Harris’ Bombers top Powell’s Redblacks in Ottawa (& ten other thoughts)

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Ottawa Redblacks by a score of 40-32 on Friday night in front of 21,027 fans at TD Place Stadium. Below are my thoughts on the game.

Harris bests Powell in battle of the backs

Blue Bomber running back Andrew Harris entered Friday night’s game trailing Ottawa’s William Powell by just 40 yards for the CFL’s rushing lead. Harris and Powell have dominated the rushing leaderboard all season long — the league’s third-leading rusher, C.J. Gable, now trails both by more than 400 yards — sparking a debate as to which ball carrier is superior.

Despite Powell recording a 48-yard scamper on the Redblacks’ opening possession, Friday night’s game can be counted as a win for the league’s reigning Most Outstanding Canadian.

Harris recorded 132 rushing yards to Powell’s 95 and 31 receiving yards to Powell’s 26. Harris now leads Powell in receiving yards (404 to 319) and touchdowns (11 to eight) on the year while posting virtually identical numbers along the ground.

Ottawa (8-6) has one more game remaining than Winnipeg (8-7) this season, but Harris’ numbers will be tough to beat come the end of the year.

Harris’ performance in Ottawa brings his rushing total to 1,233 yards on the season, breaking his previous career-high of 1,112 from 2012. This total moves Harris past Gerry James’ rushing totals from 1955 (1,205) and 1957 (1,192) and Jerome Messam’s mark from 2016 (1,198) for fifth-best all-time among Canadian players.

While Jon Cornish’s best all-time single-season rushing total from 2013 (1,813) is virtually untouchable, his second-best total of 1,457 from 2012 is well within reach with three games remaining.

Game on.

Ready to read

Weston Dressler demonstrated some impressive veteran savvy on this overtime touchdown.

There’s no way of knowing which route Dressler was supposed to run on the play — my bet’s a corner — but the eleven-year veteran appeared to break it off after recognizing the blitz. Undercutting the uprights, Dressler used the post as a screen on rookie defender Anthony Cioffi to score what was essentially an uncontested touchdown.

Dressler’s not the player he used to be — his receiving yardage is down almost 40 per cent from a season ago — but he plays like this demonstrate why he’s still in the starting line-up.

With that said…

Reinforcements required

I still don’t believe that the Bombers have enough talent in their receiving corps. Matt Nichols needs to have more weapons at his disposal if he’s to continue improving as the regular season comes to a close.

Calgary was offered an elite receiver via trade from an East Division team prior to signing former Blue Bomber Chris Matthews earlier this week. There are reinforcements available and, at this point of the season, prices won’t be high.

This year’s trade deadline is Wednesday, October 10 at 3:59 PM ET. Will the Bombers make a move to add an impact pass catcher? If you ask me, they absolutely should.

Defensive regression

I was interested to see how Winnipeg’s defence would play after a fantastic outing in last week’s game against Edmonton. Had Richie Hall’s unit finally turned a corner? Or was the dominant outing — one that featured seven takeaways and four sacks — a mere anomaly?

Considering that Ottawa recorded 455 total yards in fewer than 24 minutes of possession, I think it’s safe to call last week a one-off.

That isn’t to say the defence was poor on Friday night. Recording a turnover and four sacks — including a pair of nice plays from Tristan Okpalaugo and Brandin Bryant — the defence was just barely good enough to get the job done.

But that shouldn’t be the benchmark for success in professional football, even against a first-place team. The Blue Bomber defence will need to find better ways to apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks as they approach the end of the regular season.

The amount of pressure Winnipeg applied in last week’s game also calls into question the quality of Edmonton’s protection. The Eskimos’ offensive line hasn’t been great this season, but I’d never considered it a liability until recently. If Mike Reilly was under siege against Winnipeg’s defence last week, how can he possibly hope to make plays against Charleston Hughes and the Roughriders on Monday?

One for the Rec-Ward books

Lewis Ward broke Rene Parades’ CFL record for consecutive field goals on Friday night when he successfully booted his 40th-straight kick late in the third quarter.

The outstanding play of unheralded nationals like Lewis Ward and Brett Lauther makes you wonder how many young Canadians would have excelled in the CFL had they only been given a fair chance to prove themselves.

There is still a perception in the league — with some teams more than others — that Canadian players are inferior. It’s time to eliminate that bias. Judge players based on their performance — not their nationality.

With that said, I can’t understand why some people are touting Lewis Ward as a serious candidate to win the East Division’s Most Outstanding Player award.

Ward would have to be named Ottawa’s Most Outstanding Player to receive consideration at the division level. With Trevor Harris, William Powell, and Brad Sinopoli all on pace for career-highs in yardage, I can’t see that happening. Even if it does, Ward would still lose at the division level to Hamilton quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.

Ward should be named this year’s Most Outstanding Rookie, which is a tremendous accomplishment. He would be just the fifth national player to win the award in its 47-year history alongside Brett Jones (2013), Jason Clermont (2002), Mike O’Shea (1993), and Joe Poplawski (1978). But let’s leave it at that.

Attendance down

Friday night’s crowd of 21,027 was the smallest in Redblacks’ history. Should the CFL be concerned that attendance is down in what has long-since been the hottest ticket in the East Division?

An Oscar-worthy performance

SirVincent Rogers took a costly unnecessary roughness penalty in overtime after the Redblacks converted on third-and-one from Winnipeg’s eleven yard-line. Rogers shoved Canadian linebacker Thomas Miles backwards off the pile after the whistle had blown, forcing his club to scrimmage back fifteen yards.

Looking at the replay, it appeared as though Miles may have exaggerated the strength of Rogers’ shove. Gamesmanship is part of professional sports and, though the penalty may have been called anyway, Miles did his part to sell it (and did it well).

Strong-side story

The more I see out of Chandler Fenner, Anthony Gaitor, and Jeff Hecht at strong-side linebacker, the less I see Maurice Leggett returning to the Blue Bomber line-up this season — and maybe ever.

Leggett has been on the six-game injured list since week twelve with an unspecified ailment. His most recent game — a 39-26 loss in Calgary — saw Kamar Jorden set a single-game Stampeder record with 249 receiving yards. Leggett was victimized on many of Jorden’s receptions in what can fairly be called one of his worst performances as a Blue Bomber.

Leggett turned 32 earlier this week and has yet to resemble the player he was prior to suffering a torn Achilles last October. Considering his age and his salary, it’s tough seeing Leggett back in blue and gold in 2019.

Big bill for Bighill

One of the reasons I see a high-priced veteran like Leggett potentially getting squeezed out this winter is the club’s need to retain Adam Bighill.

Bighill is in Winnipeg on a one-year deal that pays him $175,000. That’s a bargain for one of the league’s best defensive players who should reach the 100-tackle milestone for the third time in his career this season.

There is talk that Bighill could rejoin the B.C. Lions this winter if Ed Hervey decides to move on from veteran linebacker Solomon Elimimian. The Bombers can’t let that happen — Bighill, who is still just 29, is too impactful not to sign to a long-term deal.

Ra-shown the bench

Rookie receiver Rashaun Simonise was given kickoff return duties on Friday night for the first time this season. Winnipeg has struggled to produce much on kickoff returns this year with Maurice Leggett, Ryan Lankford, Tyneil Cooper, Nic Demski, and Timothy Flanders all getting looks in the return game.

Simonise muffed the game’s opening kickoff, fielding it at the eight yard-line for no gain. This year’s second-round pick hasn’t played much this season and has long-since been surpassed on Winnipeg’s depth chart by third-round pick Daniel Petermann.

He has a punt block and a 53-yard reception on the year, but Simonise needs to show that he can do more moving forward.

P-P-P-Playoffs

The Blue Bombers have done themselves a world of good over the past two weeks with wins over Edmonton and Ottawa. This team looked dead in the water three weeks ago; the West Division playoff picture remains cloudy, but Winnipeg is suddenly in a position of strength.

Winnipeg’s win in Ottawa puts a lot of pressure on B.C. to beat the Argonauts in Saturday’s game at B.C. Place Stadium. As much as Toronto’s struggled as of late — they’ve lost five-straight games — the club still has a faint hope of making the playoffs. The Argos won’t be an automatic out for a B.C. team that looked terrible last week in Hamilton.

The Bombers will then get a Thanksgiving treat on Monday when the Eskimos and Riders play against one another. A Saskatchewan victory would give the Bombers a two-point lead over the Esks, while an Edmonton victory would bring Winnipeg within two points of the Riders for second place in the West Division (albeit in a tie with Edmonton).

Regardless, the rest of this week’s CFL action will be must-watch entertainment as the playoff race continues to heat up out west.

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