Bombers overcome injuries, manhandle Riders (& nine other thoughts)

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Saturday’s Banjo Bowl by a score of 35-10 in front of 33,134 fans at IG Field.

Below are my thoughts on the game.

Very superstitious (the Ride-in’s on the wall)

Friday I saw the Roughriders’ mobile store pulled over on the eastbound side of the Trans-Canada Highway where it meets the perimeter near Winnipeg.

To say Saskatchewan came out flat on Saturday would be an understatement. The club allowed four touchdowns — three on defence and one on special teams — while generating just 67 net yards of offence in the first half.

For a team that entered Saturday’s contest on a six-game winning streak, that was shocking — particularly when you consider how many key players the Bombers were missing in the starting lineup.

I’ll never be superstitious, but I’m officially a little stitious.

The Strevolution returns

Chris Streveler had his best game as a passer in 2019, completing 15-of-21 attempts for 186 yards, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions.

Streveler will never be dominant from the pocket, but he needs to continue developing as a passer if he hopes to become a full-time starter in the CFL. The 24-year-old showed signs of improvement on Saturday, recording his best outing since June of 2018 when he torched Montreal for 246 yards and three scores.

Offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice deserves a lot of credit for designing an excellent game plan. Streveler looked comfortable in the pocket and was able to hit a number of high-percentage throws. His protection was also noticeably better than a week ago, which is a testament to Winnipeg’s offensive line.

Quarterbacks tend to get too much credit when things go well and too much blame when things go poorly. With that said, I think Streveler deserves plenty of praise for leading the Bombers to two wins in three games.

Winnipeg has beaten two good teams with Streveler at the helm and done so with a number of key players out of the lineup. That’s impressive.

On the (de)fence

Winnipeg’s defence bounced back admirably from last week’s late collapse, recording five sacks and one takeaway. Cody Fajardo was held to 66 yards passing in the first half, while William Powell finished the game with just one yard on four carries.

Players who jumped out to me included Steven Richardson, Jake Thomas, Kyrie Wilson, and Jeff Hecht. Willie Jefferson was also spectacular as always, recording two sacks and a forced fumble.

Jefferson has already set a new career-high with 11 sacks this season — and he still has six games to go.

Who’s in first?

There is still plenty of football left to be played, but Saturday’s victory might have saved Winnipeg’s chances of capturing first place in the West Division.

A Saskatchewan victory would have put them atop the standings with an 8-3 record and secured the season series against Winnipeg. The Riders have a game in hand on the Bombers, along with a healthier roster and easier remaining schedule.

A loss in the Banjo Bowl wouldn’t have ended Winnipeg’s chances of hosting the West Final, but it certainly would have hampered them.

Taken for Grant-ed

Janarion Grant has recorded three punt return touchdowns in just five career CFL games. That puts him on pace to surpass Henry “Gizmo” Williams’ all-time CFL record of 26 late in 2021.

For a team that struggled to find an impact returner all of last season, Winnipeg has uncovered some gems in 2019.

Emotional debut

Rasheed Bailey played well in his CFL debut, recording five receptions for 33 yards. For reference, Chris Matthews made twelve receptions for 180 yards in six games playing a similar role in the offence earlier this year.

Bailey was very emotional about starting his first professional game and gave a spectacular interview about it this week. If you haven’t already checked it out, I’d encourage you to do so.

More on Micah

I got some angry messages from Roughrider fans last weekend when I claimed that Micah Johnson has been a bust in green and white.

Here’s what I wrote:

Micah Johnson was dominant with the Calgary Stampeders last season, recording 28 tackles, 14 sacks and three forced fumbles in 17 games. It was arguably the best season ever for a CFL defensive tackle, culminating in a Grey Cup championship.

Johnson signed with Saskatchewan as a free agent in February, inking a one-year contract worth $250,000. The deal made the 31-year-old one of the highest-paid defensive players in the league.

The seven-year veteran hasn’t come close to replicating that success in Riderville, recording zero sacks through nine games in green and white. Johnson was a factor on Sunday with two tackles but didn’t look like the all-star he was a year ago.

I want to make it clear that I think Johnson is a very good player. He’s just not the dominant player he was a year ago.

Almondo Sewell (Edmonton) and Drake Nevis (Winnipeg) have been the two best defensive tackles in the West Division this season — in my opinion, anyway — with Mike Moore (Edmonton) and Mike Rose (Calgary) behind them. Johnson would currently be fifth on my all-star ballot.

I watched Johnson on every snap in the first half of Saturday’s game. I saw a number of double teams, but also some one-on-one looks against right guard Geoff Gray and centre Michael Couture.

Johnson recorded a pressure on the Bombers’ opening drive that resulted in an incompletion, though Winnipeg was awarded a first down following an illegal contact penalty. He later almost brought down Chris Streveler in the backfield, but the quarterback spun away for a two-yard gain.

Johnson later went unblocked on a first-and-ten carry by Johnny Augustine and was dodged at the point of attack. Augustine’s carry when for eight yards.

The 31-year-old would record his first sack of the season early in the fourth quarter, bringing Streveler down as he looked to make a play with his feet.

Johnson is a very good player — that much has always been clear. But he’s not dominating when blocked one-on-one and he’s rarely beating double teams — things he did consistently with the Stampeders.

No Vacancy

This year’s Banjo Bowl was a sell out, continuing a long streak of Labour Day rematches that have reached capacity.

It’s true that the Bombers rarely sell more than 30,000 tickets to a game unless the Riders are in town, but I’m not sure that matters. A rising tide lifts all boats and it makes the rivalry game all the more special when it’s the only sell out of the season.

It’s also worth noting that Saskatchewan, while consistently drawing large crowds, hadn’t sold out a game this season until the Bombers visited last week.

It may not feel like it with their fans arguing on twitter, but the Bombers and Riders have a very symbiotic relationship. They bring out the best in each other, challenging one another to be at their best.

Saturday’s game was the first Banjo Bowl that didn’t feature Kevin Glenn, Darian Durant or Matt Nichols as one of the team’s starting quarterbacks. Cody Fajardo was also the fifth different quarterback to start for Saskatchewan in five years, following: Brett Smith, 2015; Durant, 2016; Glenn, 2017; and Zach Collaros, 2018.

Make it a triple

I understand why the CFL schedules triple headers in the month of September. The NFL owns Thursdays and Sundays once its regular season gets underway, which limits the CFL’s options if they want to avoid direct competition for TV ratings.

As someone who watches all the games every week, I find triple-headers challenging — particularly when attending the second game. I’m aware that this is a “First World problem,” but I wanted to watch Toronto-Ottawa and Calgary-Edmonton on Saturday. Attending the Banjo Bowl made it difficult to do so.

I’m interested to know what readers think of the CFL’s triple headers. Do you like them? Love them? Hate them? Let me know on twitter at @JohnDHodge.

Bye, bye, bye

The Bombers (9-3) are entering their second bye week of the season and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Winnipeg is beaten up, bloodied, and bruised.

Seven key players missed Saturday’s contest, including Matt Nichols, Andrew Harris, Lucky Whitehead, Nic Demski, Patrick Neufeld, Jackson Jeffcoat, and Brandon Alexander. That’s almost one-third of the team’s starting lineup.

Two key backups were also unavailable in Brady Oliveira and Cody Speller, as were a pair of special teams contributors in Charles Nelson and Jesse Briggs.

It’s unclear which players will be available after the bye week, but it’s safe to assume that some are likely to return.