Opponents may be carving up the field-side against Mike O’Shea’s team, but the Winnipeg Blue Bombers aren’t passing on their 4-0 record.
After all, they don’t ask how they just ask how many — something that’s spot on for the blue and gold.
The Blue Bombers rank first in both offensive points and offensive points against. This makes sense as undefeated teams should sit atop statistics that decides who wins games.
Where things get strange, and possibly concerning, is where Winnipeg ranks in the passing categories on both sides of the ball. Spoiler: they’re near the basement in most.
After five weeks, the Bombers rank last in passing yards per game and seventh in passing yards against per game. They also have given up 27 20-plus yard completions, double than any other CFL team. It’s a passing league, so what gives?
Bombers Passing Quick and Effective
The Bombers haven’t engineered too many methodical clock-eating drives. Instead, it’s been the 75-yard and 82-yard bombs to Lucky Whitehead and Nic Demski or the one-play, four-yard punch-ins to Andrew Harris.
Winnipeg’s operating on short fields too. Their league-best average starting field position is from the 41-yard line, nearly six yards higher than the league average.
Then when they’re on offence, it’s likely a two-and-out or a quick six.
Winnipeg has 24 two-and-outs, the second-most in the league. It’s a tad worrisome after four games, but the efficiency from Matt Nichols’ group warrants that stat a shoulder shrug.
Winnipeg’s first in passing efficiency at 117.8 and Matt Nichols is first among starters with a 126 efficiency rating. Nichols’ 10 touchdowns to one interception largely plays into that.
Yards For Early, Yards Against Late
A whopping 70 per cent of Matt Nichols passing yards have come in the first half of Winnipeg’s four games. Granted Nichols missed the majority of the second half in Week 4, but it’s still an eye-opening stat.
Winnipeg’s scoring early and cruising to victory. They’ve led all four games going into the fourth quarter by an average of 12 points. Nichols hasn’t needed to move the ball in the final frame yet and the 49 fourth-quarter passing yards shows just that.
As for defending the pass, the cliche terminology is garbage time but that term only gets said once a team grabs a sizable lead, such as a 12-point lead going into the fourth quarter.
McLeod Bethel-Thompson’s 232 second-half passing yards in Week 5 were against the starters and mostly to the field-side, but you can be the judge to whether those numbers fall under the cliche category.
The Field-Side Woes
Perhaps the most alarming passing observation has been opponents’ tendencies to attack Winnipeg’s field-side through the air.
Chandler Fenner’s been the poster boy of this, but neither Brandon Alexander or Derek Jones — albeit Jones in limited action — have fared well.
That said, the heat on Fenner and Alexander is deserved. No other defenders have been responsible for over 300 passing yards in 2019. I have Alexander tracked down for 320 and Fenner for 378, plus each giving up two touchdowns. That’s 698 yards alone to the field-side in four games, plus other passes at other defenders.
Quarterbacks are picking on Fenner too (Alexander not so much). Aside from Tre Roberson of Calgary, no other defender has had over 30 balls thrown their way. Fenner’s had an outstanding 42 through four starts.
Where it gets tricky is the fact that Fenner’s made some nice plays (but he’s also been horrific on some). He’s giving up a 62 per cent completion rate on balls thrown his way, which is a fine number considering players like Aaron Grymes and Tre Roberson are at 59 and 64 per cent.
Consistency in coverage is the issue for Fenner. He’s breaking on balls well and has shown the strength to separate the ball from a potential pass-catcher. It’s just the frequent breakdowns — the stumbles and penalties — that are damaging Fenner’s name.
Fenner’s only good outing came against Ottawa in Week 4. If he has a tough time on Friday versus Ottawa his time as a starting defensive back should be put on hold. If so, Chris Humes and Marcus Rios are among the replacement candidates.
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