Bombers’ defence dominates Eskimos (& 11 other thoughts)

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Edmonton Eskimos by a score of 30-3 on Saturday night in front of 28,788 fans at Commonwealth Stadium. Below are my thoughts on the game.

Defensive dominance

Credit where credit’s due — the Blue Bomber defence absolutely dominated the Eskimos on Saturday night.

Limiting Mike Reilly to 17-of-31 passing for 164 yards and two interceptions, Winnipeg recorded seven takeaways while allowing just three points. That’s a rarity even by CFL standards.

Drake Nevis, Adam Bighill, Taylor Loffler, Jovan Santos-Knox, Kevin Fogg, Craig Roh, Brandon Alexander, and Marcus Sayles (more on him in a moment) all leapt out at various moments of the game for positive reasons. Every aspect of the defence clicked — Winnipeg generated a consistent pass rush, contested virtually every pass, and missed very few tackles.

It was the type of performance that coaches dream about. And it couldn’t have come at a better time for the Bombers.

I’ve been critical of Richie Hall and his defensive unit for stretches of this season, but they deserve a ton of credit for helping secure arguably the biggest victory of Winnipeg’s season to date. It’s one thing to have a great performance against an anemic offence, but it’s quite another to have it on the road against the league’s reigning Most Outstanding Player.

Bravo.

What’s the point?

The three points allowed by the Blue Bomber defence was the club’s best single-game total since the 2011 Banjo Bowl when Winnipeg beat the Saskatchewan Roughriders by a score of 31-2.

It was also the Bombers’ best defensive road performance since the club shutout the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on July 28, 2006 by a score of 29-0.

The Ticats finished the 2006 season with a 4-14 record and a league-low 292 points for (16.2 per game). For perspective, this year’s Eskimos have already scored 371 points in 2018 (26.5 per game) with four contests remaining.

Streak broken

The Bombers’ defensive dominance also ended a streak for Mike Reilly that dates back to August of 2016.

Saturday’s contest marked the first time in 42-straight games that Mike Reilly failed to record a touchdown. That’s wild.

Medi-O-cre

The Blue Bomber offence was far from spectacular on Saturday night, producing just 254 total yards and averaging a measly 3.2 yards on first down. Andrew Harris led the game in rushing with 73 yards and a touchdown, though he needed 20 attempts to reach that total.

Matt Nichols managed the game effectively, completing 16-of-20 pass attempts for 179 yards and a fourth quarter interception. After facing some early pressure from Jake Ceresna and Kwaku Boateng, Nichols appeared to move in and around the pocket more effectively as the game progressed.

Nichols and his offence will have to more effective if the Bombers are going to make noise in the playoffs, but Saturday night’s game served as a perfect example of how a unit can put up points by taking advantage of field position and playing clean football.

Winnipeg’s offence started five drives in Edmonton territory and recorded just two two-and-outs. The unit has also committed just one turnover and one penalty over their last two games, a far-cry from the mistakes that cost this team during its recent four-game losing streak.

Smooth Sayles-ing

Rookie defensive back Marcus Sayles continues to improve as the season progresses. Boundary halfbacks are hard to come by — the club allowed veteran T.J. Heath to vacate the position back in February via free agency — and it appears the Bombers have found a good one in Sayles.

We already knew that the West Georgia product was a speedy defensive back with good ball skills. What we didn’t know is how physical he could be in both pass coverage and run support (more on Sayles’ hit on Duke Williams in a moment). Add in a first career blocked punt — Sayles recorded 13 blocked kicks in college — and you’ve got a great game from a flourishing young talent.

Were it not for Chris Streveler and his 16 touchdowns this season (nine passing, seven rushing), Sayles would be a lock to earn the club’s nomination for Most Outstanding Rookie.

Down goes the Duke?

Duke Williams left Saturday’s game late in the fourth quarter after taking a vicious shot to the shoulder from Sayles. It appeared as though Eskimo trainers had to reset Williams’ shoulder on the field, after which he remained sidelined for the rest of the game.

Williams is currently the CFL’s leader in both receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. Should he miss time for the Eskimos — and it’s likely he will — Edmonton’s attack will be without its two top targets with Derel Walker expected to miss another two-to-four weeks due to a knee injury.

Cliché dismay

“The CFL season doesn’t truly start until Labour Day” is a cliché that gets repeated every season in early September. The line references the fact that, with more intra-divisional games scheduled for late in the season, much of what happens before Labour Day bears little weight in the standings.

Only it doesn’t.

The Bombers dropped a game against the Eskimos back in week one at Investors Group Field by a score of 33-30. Winnipeg got a solid performance from rookie Chris Streveler and a missed field goal return touchdown from Kevin Fogg. Edmonton ultimately won, however, on the strength of a 400-yard passing performance from Mike Reilly.

That game looms larger now than ever with Winnipeg and Edmonton both sitting at 7-7 with a share of the season series at one game apiece.

Had Winnipeg managed to close out that week one game with a victory — they held a 30-22 lead with 1:40 remaining in the game — the club would now hold a four-point advantage over Edmonton in the West Division standings with possession of the season series.

The same can be said about the Bombers’ week five loss in Vancouver. Winnipeg held a 17-0 lead at halftime over B.C. but failed to score a point in the second half, twice turning the ball over in the red zone. The Lions won the game 20-17, a victory that has helped them stay within two points of the Bombers heading into October.

This isn’t to suggest that Edmonton and B.C. weren’t fully deserving of the wins they recorded over Winnipeg early in the season. This is merely my way of illustrating that early season games hold just as much weight as those played later in the season.

Just ask the Lions, Eskimos or Bombers when one of them misses the playoffs in a little over a month.

No Demski, no problem

The Bombers were without Nic Demski for the first time this season and, while the offence was far from stellar on Saturday night, the attack didn’t skip a beat without the Manitoba product.

Drew Wolitarsky, working predominantly in Demski’s interior slotback spot, led the Bombers in receiving yardage with four receptions for 51 yards. Wolitarsky’s combination of size and consistent hands make him a perfect candidate to fill the y-slotback spot as both a pass catcher and blocker.

Rookie Daniel Petermann looked solid as well, adding two receptions for 27 yards in his first career start playing field-side wideout.

I’m interested to see how Demski figures back into Paul LaPolice’s attack when he returns from injury. Demski is a valuable piece to this offence and should still be a starter, but he hasn’t recorded a 50-yard receiving game since late July.

Non-app-kick-able

I was interested to see how Winnipeg would fare in the kickoff return game on Saturday night after some recent struggles in that area. Ryan Lankford, Nic Demski, Timothy Flanders, Tyneil Cooper, and Maurice Leggett — all of whom are currently on the practice roster or injured reserve — have each taken turns in the role this season with underwhelming results.

Winnipeg recently added a pair of return specialists to the practice roster in Utah’s Boobie Hobbs and Oregon’s Charles Nelson. Another lackluster performance on kickoff returns could have meant a roster change for a Bomber club looking to get more out of its special teams.

In a strange twist of fate, the Bombers were unable to assess their kick return game because they didn’t return a kickoff on Saturday night. The Eskimos elected to receive to start both halves and Winnipeg chose to take possession at their own 35 yard line following Edmonton’s second quarter field goal.

As per CFL stat man Steve Daniels, this was just the seventh game since 2007 in which one team failed to perform a kickoff.

Weird.

Receiver shift

Bryant Mitchell led Saturday’s game in receiving, recording six catches for 69 yards. It remains to be seen what Mitchell’s role in Edmonton could look like next season — the possibility of Duke Williams going to the NFL is a key factor — but I wouldn’t be surprised if he joined the B.C. Lions this winter as a free agent.

That move could trigger a signing in Winnipeg with receiver Manny Arceneaux joining the blue and gold next season. I’m not suggesting that Arceneaux becoming a member of the Bombers in 2019 is a guarantee, but don’t be surprised if it happens.

Cara-on

The CFL made official what we reported on Saturday morning when it was announced that Alessia Cara would perform at halftime of this year’s Grey Cup game.

I’m not bullish on halftime performances — a championship game is all the entertainment I need — but I think it’s great that the CFL has secured an artist who is both Canadian and popular among young people.

The whole point of a halftime act should be to attract people who wouldn’t otherwise watch the Grey Cup game. Catering the halftime act to middle-aged football fans doesn’t make sense — those people are already going to watch the game. You don’t need an extra hook to get them invested.

This begs the question — how long will it be before Drake plays a Grey Cup halftime show?

Playoff picture

The Bombers and Eskimos will meet at Commonwealth Stadium on November 3rd to determine the season series between the two clubs.

The teams have similar schedules between now and then (Winnipeg: at Ottawa; vs. Saskatchewan; vs. Calgary; Edmonton: at Saskatchewan; vs. Ottawa; at B.C.), setting up a season finale that could determine the playoff futures of both clubs.

The Lions (6-7) are two points back of the Bombers and Eskimos by virtue of their 40-10 loss to the Ticats, but still have one game in hand. B.C.’s remaining schedule features a very winnable game next week vs. Toronto before four tough West Division match-ups to finish the season: at Calgary; vs. Edmonton; at Saskatchewan; vs. Calgary.

By virtue of Saturday’s games, Winnipeg only has to match the number of wins that B.C. records in its final four games (assuming that B.C. beats Toronto next week) in order to qualify for the playoffs this season.

The Bombers can still finish as high as second place, but we’ll save those playoff scenarios until the conclusion of Saskatchewan’s game at Montreal on Sunday.




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