They’ve pulled in for a quick midseason pitstop and now – all fuelled up and sporting a new set of tires – the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are about to race out and embark on the meaty part of their Canadian Football League schedule.
And so it was after practice on Tuesday when head coach Mike O’Shea was asked for a quick take on his squad – now 7-2 and tied for first atop the West Division with the B.C. Lions – as it readies for the second half of the season with Friday’s date in Calgary against the Stampeders.
“Room to get better,” O’Shea began. “Lot of fun so far. Great group of guys always putting in the work. Fun to be around. Easy to come to work every day. They’ll continue working and continue to get better.”
Concise and to the point, as always. The Blue Bombers and Lions seem destined for a race for the top two spots in the division, although there is still a ton of highway yet to traverse.
Still, now is as good a time as any to peek in the rearview mirror at what we’ve witnessed so far with this team. And with that in mind, here are 10 numbers that jump out on the first nine games, in no particular order…
The Blue Bombers are averaging 29.7 points per game, most in the CFL.
Making up that number are some gaudy offensive totals, including the team leading the league in net offence at 399.7 yards per game and in passing at 300.7 yards per game.
Just by comparison, Winnipeg finished second in points for last year at 29.9, third in net offence at 366.3 and fifth in passing at 267.6.
A number that should get more pub – Winnipeg’s defence ranks first in pass knockdowns with 43 which is 16 more than the next closest team, Saskatchewan, with 27.
The CFL’s two individual leaders in this category are Willie Jefferson, with nine, and Evan Holm with eight. The nine knockdowns for Jefferson are incredible for a man who makes his living at the line of scrimmage and highlight his ability to impact a game in more ways than getting after the quarterback and stopping the run.
Brady Oliveira leads the CFL in rushing yards with 703 and is second in yards per attempt at 5.6 (Ottawa QB Dustin Crum is first at 7.9). Oliveira finished third in rushing a year ago with 1,001 yards (Calgary’s Ka’Deem Carey was first at 1,088; James Butler, then of B.C. was second at 1,060).
What shouldn’t be overlooked is Oliveira’s continued emergence as a receiving threat as he has pulled in 19 passes for 274 yards. That’s already just four receptions fewer than last year’s total, while his yardage is already a career best.
Worth noting also is Oliveira leads the CFL with 977 yards from scrimmage, almost 300 yards ahead of No. 2 that list, Butler at 683.
Defensive takeaways for Demerio Houston, the Blue Bombers cornerback. That total includes six interceptions and three fumble recoveries – both leading the league. FYI, the last Blue Bomber defender to lead the league in interceptions was Winston Rose, with nine in 2019.
The total passing TDs for the Blue Bombers this year, with 16 from Zach Collaros and five more from Dru Brown. That total, by the way, leads the CFL.
Dalton Schoen and Nic Demski are tied with Toronto’s DaVaris Daniels and Dominique Rhymes of B.C. with five each, while Drew Wolitarsky has added four. Kenny Lawler already has two TDs in his three games played, while Rasheed Bailey (3), Greg McCrae (1) and Oliviera (1) make up the rest of the total.
A year ago, the Blue Bombers had 44 passing TDs, putting the club on right about the same pace this season.
The average margin of victory for the Blue Bombers in their seven wins, with the highest difference coming in the 50-14 win over B.C. on August 3rd and the lowest last week’s nine-point spread (38-29) victory over Edmonton.
Those numbers are also partly why the two losses – a 30-6 loss to B.C. in June and a three-point loss in Ottawa in which club did enjoy a 19-point advantage – seem so shocking by comparison.
The field-goal percentage for Sergio Castillo, who has hit on 19 of his 20 attempts this season. That ranks second only to B.C.’s Sean Whyte, who has a 96.2 completion percentage so far this year.
By comparison, Marc Legghio has an 82.1 field goal completion percentage last year, which ranked seventh in the CFL.
Winnipeg’s penalty yardage this season, on 54 infractions. That ranks as second fewest in the league to Saskatchewan’s 439.
Big play totals for and against for the Blue Bombers this season, using the CFL’s designation of a 20 yards-plus rush, 30 yards-plus pass, 40 yards-plus kickoff return, 30 yards-plus punt/missed field goal return as the standard.
The 26 big play total offensively ranks first in the CFL, with the 19 against sitting at sixth place.
Passing yardage total for Zach Collaros, even after being limited to just six yards last week before exiting the game due to injury. Collaros posted a career-best 4,183 yards passing last year en route to winning his second straight CFL Most Outstanding Player Award.
Collaros did not practice for a second-straight day on Tuesday, again watching Dru Brown and Dakota Prukop get their reps while mirroring their actions in the team periods. Meanwhile, LB Brian Cole returned to practice on Tuesday after being a spectator to open the week.
There was no update on the potential availability of Collaros for Friday in Calgary with O’Shea giving this answer when asked if there was any means of trying to gain a competitive advantage by keeping is QB1’s status unknown:
“None. It’s based on our team,” he said. “In our quarterbacks’ case – and you were talking about how late it is to know (whether a guy will play) – we just have such confidence in the guys we have in the building at all positions, so I don’t think there is a lot of worry or concern about the actual roster. In the building we’re always concerned about the health of our guys, the health of the player, the person… not the roster. We’re just in a situation, and maybe it’s different at different times, where we like the guys we have in our building.
“Over the course of time you’ve heard me say I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. It wears on everybody hearing the same thing, but I’m not changing what I believe in. If a player is that determined and it’s supposed to be that way, they’re going to find a way to play. Some guys can’t… sometimes there’s just obvious injuries where a guy can’t.
“I want to give the players as much hope as possible. They hold out so much hope. Every day when they show up for treatment, they’re looking for a positive response, they’re looking for Al (Couture, Head Athletic Therapoist) to look at them and say, ‘Hey, you’re close.’ It just fuels them further. Why change that? Why dash their hopes?”
The CFL’s weekly Honour Roll, as put together by the folks at Pro Football Focus, included Blue Bombers QB Dru Brown, RB Brady Oliveira, DE Jackson Jeffcoat. To read more, check it out here.
There was a heightened energy at practice on Tuesday as 40 families attended the session through The Dream Factory Manitoba, with the players spending a ton of time after practice signing autographs, posing for pictures, and just spending time with the kids, their parents and siblings.
Today, we had the honour of welcoming @DreamFactoryMB and some incredible kids to our practice.
— Winnipeg Blue Bombers (@Wpg_BlueBombers) August 15, 2023