Bombers choke in third consecutive trip to B.C. (& 10 other thoughts)

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers lost to the B.C. Lions by a score of 20-17 in front of 19,541 fans at B.C. Place Stadium on Saturday night. Below are my thoughts on the game.

Déjà blue

It’s funny how history has a tendency to repeat itself.

The Bombers played in B.C. during week five of last season. The club’s starting strong-side linebacker, Maurice Leggett, was injured and the team was forced to start three rookie defensive backs on the field-side of the secondary — Roc Carmichael, Bryan Walker, and Brandon Alexander.

The result? Travis Lulay passed for 404 yards and two touchdowns en route to a 45-42 comeback victory for the B.C. Lions.

The Bombers played in B.C. during week five of this season. The club’s starting strong-side linebacker, Chandler Fenner, was injured and the team was forced to start two rookie defensive backs on the field-side of the secondary — Tyneil Cooper and Marcus Sayles.

The result? Travis Lulay passed for 326 yards and a touchdown en route to a 20-17 comeback victory for the B.C. Lions.

It was a game that reeked of past mistakes dating all the way back to the 2016 West Divison Semi-Final. The Bombers coughed up a 28-12 stranglehold in that contest, leading for the first 58 minutes of the game before losing 32-21.

Winnipeg let B.C. comeback from a 42-27 deficit in last year’s game in Vancouver and on Saturday allowed the Lions to rattle off twenty consecutive second-half points to clinch a 20-17 victory.

It’s almost comical, to be frank. The Bombers have given away enough games in B.C. that the club should try claiming them as charitable donations when filing taxes next April. It’s astounding.

There are a lot of parties who share in the blame for Saturday’s loss, so let’s start unpacking things…

Nichols’ pick-lull

Matt Nichols threw three interceptions on Saturday, the most he’s tossed in a single game since being anointed Winnipeg’s starter midway through the 2016 season. Though his third interception came as a result of a tipped pass, the first two appeared to be entirely Nichols’ fault.

Nichols’ first interception came on an out route that was gobbled up by veteran halfback T.J. Lee on a late throw. The second pick came on a pass that was overthrown into double coverage before being easily caught by cornerback Winston Rose.

Nichols threw just eight interceptions all of last season, seven of which came as a result of tips, drops or deflections (according to my records, at least). The fact that Winnipeg’s signal-caller has already thrown two ‘at-fault’ interceptions in just two games this season is alarming.

Nichols isn’t Mike Reilly — he isn’t expected to air the ball out 40 times a game while repeatedly taking shots from opposing pass rushers. The Bombers run a ball-control offence — one that relies on Nichols’ ability to make quick decisions and protect the football.

When Nichols doesn’t protect the football, the Bombers finish games like this:

Nichols gets very good protection from his offensive line and is the beneficiary of the league’s best rushing attack. He simply must be better moving forward.

Harris held out

Paul LaPolice didn’t give the ball to Andrew Harris on either of the Bombers’ final possessions of the game. On a night that saw the league’s reigning Most Outstanding Canadian rush thirteen times for 139 yards and two touchdowns, this is head-scratching to say the least.

Up 17-10 with five minutes remaining, LaPolice’s unit went two-and-out on two consecutive Nichols incompletions. Three minutes later, Nichols was sacked on first down and intercepted on second down with the game tied 17-17. Winnipeg never got the ball back.

The Bombers started with good field position on both possessions — first at their own 46 yard line, followed by their own 54. Considering the Bombers’ interest in running down the clock, one would think Harris and his 10.7 yard-per-carry average would be featured in the attack. He wasn’t — and the Bombers paid the price.

Ostentatious onside?

The Bombers executed a short kick perfectly in the second quarter of Saturday’s game with a 14-0 lead. It was a high-risk, high-reward play that was met with rave reviews by fans on social media because, well — it worked.

Had the short kicked failed, fans would have questioned Mike O’Shea’s aggressive decision. As it stands, the call was universally praised.

This is why I have a hard time burying O’Shea for his decision to go for it on third-and-short with 8:30 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Bombers have moved the ball at will on short yardage for the past two seasons — it’s a high-percentage play for a team that boasts the top offensive line in the league.

There’s something to be said about playing to win instead of playing not to lose. Kicking the field goal would have been the conservative call, but I respect a coach who’s willing to trust his offence.

With that said, I think Paul LaPolice should have kept Chris Streveler between the tackles on a traditional QB sneak rather than running him off the edge. Even so, I don’t have a problem with the call — burying your opponent back at their own 10-yard line is never a bad thing. Unless…

Passing yards and passing yards and passing yards

…the Bombers gave up 326 yards through the air in B.C., marking the third time this season that the club has allowed more than 325 passing yards in a game.

Winnipeg will enter next week ranked eighth in the CFL in passing yardage allowed at 281 yards per game. But what else is new?

Discipline doldrums

Winnipeg took nine penalties on Saturday night for 86 yards, far more than average for a team that is consistently among the league’s least-penalized clubs.

These infractions were highlighted by four major fouls committed by the defence. The roughing the passer call on Ian Wild was a farce and Jackson Jeffcoat’s horse-collar tackle was borderline, but the roughing the passer calls on Jeffcoat and Cory ‘Poop’ Johnson were legitimate.

The Bombers have been able to win consistently for the past two seasons by limited penalties and turnovers. So much for that.

Lulay’s legacy

Lulay eclipsed the 19,000-yard career passing mark on Saturday night and could soon become the third quarterback in B.C. Lions’ history to throw for 20,000 yards alongside Damon Allen and Roy Dewalt.

The reason I mention Lulay’s milestone is that I’m sometimes asked about whether or not I see Kevin Glenn as a future hall of famer. Here’s why I do — Glenn remains 33,683 passing yards ahead of Lulay, a nine-year veteran and former Most Outstanding Player. Glenn’s career passing total of 52,687 yards puts him easily ahead of three seasoned, well-respected CFL starters — Lulay (19,184), Nichols (13,657), and Zach Collaros (14,068) — combined. That’s remarkable.

B.C. bloodlines

The number of former Lions on Winnipeg’s roster has gotten plenty of ink this season — Adam Bighill, Chandler Fenner, Craig Roh, Anthony Gaitor, etc. — but how about the B.C. connections on this first quarter touchdown?

Andrew Harris — a six-year Lion — carried the football 37 yards for a touchdown behind a wall of offensive linemen. The blockers? Jermarcus Hardrick — a one-year Lion — and Matthias Goossen, Sukh Chungh, and Michael Couture, all of whom are B.C. natives.

The Lions haven’t consistently held top selections in the draft over the past five years, but one has to think that the club regrets allowing so many talented homegrown offensive linemen to make their careers elsewhere.

Hat tip to Blue Bomber director of content Ed Tait for this piece he wrote about Sukh Chungh on Friday. It’s outstanding.

Rookie O.C.

Someone reached out to me this week to say that B.C.’s decision to sit Jonathon Jennings after last week’s rough start was unfair. The problem isn’t Jennings, he suggested, but Lions’ offensive coordinator Jarious Jackson. Jackson is a first-year coordinator and doesn’t yet know how to set his quarterback up for success, said the source.

Jackson’s inexperience was on full display when he called a shotgun hand-off to Chris Rainey on third and short in the second quarter of Saturday’s game. B.C.’s star return man was in the game for an injured Jeremiah Johnson and, while Rainey is a formidable scatback, he’s hardly a prototypical short-yardage ball carrier.

B.C.’s decision to sit Jennings won’t be scrutinized after the Lions’ victory on Saturday, but I think it bears keeping in mind as we watch Travis Lulay start games down the stretch.

Special (teams) QB

Winnipeg’s third-string quarterback Bryan Bennett drew some attention on social media when he helped bring down Chris Rainey on a punt return in the second quarter.

The Bombers have lost a number of special teams contributors due to injury in recent weeks including Shayne Gauthier, Brandon Alexander, Trent Corney, and Derek Jones. Evidently, Mike O’Shea felt as though his athletic, big-bodied quarterback could help fill the void.

Using a quarterback on special teams cover units is rare, though not unprecedented. Chris Jones used third-string pivot Jordan Lynch on his punt team when he coached the Eskimos back in 2015.

Boatmen back-to-back

The Bombers are set to play James Franklin and the Toronto Argonauts in back-to-back contests over the next two weeks. A second consecutive road game should serve Mike O’Shea’s club well after a third consecutive late-game collapse in Vancouver. Fans are upset — and I have a hard time blaming them.

Must Read