Matt Nichols’ season debut did not have a jaw-dropping performance from the veteran quarterback, but instead a widely-contributed 41-19 win for Winnipeg over the visiting BC Lions.
Nichols replaced rookie Chris Streveler – who filled in soundly for Nichols – at quarterback after the former missed the Bombers’ first three games of the 2018 season due to a lower-body injury suffered in training camp.
Matt Nichols’ Game
On the extremely hot Saturday evening, Nichols passed for 162 yards via 16 completions on 29 attempts, throwing for a single touchdown versus BC.
While Nichols’ numbers are average, a key stat within them is 0 turnovers. Nichols was not perfect but was efficient throughout.
Nichols’ passing statistics would have been better if not for some missed throws. The Bombers’ pivot was off target on his first two throws of the game, leading to a 2-and-out for Winnipeg. After the game, Nichols told media he was perhaps a “little juiced up at the beginning” causing himself to miss some throws he usually does not miss.
But Nichols then claimed he found his game when he hit Darvin Adams along the sidelines for a big gain that was later negated after a video review deemed Adams bobbled the ball.
On the following Bombers drive, Nichols reconnected with Adams for a 20-yard gain, this one counting and resulting in a Winnipeg touchdown. From there the Bombers never looked back, scoring another 34 points en route to their 22-point victory.
The Paul LaPolice Effect
162 yards is way below average for CFL quarterbacks in one game, but when you factor in Paul LaPolice’s play-calling, it is evident that Winnipeg’s offence was via committee.
LaPolice called a near flawless game on Saturday night. Although declared otherwise, Winnipeg’s playbook expanded without Chris Streveler at the helm. LaPo called 21 designed running plays, taking advantage of BC’s inability to slow the Bombers’ ground attack. Winnipeg’s offence also featured a steady dosage of Steveler, who stayed on the field after multiple short-yardage attempts to create key personnel mismatches. Streveler also pounded in two touchdowns for Winnipeg.
Eight Bombers’ players caught passes from the two quarterbacks, keeping the Lions’ defenders on their toes. LaPolice also dialed up multiple direct snaps to Andrew Harris who took one for 43 yards and another for a 4-yard major, further adding to the Bombers’ unpredictability on offence.
The Unsung Heroes
Often times the offensive line fails to get any credit for excellent games. Winnipeg’s unit of blockers did something near unheard of on Saturday night – they did not allow Nichols to be touched by a Lions player. While such fact does not appear on any official statistics, it truly speaks to the incredible game that Winnipeg’s o-line had. Not only did they protect their quarterback, but the o-line paved holes for Winnipeg ballcarriers all game long as the Bombers averaged 7.2 yards per carry on 21 attempts.
The Bombers have more than 200 rushing yards than the next-best team in the CFL and have two of the league’s top-five rushers (Harris, Streveler). This speaks volumes to the unit General Manager Kyle Walters has built and their consistency as a whole. Stanley Bryant, Pat Neufeld, Matthias Goossen, Sukh Chungh, and Jermarcus Hardrick all deserve a ton of credit.
The Play of the Entire Team
Since Matt Nichols overtook the starting quarterback role from Drew Willy, Winnipeg’s record is 22-11 with Nichols starting. The switch under centre in Week 6 of the 2016 campaign changed Winnipeg as an overall team. Whenever Blue Bombers teammates praise their quarterback, the sincerity is unquestionable. Nichols is a proven leader and is someone the Bombers are willing to rally behind and lay it all on the line for.
Winnipeg rallied behind their leader on Saturday night. The offensive line’s stellar play appeared to be ignited by who they were blocking for, LaPolice’s play-calling was at its finest, and the defensive added a score of their own.
Winnipeg’s defence was much-improved Saturday, granted versus a weaker opponent. But at the end of the day, the Bombers as a team stomped the Lions.
The Last Word
Last Saturday, near everything went Winnipeg’s way – something that has a tendency to happen when Matt Nichols is playing quarterback for the blue and gold. Nichols’ play was not why Winnipeg easily won but rather the entire team’s elevated play. Winnipeg got back to their old ways – controlling the line of scrimmage, winning the turnover battle (three takeaways zero giveaways), capitalizing on takeaways, and not allowing big plays. The confidence of the entire Bombers roster rises when Matt Nichols is playing quarterback.
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