While Lucky Whitehead was essential in Winnipeg’s 28-21 win over the Edmonton Eskimos, luck didn’t need to be.
Oddly enough, after the game concluded it was difficult to praise or criticize either team due to one bizarre stat: Edmonton scoring zero touchdowns on 445 yards of offence.
And there’s more oddity to this game.
Edmonton converted on seven field goals, equalling their 21 points. On the flip side, the Bombers didn’t allow a touchdown. The Eskimos possessed the football for over 36 minutes and doubled Winnipeg in first downs, but the Bombers averaged 20.4 yards on first down. Edmonton held Andrew Harris, Chris Matthews and Darvin Adams to 67 yards total, but Lucky Whitehead alone had 153.
To determine whether the Bombers came up clutch with consistent pressure or the Eskimos choked an impressive road outing away, I revisited the seven plays before Edmonton’s field goals.
The Seven Pre-Field Goal Plays
Sean Whyte connected on seven successful field goals Thursday night. His longest attempt was only 45 yards, and five of his seven makes were from under 35 yards out. Below is the play before each of Whyte’s seven field goal attempts.
An untouched Jeff Hecht rushes Harris, which forces an inaccurate pass to the flats with both Chandler Fenner and Brandon Alexander closing in.
Here, the trio of Willie Jefferson, Kyrie Wilson and Craig Roh approach Harris, who has to lob up a back-foot toss to an open Greg Ellingson, and the ball lands short.
Willie Jefferson and Steven Richardson sniff out an inside run, forcing C.J. Gable outside to get swarmed by Bombers’ defenders in the backfield.
Jackson Jeffcoat quickly sacks Harris for a five-yard loss despite a delayed blitzer leading to Whyte adding another three points on the last play before half-time.
Harris steps up toward an oncoming Derek Jones and has no other option but a dump-off to Tevaun Smith, who makes a great two-yard grab.
Harris has time but delivers an overthrow to Ricky Collins Jr. on a corner route. The ball is high, but Collins Jr. nearly makes a one-handed catch.
Winnipeg blitzes and Harris hits Ellingson for a short gain, but Alexander doesn’t wrap up and Ellingson picks up a first down. Jason Maas elects to kick on first down from the 26.
Verdict: Bombers Force Field Goals
A couple of things stand out. First, the Bombers sent pressure, blitzing one to three defenders on five of six passing plays prior to Eskimos’ field goals. On those plays, Harris went two for five for 24 yards with his three incompletions being poor, rushed throws.
Second, the Eskimos didn’t set themselves up in positions to succeed. On the five second-down plays prior to their field goal attempts, only once did Edmonton need less than nine yards. Defensive coordinator Richie Hall knew Edmonton was in a passing situation and took advantage.
Aside from Maas’ dubitable late-game decision, the Esks failing to reach the end zone wasn’t due to self-inflicted errors, but the Bombers ability to send pressure on second-and-long situations. Winnipeg executed their blitzes, coming up strong at the right moments.
Improvement Needed in Secondary
The other side of the story is Winnipeg giving up 345 passing yards and another 100 on the ground. The majority of those yards came on the strong-side, where Chandler Fenner and Brandon Alexander man the two defensive back positions.
Early and throughout the contest, the two were automatic targets for Harris. In fact, Harris’ first 10 throws were at either Fenner or Alexander.
Both had shaky performances in terms of coverage but were sharp on their tackling. Fenner struggled especially, being responsible for 150 passing yards and 11 catches on 15 targets. It gets worse too — Fenner committed five penalties on the night.
Marcus Sayles and Winston Rose were much better on the weak-side, as tracked below.
If Fenner maintains his disastrous start to 2019, it shouldn’t be much longer before he gets yanked from the starting lineup, especially if the penalties don’t come to a halt.
Rookie Marcus Rios came in relief of an injured Anthony Gaitor on Thursday and looked alright. His one highlight came deep in Bombers territory when he recovered to break up what would’ve been an Eskimos touchdown.
Gaitor appears to be set to suit up on Friday in Ottawa, meaning Rios starting at Fenner’s field-side cornerback spot may be a move the Bombers pull the trigger on.
Bombers go to Ottawa as Underdogs
Oddly enough the Bombers are travelling to Ottawa as four-point underdogs. Ottawa’s 2-0 themselves and have been explosive on offence, but that line screams recency bias.
Redblacks quarterback Dom Davis will have his biggest test yet, facing his old club who should have a good grasp on how to restrict Davis’ offensive success.
Expect high dosages of pressure from the Bombers, led by Jackson Jeffcoat who has a remarkable 12 pressures through two games, according to Derek Taylor.
Make sure to check out Nik’s Picks tomorrow afternoon to get on the right side of the battle of two undefeated clubs.
Main image credit:Embed from Getty Images