Winnipeg Blue Bombers Pass Defenders: The Best and the Worst

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The Grey Cup champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers mixed up how their pass defenders performed their jobs in 2019. And while potentially on his last chance as the team’s defensive coordinator, Richie Hall had to.

The additions of Winston Rose, and later Mercy Maston and Nick Taylor, gave Hall the personnel to play more man coverage with safety help — play-calling Hall previously went away from despite many begging for the more hands-on, risky style of pass defending.

Play calls like cover-two man — defensive backs playing man and the safety plus someone like Adam Bighill dropping back into deep halves — and well-timed safety or hammer blitzes with Jeff Hecht or Mercy Maston became more frequent, and as such the defence got better.

The Bombers did continue to shy away from press, a good indication as to why the team sat in the middle of the pack for yards passing against. But some Bombers defenders still put together excellent season-long performances.

*YDSpREC: Yards per reception against, YDSpTGT: Yards per target against

The Bombers’ Three Constant Secondary Starters

Winston Rose: 18 starts, 9 INT, 1 TD, 14.48 YDSpREC, 7.6 YDSpTGT

Well, the INT-TDs allowed ratio summarizes Rose’s level of play in 2019. He’s got incredible hands and is one of the better man defenders in the boundary. He gave up the third-most yards in the CFL (Gary Peters, 797 and Chandler Fenner, 988), but 180 came in a hiccup in Week 17. And as shown, only 7.6 yards against per target. Rose also had a remarkable 53 per cent completion rate against. In my opinion, Rose is a goner to the NFL.

Marcus Sayles: 18 starts, 3 INT, 4 TD, 12.15 YDSpREC, 7.6 YDSpTGT

Rose’s boundary teammate went through some serious mid-season struggles, dropping Sayles out of my top 20. But it was still a solid season from the talented CFL sophomore. Sayles’ 12.15 yards per catch was an above-average number for a boundary halfback in the CFL. He was just behind Rose in yards against (778), but the athleticism and youth of Sayles should earn him an NFL bid.

Chandler Fenner: 17 starts, 2 INT, 2 TD, 13.9 YDSpREC, 8.98 YDSpTGT

Fenner gave up the most yards and was the most targeted defender in the CFL — and it wasn’t close. This is especially concerning considering Fenner lined up at field cornerback for 17 games before getting benched from the final regular-season game onward. He showed moments of promise, but Fenner likely won’t have a starting spot in 2020 with Winnipeg, or anywhere.

Field halfback

Nick Taylor: 4 starts, 1 INT, 2 TD, 21.1 YDSpREC, 13.57 YDSpTGT

Brandon Alexander started Week 1 here, but Nick Taylor ended up occupying the spot. The newcomer started four games for Winnipeg, and his numbers were quite altered by a few longer completions despite solid play. Taylor’s game absolutely elevated in the playoffs, not giving up a catch in two of three games. The Bombers would be wise to bring Taylor back.


Jeff Hecht: 14 starts, 3 INT, 0 TD, 15.85 YDSpREC, 6.93 YDSpTGT
Brandon Alexander: 10 starts, 0 INT, 3 TD, 20.59 YDSpREC, 12.94 YDSpTGT

Jeff Hecht’s numbers may indicate that his play was higher than reality, but there’s a fair argument that taking him out of the starting lineup was then an iffy decision. The emergence of newcomers elsewhere took the heat off the change to Brandon Alexander, and in fact, glorified it. Alexander may not be best suited at safety, but neither he or Hecht lacks physicality over the middle.

Strong-side linebacker

Anthony Gaitor: 14 starts, 0 INT, 3 TD, 13.11 YDSpREC, 8.66 YDSpTGT
Mercy Maston: 2 starts, 0 INT, 1 TD, 11 YDSpREC, 5.92 YDSpTGT
Marcus Rios: 8 starts, 1 INT, 8 TD, 14.57 YDSpREC, 9.82 YDSpTGT

Anthony Gaitor’s play coincidentally started to drop before leaving the team, making for average numbers on the season. Then in a small sample size, Mercy Maston played some terrific football for Winnipeg, which continued in the playoffs warranting an off-season extension. Then there’s Marcus Rios, who had one of the ugliest stretches in the league.


Kyrie Wilson: 18 starts, 1 INT, 1 TD, 8.92 YDSpREC, 5.46 YDSpTGT
Adam Bighill: 15 starts, 2 INT, 2 TD, 9.93 YDSpREC, 8.21 YDSpTGT
Mike Jones: 1 start, 0 INT, 0 TD, 17.4 YDSpREC, 14.5 YDSpTGT

The linebackers’ numbers don’t mean a whole lot given their rarity of playing man or being in a spot to make a play on the ball, but Kyrie Wilson’s numbers speak to how solid he was in 2019. Adam Bighill hauled in two interceptions in a down year, and while Mike Jones only started one regular-season game, he played an integral role for Winnipeg in November.

Key Numbers

  • Winston Rose only gave up completions on just 53 per cent of passes thrown his way.
  • Winston Rose again: grabbing nine interceptions is outstanding, so is giving up a single touchdown.
  • Chandler Fenner’s 110 targets and 988 yards against is a big yikes.
  • Chandler Fenner, Winston Rose, and Marcus Sayles were the three most targeted Bombers and three of the four CFL defenders (Patrick Levels) who saw 100-plus targets.
  • Marcus Sayles 12.5 yards against per target was an above-average number on Winnipeg.
  • Kyrie Wilson having a 61 per cent completion percentage against is a tad lucky, but still incredible.
  • No Bombers defenders gave up more than half the touchdowns that Marcus Rios did. In just eight starts, the eight touchdowns against Rios quickly got him out of the lineup.
  • With 16 targets in 14 starts, teams didn’t pick on Jeff Hecht, but Winnipeg rarely tasked Hecht with defending receivers one-on-one.
  • Same for Brandon Alexander, who saw 10 targets during four starts at safety.
  • Jeff Hecht was tied for second in interceptions on the Bombers.

Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images