Bombers slide past Redblacks to remain perfect (& eight other thoughts)

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Ottawa Redblacks by a score of 29-14 in front of 20,429 fans at TD Place Stadium on Friday night. Below are my thoughts on the game.

On the value of sliding

This is what I wrote about Chris Streveler during the first half of last night’s game:

There is a finite number of hits that every player can sustain over the course of a career in professional football. Eventually that limit is reached and the player can no longer compete at the same level as was once possible.

Chris Streveler is burning through his ‘hit count’ at an alarming rate. The second-year pivot has yet to establish himself as a well-rounded player — one who can move the ball with his arm as effectively as his legs — but he’ll need to change the way he plays if he hopes to remain in professional football for another ten years.

I’m not suggesting that Streveler should stop running the football. He’s an elite scrambler and arguably the CFL’s most athletic quarterback. Running the ball — and the threat of doing so — is part of what makes him effective.

But the 24-year-old cannot continue to absorb hits the way he does. He needs to slide, limiting the number of shots he takes from defenders — especially to his head. Taking an extra hit late in a championship game might be worth it; fighting for an extra yard on first-and-ten in a regular season game is not.

It became apparent in the second half of Friday’s game that an aversion to sliding isn’t limited to Streveler.

Matt Nichols ran for 18 yards on a quarterback draw midway through the third quarter before taking a vicious shot from Kevin Brown II. Nichols only needed six yards for a first down — he had ample opportunity to slide early, but chose instead to wait until the last possible moment.

Nichols left the game and did not return. The Bombers never formally addressed the status of his health, though they allowed the franchise quarterback to speak to the media after the game.

Nichols referred to his decision to slide late as “dumb,” going on to say that he feels fine. I expect the starter will be re-assessed as the week progresses as the symptoms of head injuries may not appear until days after trauma is sustained.

It’s early, but the Blue Bombers are quickly establishing themselves as the CFL’s best team. The club will need Nichols and Streveler to remain atop the West Division standings as the season progresses.

Another end zone shut out

Winnipeg’s defence had a bounce-back game in Ottawa after giving up 445 yards of offence to the Edmonton Eskimos last week. Even more impressively, the unit didn’t allow an offensive touchdown for the second-straight game.

The club has given up just one offensive touchdown this season, a fifteen-yard pass from Mike Reilly to Lemar Durant in Week 1. Winnipeg has also allowed one special teams touchdown (Brandon Rutley, B.C.) and one defensive touchdown (Jonathan Rose, Ottawa) on the year.

Winnipeg’s front-four also had its best game of the season, disrupting Dominique Davis on a number of occasions and recording two sacks.

(You make me feel like) a national woman

Fielding an all-Canadian offensive line was no longer thought possible in today’s CFL.

The last team to do it was the 2015 Montreal Alouettes, a unit that featured: Josh Bourke and Jeff Perrett at tackle; Philip Blake and Kristian Matte at guard; and Luc Brodeur-Jourdain at centre. The Toronto Argonauts flirted with the idea in 2016 but New York native Greg Van Roten eventually won a starting job, playing a number of different spots along the line.

Starting-caliber national offensive linemen take time to develop and are expensive to retain. It takes good scouting, quality coaching, and prudent cap management to field five Canadian starters (with the necessary back-ups, of course).

The Ottawa Redblacks have done exactly that following the departure of American tackles SirVincent Rogers (free agency) and Josue Matías (retirement) this past off-season.

The club’s starting offensive line features five first-round draft picks, two of whom remain on rookie contracts. Ottawa’s sixth offensive lineman, Alex Fontana, was the team’s first-round selection in this year’s draft.

It’s becoming more common for CFL teams to start as many as three Americans along the offensive line. Blockers from south of the border are considered ‘plug-and-play’ — easy to find and field immediately.

Left tackle is the position most frequently designated for American talent. Starting at left tackle for the Redblacks is a baby-faced 22-year-old from Spruce Grove, Alberta named Mark Korte.

Korte is only six-foot-three (on a good day) and performed just 16 reps on the bench press at the 2018 national combine. Not many scouts would peg him as a blind-side blocker.

Yet Korte has handled his assignments well in Ottawa this season, looking sharp in victories against Calgary and Saskatchewan. The second-year man was beaten by Willie Jefferson once in the first quarter of Friday’s game and there were a few ugly reps late with the game out of hand.

But it’s nice to see an all-Canadian offensive line playing well in today’s CFL. They didn’t look stellar against Winnipeg, though it should be noted that veteran right tackle Jason Lauzon-Seguin left the game in the second quarter due to concussion protocol.

The unit will be solid as the season progresses, which is a good thing for anyone who cares about national talent remaining a big part of the CFL.

Miller time

Mike Miller tied a CFL record on Friday night, recording seven special teams tackles in one game. That’s… pretty outstanding.

Retired B.C. Lions’ linebacker Jason Aragki holds the record for career special teams tackles with 194. Now with 168 in his career, it wouldn’t surprise me if Miller eclipses that mark before his playing days are over. The Acadia product is 30 years old and (evidently) still in the prime of his career.

Big men rumblin’ (almost)

Drake Nevis nearly recorded an interception on Ottawa’s second possession of the game after tipping a Dominique Davis pass high into the air. Davis swatted the ball as it reached Nevis’ hands, however, forcing it to fall incomplete. Strike one.

The Bombers shuffled their offensive line a number of times during last night’s game, bringing in rookie Drew Desjarlais at right guard and moving Geoff Gray to tight end. Gray stayed in to block the first few times the alignment was called, but later ran a ten-yard dig route. A pass was never thrown his way. Strike two.

The Redblacks shuffled their entire offensive line at one point in the second half to allow left tackle Mark Korte to draw-in at slotback (yes, slotback). It appeared as though the play was designed to hit the 293-pound blocker with a screen pass, but Dominique Davis threw to Julian Feoli-Gudino in the boundary instead. Strike three.

As a former offensive lineman, I get excited when big men get a chance to carry the football. Last night’s game was a total rip-off — three opportunities for some rumblin’ arose, none of which came to fruition. I feel cheated.

Biding his time

Jesse Briggs got his first career start on Friday night, recording two tackles. That might not seem noteworthy at first glance, but last night’s contest was the 90th game of the veteran linebacker’s career.

Kyrie Wilson was moved to middle linebacker following Adam Bighill’s injury, opening the weak-side spot for Briggs. There was some speculation that Nick Temple would rotate heavily with Briggs, but the McGill product played essentially the entire game.

Briggs has recorded 57 special teams tackles with Winnipeg since being selected in the second round of the 2014 CFL draft. The Bombers traded up to secure his rights and he’s rewarded them with consistent play ever since. It was nice to see him get the opportunity to start the first game of his six-year career — it was well-earned.

A-Ward-winning performance

Redblacks’ placekicker Lewis Ward has now converted 59 consecutive field goal attempts – in the regular season – after nailing kicks from 53 and 42 yards against Winnipeg. That’s mind-boggling.

Enjoy this run while it lasts, folks. We may never see a kicker — in the CFL or otherwise — accomplish a feat like this ever again.

Walking wounded

Chris Matthews left Friday night’s game and didn’t return, watching the second half from the sidelines in a t-shirt. The injury he suffered appeared to be to his hand.

Matt Nichols was obviously shaken up as well, though he claims to be fine for next week (as noted above).

On a roll (and potentially making history)

The Blue Bombers (3-0) are now the CFL’s only remaining undefeated team.

A victory over the lowly Toronto Argonauts (0-2) next Friday would give the club its first 4-0 start since 2003; a win over Ottawa (2-1) the following week would give Winnipeg its first 5-0 start in over 40 years.

Programming note — I am leaving for my honeymoon on Tuesday, which means I will not be writing on the Bombers’ next two games. My brother and podcast co-host Tim Hodge has agreed to fill-in for me while I’m away, so keep an eye out for his content here on 3DownNation.

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