The Calgary Stampeders are the 2018 CFL champions after a 27-16 victory over the Ottawa Redbacks in the Grey Cup on Sunday.
The Stampeders dominating win came seven days after they shut down the league’s top offence, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The Bombers, led by quarterback Matt Nichols, laid an egg on offence, producing just four field goals.
This leaves the question: How did the only CFL team averaging 30 points per game this season, stumble in their biggest game in seven years?
The Bombers ran 55 offensive plays for a lousy 262 yards, 69 of which came in the final 3:22 of the game.
Completing 46% of his passes, Matt Nichols threw for an ugly 156 yards, and nearly half (71) of those yards coming in the final 3:22.
Quarter by quarter, the Bombers offence made too many crucial mistakes.
1. The Bombers “What if” Plays
Halfway through the first quarter, the Bombers were driving downfield.
Winnipeg was at the Calgary 29-yard line when on first-and-10, Matt Nichols had Darvin Adams open in a hole in the Stamps zone defence. Nichols overthrew Adams by two yards in the end zone, failing to connect on what would’ve given Winnipeg a double-digit lead at the time.
With 26 seconds left in the third quarter, the Bombers missed an opportunity to change the course of the game.
With Chris Streveler under centre, the rookie quarterback executed a play-action pass with Andrew Harris, who released upfield on a skinny wheel route inside the hash marks. Harris got behind Calgary’s safety Adam Berger, and Streveler had an easy toss for a 70-plus yard touchdown. Instead, Streveler overthrew Harris and the ball landed incomplete.
These two overthrows, that would’ve each been touchdowns, are plays that when playing Calgary, have to be made.
2. Losing Momentum in the Second Quarter
Aside from the costly Nichols overthrow, the Bombers offence, and team overall had a solid first quarter, grabbing a 6-0 lead after one.
The Bombers had four drives in the second quarter resulting in only two first downs, both of which came on drive-opening runs by Andrew Harris.
The lack of production in the second quarter falls on both the offensive line and Nichols.
After Harris’ 13-yard run on first down, defensive tackle Micah Johnson brushed off linemen Sukh Chungh and Mattias Goossen with ease, easily getting to a helpless Nichols, taking a seven-yard sack and killing the drive.
On the next drive, Nichols had receiver Nic Demski, who ran an out and up, open on the sidelines (top of the video), but instead took off for a two-yard run on second-and-10.
Calgary had just gone on their second-straight touchdown drive before the Bombers next drive. On first down, Nichols hit Adams on an out, but the ball was a little behind, causing Adams to stop and reel the ball in, making it second-and-inches instead of a first down.
On second down Goossen and Stanley Bryant got zero push off the ball, and Harris was met in the backfield by Stamps defenders Junior Turner and Derek Wiggan for no gain.
In total, the Bombers ran 10 plays for 41 yards in the second quarter, getting outscored 14-0. Momentum was on Calgary’s side going into halftime.
3. Failing to Execute in the Third Quarter
The aforementioned Streveler incompletion was the defining moment of the quarter, but multiple Bombers errors came before and after the defining missed play.
After a Calgary fumble on the opening play of the second half, the Bombers went two-and-out from Calgary’s 46, failing to record a point off of the rare turnover. On first down, a Harris had no holes to hit, going for three yards on an outside run. Second down saw Nichols hold onto the football, roll out to the weak side and essentially toss a ball away at Harris’ feet. There’s really no need for Nichols to roll out and eliminate most of his targets here.
The Bombers next drive looked promising until the Stamps interior defensive line took over.
On second-and-eight from the Winnipeg 49, Folarin Orimolade ran a stunt move, fooling Goossen and teammate Pat Neufeld, leading to a Ja’Gared Davis sack for a four-yard loss. Can’t blame Nichols here.
The Bombers third drive of the quarter was the most productive, resulting in a 41-yard field goal.
The seven-play 54-yard drive ended on a one-yard screen pass on second-and-nine. In the video below, not throwing to Charles Nelson, who had two blockers downfield, on Nichols first look is head-scratching. Instead, in what’s likely a predetermined throw, Nichols tosses the ball to Harris who has Goossen and Neufeld in front of him failing to block their guys, and Harris getting swarmed by Stampeders.
Winnipeg’s last drive of the third quarter ended after the infamous Streveler incompletion, followed by what should’ve been a Nichols interception to Emanuel Davis.
4. Too Little too Late in the Fourth Quarter
Early in the fourth quarter, the Stampeders stuffed the Bombers on second-and-two or less again. This time, defensive end Cordarro Law came unblocked off the edge, making a great tackle on Harris.
With time dwindling down, Winnipeg’s offence once again failed to pick up a first down, going two-and-out on their next drive. The drive started with extra offensive lineman Michael Couture letting go of Ja’Gared Davis, who sacked Nichols as he was stepping up for a five-yard loss. On second down, Nichols hit Adams for a 10-yard gain, which was useless considering Winnipeg need 15 yards for a first down.
The Bombers didn’t get the football back until 3:22 left to go, after Eric Rogers’ deflating touchdown, his third of the game.
Paul LaPolice for whatever reason inexplicably called a draw on first down (Winnipeg was down by 10 with 3:22 to go) that went for negative two yards. After Nichols moved the ball to Calgary’s 48, two incompletions, one due to no one being open, the other a dreadful pass behind Adams on a slant, set up third-and-10.
Nichols attempted to hit Dressler right as he turned around on his curl route, but 10-year veteran Brandon Smith jumped the route, forcing a game-sealing incompletion. Nichols likely had Demski (middle left) for a first down, and possibly Nelson (top left) on a deep corner for a 50-50 ball.
The Bombers last drive of the game was merely garbage time.
The Last Word
The Bombers defence had an excellent showing but collectively failed on offence. What hurts for Winnipeg is that numerous opportunities were there. Completions to Adams and Harris (instead of overthrows) would’ve likely swung Winnipeg’s outcome.
To blame an individual for this loss i.e. Matt Nichols is wrong. If the roles were reversed and Mitchell was under centre for Winnipeg, his numbers are likely the same, or slightly better than what Nichols put up.
If you want to win against Calgary, two failed conversions on inside runs on second and short cannot happen. Two overthrows on what would’ve been touchdowns cannot happen. And lastly, 98 yards of penalties cannot happen.
Matt Nichols can put up big numbers in the spotlight, look at his numbers in the Bombers playoffs losses in 2016 and 2017. Or look at his numbers when Winnipeg needed wins late in the season.
That being said, Nichols inability to scramble/make plays with his feet proved costly. Would Chris Streveler really have made a difference? It’s tough to say, and after all, Streveler did fail to execute on a game-changing play.
Not only did Nichols falter, but the Bombers receivers, and arguably the league’s best offensive line too. Winnipeg lost the West Final due to mistakes from the whole offence.
Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images