Heading into their bye week in Week 8, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are currently sitting at 4-3, which is good for third place in the West Division.
The Bombers have convincing wins over Montreal, B.C., and Toronto (x2). Of those four victories, Winnipeg has defeated their opponent by a whopping average of 28 points.
Winnipeg’s record also features three losses at the hands of Edmonton, Hamilton, and B.C.
Meeting the Lower Expectations
Going back to early June, many Blue Bombers fans would have accepted a 4-3 record at this point. The belief was that franchise quarterback Matt Nichols would miss approximately six games, and potentially not even suit up until after their Week 8 bye.
Chris Streveler, Nichols’ back up, was the first raw rookie since the great Anthony Calvillo to start a CFL game at quarterback in Week 1. Low and behold, Streveler performed well in his three weeks of starting action. The Bombers only won one of Streveler’s three starts; Nichols then returned much earlier than expected.
Without Nichols for what was believed to be at least six weeks, the general consensus was that Winnipeg was going to coast at around .500 and fall behind in the West. After six weeks, Winnipeg’s guessed record was bang-on, sitting at 3-3.
The Bombers took care of their easier opponents (Montreal, B.C., and Toronto) for the most part, and dropped the games they “should have” (Edmonton, Hamilton).
Record should be Better
What hurts about the Bombers’ first seven outcomes is that this squad knows they should be sitting at 6-1. Week 1 against Edmonton saw the Bombers blow an eight-point lead with less than five minutes left. A 44-yard Sean Whyte field goal with 13 seconds left was the difference in a 33-30 loss.
In Week 5, Winnipeg blew another lead, this time in worse fashion. Holding a 17-point lead late in the third quarter, Winnipeg was in full control. But two unsuccessful short-yardage gambles to go with three interceptions allowed the Lions to storm back and defeat the Bombers, ending on a 16-yard Ty Long field goal as the clock hit 0:00.
In a tight West Division, those two crushing losses could be the difference between a home playoff game or traveling to Commonwealth or McMahon Stadium in November.
On the bright side, as mentioned before, Winnipeg, for the most part, has performed well. The offence has shown glimpses – an increase as of late – of domination, mainly through the ground game. The defence has had their struggles with better competition (Week 3 at Hamilton sticks out), but have shut the door against weaker foes.
Ground and Pound
Winnipeg’s strength is without a doubt their run game.
Led by Andrew Harris, Winnipeg is averaging 39 yards per game more (161.57) than the second-best running team (Saskatchewan – 122.17) despite averaging just one more run attempt per game (25.71) than the league’s second-most running team (Saskatchewan – 24.17).
To put that in perspective, Winnipeg is the only team with over 750 rushing yards this season; the Bombers have 1,131. Although the Bombers have played one more game than every other team, this statistic is still remarkable. Opponents know the run is coming, but still, fail to stop it.
Harris leads the CFL with 638 rushing yards and is tied for first with five rushing touchdowns. Streveler is seventh in the league with 232 yards, while receiver/running back Nic Demski is 16th in the league with 116 yards on the ground.
Lastly, it would not be right to not credit Paul LaPolice and possibly the league’s best, and definitely most consistent, offensive line.
Defensive Ups and Downs
Speaking both statistically and through watching the tape, Winnipeg’s defence is much improved in comparison to years past. What’s somewhat deceiving about that statement is the performances based on the level of competition.
Versus Montreal, B.C., and Toronto, the league’s lowest-scoring and below-average offences, Winnipeg’s defence has feasted. But versus Edmonton and Hamilton, the league’s top two offences in terms of total yards, the Bombers’ have struggled immensely.
Statistically speaking, Winnipeg’s defence is tied for second in points per game, third in passing yards allowed per game, fourth in rushing yards allowed per game, and second in turnovers forced per game.
A one-two punch consisting of linebackers Adam Bighill and Jovan Santos-Knox, who sit first and second in the league in tackles, have given Winnipeg a new identity on D. The Bombers’ defence is fast to the ball, hard-hitting, and forces takeaways. In the secondary, Chris Randle has been terrific after a rough Week 1, and veteran Kevin Fogg and rookie Marcus Sayles have emerged as solid cover-men with a knack for the ball.
But an aforementioned struggle versus the league’s top offences has been a knock on the Bombers defence. 481 total yards (402 via passing) versus Edmonton and 470 total yards (359 via passing) against Hamilton cause doubt in some minds of the capability of this unit.
The Last Word
I ran a poll on Twitter to grasp Bombers’ fans thoughts of the team’s record. The results are below.
BOMBERS FANS: Poll for an upcoming article of mine:
— Nik Kowalski (@LWOSNikKowalski) July 31, 2018
Considering the circumstances – a sudden change at quarterback to start the year and recent signs of greatness – the Bombers 4-3 record should sit moderately with Winnipeg and their fans.
The Bombers still have one more game against Edmonton, two against Calgary, and three against Saskatchewan. Winnipeg is relatively healthy aside from numerous long-term injuries to special teamers. If the Bombers can add consistency to their game, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t compete with the high-profile West Division.
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