The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Friday night by a score of 29-23 in front of 26,454 fans at Investors Group Field. Below are my thoughts on the game.
I spoke with someone from outside Winnipeg this week who told me that Nic Demski is making a case to be considered a top-five national skill player in the CFL. After another big game for the University of Manitoba product — 134 kickoff return yards, 45 receiving yards, and a touchdown — it’s hard to argue against that.
Demski now sits 14th league-wide in yards from scrimmage with 312 receiving yards and 120 yards along the ground. His production in the return game on Friday night also helped him move into the league’s top-20 in total yards, a statistic dominated by return men like Christion Jones, Chris Rainey, and Martese Jackson. Demski is the third-ranked Canadian player on both lists behind Andrew Harris and Brad Sinopoli, respectively.
Demski’s role in the offence appears to grow with each passing week, a trend that’s likely to continue should Weston Dressler be unavailable for next week’s game against Ottawa. Speaking of which…
Weston Dressler left Friday night’s game following an awkward collision in the end zone late in the first quarter. Dressler continued to serve as Justin Medlock’s holder on converts and field goals but did not take another offensive snap for the remainder of the game.
The Bombers’ offensive attack slowed noticeably following Dressler’s injury, particularly when Andrew Harris was without the ball. Matt Nichols completed just 13 of 24 pass attempts on the day for 180 yards and two touchdowns; it’s also likely that Nichols would have had at least one interception were it not for his receivers swatting down a small number of errant tosses.
The absence of Dressler adversely affected Nichols who appeared to lock onto Darvin Adams for parts of the second and third quarters. Canadian rookie Daniel Petermann, Dressler’s replacement at slotback, made two key receptions down the stretch once Nichols was able to settle into a rhythm late in the game.
I’m intrigued to see how the Bombers will deal with Dressler’s absence should he be unavailable for next week’s game. Winnipeg is high on Corey Washington, a big-bodied practice roster receiver with some NFL experience, but Petermann is a better fit for Dressler’s role in the offence. Matt Nichols should have some say in how Winnipeg deploys its receivers next week, which, given his lack of production on Friday night, is probably a good thing.
Adam Bighill continues to be a force at middle linebacker for the Bombers, recording seven tackles, a forced fumble, and a blindside sack in Friday’s victory. The four-time league all-star now has 49 takedowns on the season and, barring a big game from Montreal’s Chris Ackie or Henoc Muamba on Saturday, should carry his league-lead into week ten.
If the season ended today, Bighill would be in serious contention for the league’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player award alongside Calgary’s Alex Singleton and Saskatchewan’s Charleston Hughes. It’s a shame that those three players aren’t eligible to receive final consideration for the award as, despite being the league’s top defenders, they all play in the West Division.
While I’m complaining about divisional imbalance (which, despite the risk of becoming annoying, I will continue to do until the East Division becomes competitive), the West has now won 15 of 21 interdivisional games this season. The West Division needs to record just six more victories against the East in order to secure a winning interdivisional record for the 15th time in the past 17 years.
Hamilton used a lot of one and two-tight end sets early in the season to provide Jeremiah Masoli with time to operate in the passing game. Though I’d have to watch the game back on television, it appeared as though the Ticats often went without extra protection against the Bombers on Friday night.
That was a mistake.
As per TSN stat fanatic Derek Taylor, Jeremiah Masoli was under pressure on 40 percent of his snaps. Winnipeg disrupted him early and often, limiting the league’s second-leading passer to 251 yards and a touchdown.
— Derek Taylor ???????????? (@DTonSC) August 11, 2018
Avery Jordan, a rookie out of the University of New Mexico, was handed the starting job at left tackle following the trade that sent veteran Tony Washington to Montreal as part of the Johnny Manziel deal. While I still feel that Hamilton won that trade hands-down, it was clear that Jordan struggled mightily against the Bombers’ defensive ends. That’s a spot to monitor moving forward for a pass-happy Ticat team that will need to do a better job of securing Masoli’s blindside if they hope to see him play a full eighteen game schedule.
I loved seeing the Bombers allow their defensive backs to contest so many of the Ticats’ pass attempts at Investors Group Field. Winnipeg played a remarkably conservative defensive game six weeks ago in Hamilton, a contest that saw Winnipeg lose 31-17 due in part to their unwillingness to challenge Ticat receivers.
Aside from a few early completions to Brandon Banks in one-on-one match-ups with Chris Randle, Winnipeg’s secondary succeeded in competing against (and shutting down) a number of Hamilton’s excellent receivers.
Even if Winnipeg had failed to hold players like Luke Tasker, Terrence Toliver, and Jalen Saunders to quiet games, I would still have praised the club for playing more aggressively on the back-end. The Bombers have a lot of talent in the secondary and they owe it to themselves — and their fans — to let them compete for the football on the majority of passing downs.
In what is sometimes an overlooked area of the game, Justin Medlock did an excellent job of punting the football against the Ticats. Medlock booted six balls — one with his non-kicking foot following a bobbled snap — for a 44.7-yard average, often placing the ball between the hashmark and the sideline.
The result was a perfect 44.7-yard net average, meaning that Hamilton failed to record a single punt return yard in the entire game. I don’t know how long it’s been since a team was held to zero punt return yards in a CFL game, but I’m guessing it’s been awhile.
The Ticats have had four different players serve as the club’s primary running back this season, two of whom are Canadian and two of whom are American.
The national backs, Mercer Timmis and Sean Thomas-Erlington, have given Hamilton the best results out of the backfield. Thomas-Erlington’s 7.56-yard per carry average is excellent, while Timmis’ 188 rushing yards leads the pack.
Hamilton, however, appears unwilling to allow their young national running backs to carry the load (pun fully intended). White did little in two starts against Saskatchewan and Ottawa, respectively, while Green has been just marginally better since taking over as the starter in week eight.
It’s a shame that some teams are reluctant to trust their Canadian players even when they’ve produced more than their American counterparts. There’s more to the running back position than carrying the football, of course, but Timmis and Thomas-Erlington are a good pair. They deserve more opportunities to shine.
Ottawa en route
The Bombers will try to extend their winning streak to four games next Friday when the club hosts the Ottawa Redblacks. Every win counts in the tough West Division and, assuming the 5-3 Edmonton Eskimos beat the lowly Montreal Alouettes at home next Saturday, Winnipeg will have to top the Redblacks if they hope to maintain a tie for second place in the standings.