Matt Nichols has a 24-hour rule when it comes to dealing with losses, but the Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback needed twice that long to get over last weekend’s collapse against the B.C. Lions.
Winnipeg couldn’t make a 17-0 half-time lead stand against the Lions, who rallied for the 20-17 win. The Bombers (2-3) look to rebound Saturday afternoon when they visit the Toronto Argonauts (1-3) at BMO Field.
“You always want to play four complete quarters and we didn’t do that so obviously you have to figure out ways to be better and consistent. You’re playing professional football and do a couple of things wrong and it can snowball on you.”
Toronto is also coming off a loss, a 16-15 road decision in Edmonton after downing the Eskimos 20-17 at BMO Field on July 7. But the Bombers will present the Argos’ defence with a much different challenge.
While Edmonton, with CFL MVP Mike Reilly, boasts one of the league’s top aerial attacks, Winnipeg will counter with its explosive running game. Andrew Harris, the league’s top rusher last year, leads the way in 2018 with 449 yards and is averaging a gaudy 6.6 yards per attempt.
The Bombers are averaging a league-best 171 yards rushing per game and also lead the CFL in scoring at 32.2 points per contest. By comparison, Toronto’s defence is allowing an average of 121 yards per contest on the ground and 5.4 yards per rush.
But the five-foot-10, 211-pound Harris, the CFL’s top Canadian last season, is much more than a running threat. He also had 105 catches for 857 yards and a TD last year and in 2018 has 20 receptions for 142 yards and a touchdown.
Containing Winnipeg’s ground game would certainly be a boon for the Argos. The Bombers’ aerial attack is second-last in the CFL at 217.6 yards per game.
Nichols, who’ll make his third start of the season, has completed 33-of-57 passes (57.9 per cent) for 376 yards with one TD and three interceptions, all registered last week versus B.C. However, the 31-year-old, in his seventh CFL season, has a 4-1 record as a starter versus Toronto.
By comparison, Toronto’s James Franklin will make his first career start versus Winnipeg and just the sixth of his CFL career. It certainly wouldn’t hurt the Argos’ offence if running back James Wilder Jr., the league’s top rookie last season, could have a big game.
Wilder ran for 120 yards and a TD in Toronto’s win over Edmonton on July 7 but registered 26 yards and a TD on 12 carries in last weekend’s contest.
“It becomes a lot easier because it opens up the pass game and takes pressure off me,” Franklin said. “It’s always nice to get the running back the ball especially when we throw the ball so much.”
Still, Franklin did get veteran receiver S.J. Green involved in the offence last week. He had 10 catches for 131 yards, both season-high totals.
“We just went off the coverage, it wasn’t a case of, ‘Hey we’ve got to get S.J. the ball every single time,”’ Franklin said. “It was cool because at the end of the game I thought he had five or six catches but he had 10 with the potential of 13 if I’d given him a better ball.”
Franklin said he’s feeling more comfortable within Toronto’s offence with the goal being to be able to react in games without thinking.
“You think in meetings and in practice you’ve got to get it to be a reaction because in the game it’s a reaction,” he said. “It’s pretty amazing how fast the brain can process information.
“I was explaining to my wife one of our reads a few weeks ago and it took me like 10-15 seconds and I was going fast. On the field you’ve got about a second and a half.”