts this season.

Just to put that in comparison with Justin Medlock, the man who preceded them, the future hall of famer missed only 13 kicks in 40 games, including playoffs, over the 2018-19 seasons. The current trio has missed 11 in nine games. Here’s O’Shea when asked to assess Mourtada’s game Friday:

“He would say the same thing… it’s not the way he would like it to go, either. So, we’ll just continue to keep working.”

And when he was quizzed about whether Mourtada would be the kicker in the next game, Friday in Edmonton, he added:

“We just won 30-3. Let’s focus on the positive things that came out of this game.”

LET’S MAKE SURE WE DON’T OVERLOOK THE REST OF THE SPECIAL TEAMS… while fixating on the placekicking. The Bombers got a punt block from Deatrick Nichols – recovered by Johnny Augustine – on the Elks first possession of the second half with that play leading to a Mourtada field goal and a 14-3 lead. Marc Liegghio’s punting was also critical in pinning Edmonton deep in their territory.

“I do believe our guys understand three-phase football and they understand that a phase or a portion of the phase might not be going and they’re going to do what they can to make sure they pick it up and pull their weight until that phase gets on track,” said O’Shea.

“We also had a blocked punt tonight, which is a big special teams play that put us in a good position. Our guys understand that they all need to pull their weight and if something’s not looking exactly right, they’re going to make sure they work well for their teammates.”

DON’T LOOK NOW… but Andrew Harris continues to grind out yards and move up the CFL’s rushing chart even after missing the first three games of the season.

The veteran back now has 584 yards rushing in six games after Friday’s 150-yard effort and his work on the last two drives of the fourth quarter against the Elks – eight carries for 71 yards and two TDs – was especially important.

“The last two weeks I’ve felt the best I’ve felt,” said Harris. “I felt kind of disappointed with my game in B.C. and felt I could have done a little more. But I’m definitely starting to get into midseason form, as they say, and I’m just looking forward to the rest of the season.”

That stretch came with Jermarcus Hardrick out of the game, incidentally, and with Paddy Neufeld shifted out to right tackle and Tui Eli at guard.

“It’s tough when you let our offensive line start to really lean on you,” said Collaros. “When the big guys get going up there… any time you’re in a situation where the other team knows you’re just going to run the ball every play and you’re able to do it at a high level, it’s got to be demoralizing. It’s not just our offensive line and Andrew, but I know our receivers were in there getting dirty all game, too. It was really impressive.”

AND, FINALLY… Happy Thanksgiving, Bomber Nation.