Bombers win Banjo Bowl but injuries a concern (& 15 other thoughts)

1. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Saskatchewan Roughriders by a final score of 17-10 at Investors Group Field in the thirteenth edition of the Banjo Bowl on Saturday afternoon. The Bomber defence had one of its best games of the season, holding the Riders to just ten points off a measly 288 net yards of offence. Winnipeg forced just one turnover (a third quarter Caleb Holley fumble forced by Johnny Adams), but it was nice to see the Bombers shut down an opposing offence without forcing a turnover on every second drive. The club’s league-leading clip of 3.7 takeaways per game was never sustainable, but Winnipeg’s recent ability to shut down the run, pressure the quarterback, and make quick plays on opposing receivers could be. We’ll soon find out if Richie Hall’s defence can shut down more formidable offences with games versus Calgary (September 24) and Edmonton (September 30) on the horizon.

2. The Bomber offence was sluggish again on Saturday. Deducting Weston Dressler’s production (more on him in a second), Winnipeg’s leader in yards from scrimmage was depth slotback Julian Feoli-Gudino with 42 yards on two receptions. Paul LaPolice’s offence was much improved in the red zone this week (two-of-two), but this team has to find a way to move the ball more consistently. Darvin Adams can’t get healthy soon enough.

3. While he failed to find the end zone in either contest against Saskatchewan, Weston Dressler recorded fourteen receptions for 212 yards in two games versus his old team. That’s gotta feel good.

4. Unfortunately for the Bombers, Saturday’s game may have cost them some key players for next week’s contest against Toronto. Andrew Harris (lower body), Ian Wild (upper body), Ryan Smith (upper body), Brendan Morgan, and Jesse Briggs all left the Banjo Bowl due to injury, an unfortunate turn of events after two weeks of (mostly) injury-free football in Bomberland. Expect international Timothy Flanders to replace Harris at running back next week should the former all-star be unable to play, a move would force the Bombers to adjust their use of the ratio. Though Tony Burnett was stellar in place of Wild in the Banjo Bowl, starting national Sam Hurl (who’s currently on the one-game injured list) at middle linebacker would likely be the easiest way for the Bombers to reach seven starting Canadians against Toronto.

5. The Bombers have now surrendered just eight sacks in the past six games following a sack-free game against the Riders. Winnipeg is now tied with B.C. for third place in fewest sacks allowed this season (24) after giving up 16 in the club’s first five games of 2016.

6. Saturday’s win moved the Bombers back into the all-time lead in Banjo Bowl victories (7-6) dating back to the inaugural contest in 2004. Winnipeg has now won three of the past four Labour Day rematches after an ugly stretch from 2008 to 2012 that saw the club drop four of five contests.

7. You really have to feel for Kevin Fogg. The rookie out of Liberty had his third punt return touchdown of the season called back due to penalty on Saturday, an unfortunate mark that has to be some kind of single-season league record. All three of the penalties that have negated Fogg touchdowns this season — illegal block calls on Kyle Knox, Shayon Green, and Nick Temple, respectively — have been valid calls, but none did much to aid Fogg’s progress up the field. This means two things: 1) the Bombers need to stop taking stupid special teams penalties away from the play and, 2) Fogg has quickly become a dominant returner in this league.

8. Speaking of big plays negated by penalty, Rider running back/return man Kendial Lawrence said after the game that, “there are one or two plays that really hurt us and it’s because of a flag. I kind of feel like the refs have it out for us.” Has Lawrence watched any CFL games this season? Fans and pundits around the league have heavily criticized the league’s officials for negating too many big plays due to penalties. If Lawrence was simply complaining about the number of flags league-wide, I’d agree with him. To suggest that one team is being targeted by CFL officials, however, is laughable. The Riders don’t stink because CFL officials have it out for them. The Riders stink because, well, they stink.

9. Second-year Roughrider receiver Naaman Roosevelt is spectacular, but is there a chance Saskatchewan loses him to the NFL this off-season? Roosevelt turns 29 in December, which, while decreasing his chances of making a team south, doesn’t put an NFL bid out of the question. Weston Dressler got his shot with the Kansas City Chiefs at the age of 29, while CFL journeyman Dobson Collins (29) got a look with the Ravens in their training camp this year.

10. Rory Kohlert’s been a decent possession receiver for the Bombers since 2011, but I can’t help but feel it may be time for the Bombers to move on from the former Saskatchewan Huskie. Kohlert recorded two drops and zero receptions on Saturday, failing to improve upon his season total of 17 receptions for 163 yards. Considering Kohlert had just under 600 receiving yards in 2014 — a season with remarkably low passing totals across the league — the fact that he is on pace to reach less than 300 yards this season is simply unacceptable. Why not try second-year man Addison Richards at field-side wide receiver? At 6’5, Richards would at least bring some size.

11. Justin Medlock picked a good week to convert on just one of his three field goal attempts. Just one week after successfully booting seven of eight in Regina, Medlock’s misses will go unnoticed in Bomberland — for now, at least.

12. This might go over like a lead balloon given his character issues, but is there a chance the Bombers look to trade for Duron Carter in the coming weeks? Winnipeg needs to add a big body to their receiving corps and Carter is clearly unhappy in Montreal (see below). Given Montreal’s 3-8 record, the Alouettes should be exploring every opportunity to improve. TSN’s Gary Lawless reported this week on his radio show that Jim Popp’s asking price for Kevin Glenn is a fourth round pick. Is it possible that Popp deals Carter (who, like Glenn, is a pending free agent) for a similar price? Cap space likely wouldn’t an issue for Winnipeg — most of Carter’s exorbitant deal is already paid out, while it’s possible Ryan Smith will be re-added to the six-game injured list as of Tuesday. The concern with adding Carter would be the effect the 2014 CFL all-star would have on the Bomber locker room. My colleague Justin Dunk wrote a piece this past week chronicling the many issues Carter has had with teammates throughout his career. Would Winnipeg’s locker room be tight enough to sort out a problem child like Carter or would his addition be a disaster? It’s an intriguing question that Kyle Walters may considering investigating in the coming weeks.

13. Speaking of trades, it will be interesting to see how things play out with Drew Willy in the coming weeks. If Toronto is willing to give up a first round pick for the former starter, Kyle Walters has to find a way to pull the trigger on that deal. The Argos’ first round pick this season is going to be a top-five selection next May and, especially with Kevin Glenn available for a reasonable price, there’s no sense in keeping Willy’s massive contract on the books to be a back-up for the remainder of the season.

14. The Bombers have now won six straight games dating back to July 28, 2016. The Riders, meanwhile, have won just six games dating back to September 21, 2014.

15. Speaking of dubious records, Winnipeg’s all-time regular season record at Investors Group Field now stands at 9-23. It’s a terrible mark that will take years for the Bombers to rectify, but back-to-back home wins over Hamilton and Saskatchewan is a good start to rebuilding the club’s tradition of home-field success.

16. Neither of Winnipeg’s one-score victories over the lowly Roughriders were terribly well-played games, but wins in the CFL are worth two points regardless of how the game is played. The Bombers’ back-to-back wins over Saskatchewan — paired with the Eskimos’ back-to-back losses to Calgary — have Winnipeg firmly entrenched in a playoff spot in the West Division for the first time since 2003. Though there are two games yet to be played before the Bombers and Eskimos meet again (Winnipeg hosts Toronto next week before traveling to Calgary, while Edmonton will play in Saskatchewan next week before hosting B.C.), week fifteen’s clash at Investors Group Field could very well decide the playoff picture in the West. That game will determine the winner of the season series and will go a long way to determining third (or perhaps even second) place in the West Divison. Game on.