Bombers officially second-best in West (& 12 other thoughts)

1. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the B.C. Lions by a final score of 35-32 on Friday night at B.C. Place on the strength of six takeaways and seven Justin Medlock field goals. The Bombers have now swept the season series with the Lions, launching themselves into second place in the West Division with two games remaining.

2. Taylor Loffler had a monster game on Friday night, recording two interceptions and one forced fumble. It’s difficult to imagine Loffler not being named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie during Grey Cup week next month, a remarkable feat for a player who slid into the third round of the draft this past May. Loffler, who did not start for the Bombers until week six versus Edmonton, would become just the third Canadian player named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie since 1993. The player who earned the honour that season? Retired linebacker and Blue Bomber head coach Mike O’Shea.

3. Andrew Harris finished Friday night with 153 yards from scrimmage — 73 rushing yards on twelve carries and 80 receiving yards on eight receptions. It was a stellar night for the former Lion who made his first appearance at B.C. Place since leaving Vancouver for Winnipeg as a free agent this past off-season. His night could have been sweeter — Harris had a 72-yard touchdown first quarter reception called back due to an offside penalty on Weston Dressler — but it was a great performance nonetheless.

4. Speaking of flags, Dressler wasn’t the only veteran who took a foolish penalty on Friday night. Jamaal Westerman was flagged for two offside calls and a roughing the passer infraction despite failing to record a sack on Jonathon Jennings. Justin Cole, Westerman’s defensive bookend, was flagged for a careless roughing the passer call that gave the Lions a first down in the second half on what would have been 3rd and 36 from around midfield. The Bombers have taken too many careless penalties this season — just ask Kevin Fogg, the rookie who’s had four return touchdowns taken off the board this season — and will need to play cleaner football if they hope to make some noise come playoff time.

5. Speaking of Fogg, the Liberty product has become the member of the Bomber secondary teams are attacking early with Johnny Adams in Hamilton and Bruce Johnson out due to an injury/suspension. Fogg deserves a roster spot on this club based on his return ability alone, but he’s going to need to tighten up his coverage if he hopes to keep his starting spot at field-halfback when Johnson returns to the line-up.

6. Credit where credit’s due: the Bombers were stellar against the run versus the Lions in the club’s back-to-back games, holding Anthony Allen and Jeremiah Johnson to 79 yards on 24 carries (3.3 yards per carry). B.C.’s rushing duo has a combined 996 rushing yards this season, averaging a combined 5.5 yards per carry.

7. This is a pretty remarkable stat from Cory (below) — the Bombers are now 6-2 on the road this season with both losses coming in Calgary. If Winnipeg hosts the West Semi-Final (more on that in a second), the Bombers will need to find a way to win in the two venues they’ve struggled at most this season: McMahon Stadium and Investors Group Field.

8. Sukh Chungh left Friday night’s game in the second quarter with a knee injury and did not return. Chungh, who has started every game for the Bombers at right guard since being drafted second overall last season, would be the third Canadian offensive lineman to join the club’s injured reserve. Jeff Keeping has been out since the preseason, while Patrick Neufeld has been out since July with a serious leg injury. The Bombers can’t afford to replace Chungh with an American, meaning rookie Michael Couture will start at right guard versus Ottawa should Chungh, Keeping, and Neufeld remain unavailable following the club’s bye week. Rookie Alex McKay, a product of the University of Manitoba, would likely come off the practice roster to serve as the club’s sixth offensive lineman.

9. Justin Medlock booted seven field goals on Friday night, increasing his season total to 55 of 63 (.873). The CFL record for field goals in a season was set in 1990 by Saskatchewan’s Dave Ridgway with 59. With two games remaining, it’s easy to see Medlock reaching 60 by season’s end.

10. Two late-game coaching decisions made me scratch my head on Friday night. First, B.C. offensive coordinator Khari Jones called a pass play from his own 35-yard line with just 2:59 remaining — up seven and looking to kill the clock, Jones needed to start off the Leos drive on the ground. Jeremiah Johnson only averaged 3.9 yards per carry on Friday, but you need to run the ball with the lead late in the game to kill time. That’s just football 101. Second, Blue Bomber head coach Mike O’Shea had Justin Medlock kick-off to Chris Rainey twice in the last three minutes of the game. Why anyone would risk letting Rainey return a kick-off late in the game is beyond me — the second-year Lion has been easily the best returner in the CFL this season. Had Rainey returned the game’s final kick-off another ten yards, Richie Leone probably sends Friday’s game to overtime.

11. Rory Kohlert’s second quarter drop perfectly illustrated why the Bombers need to upgrade their Canadian receiving talent. B.C. safety Mike Edem intercepted the ball that went through Kohlert’s fingers, leading Matt Nichols to chew Kohlert out on the sideline for his error (see below). One can’t help but wonder if Kyle Walters’ ability to improve his club’s receiving corps will impact contract negotiations with Nichols this off-season. I don’t see Nichols (a pending free agent) signing elsewhere this winter, but he’s going to command marquee quarterback dollars. As such, Nichols is going to want to know he’s got the targets he needs to be successful. The current trio of Rory Kohlert (16 yards per game this season), Julian Feoli-Gudino (10), and Addison Richards (0) is simply inadequate. Kyle Walters will need to use one of his two 2017 first round picks on a marquee Canadian receiver and consider dipping into the free agent pool to revamp his national receiving talent ahead of next season.

12. Speaking of receivers, it is likely that Darvin Adams will be ready to return from a broken collarbone following the Bombers’ week eighteen bye. That means that one of Ryan Smith, Weston Dressler, Tori Gurley, and Clarence Denmark will need to come out of the line-up to make room for the Bombers’ best pass catcher. Denmark will likely the one who loses his starting spot, but Smith should be the guy based on production alone.

13. The Bombers now have sole possession of second place in the West Division with a 10-6 record. With the Lions (9-6) and Eskimos (8-7) set to meet at B.C. Place next week, one of the Bombers’ two divisional rivals is guaranteed to record a win next week (barring a rare tie, anyway). Regardless of which team wins, the Bombers will need only to keep pace with that club over the final two games of the season in order to finish second in the West at season’s end.

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