The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were defeated by the Calgary Stampeders on Saturday night at McMahon Stadium by a score of 37-33.
Below are my thoughts on the game.
Mike O’Shea’s stubbornness has been on display several times since he took over as the head coach of the Blue Bombers in 2014, but Saturday’s game exemplified it better than most.
Chris Streveler was taken out of the game midway through the fourth quarter after a hit left him limping badly. The pivot had already suffered an apparent injury late in the second quarter when his throwing hand was driven into the turf by a Stampeder helmet.
Backup Sean McGuire entered the game and went two-and-out, forcing the Bombers to punt. Winnipeg got the ball back nine plays later and Streveler — not McGuire — returned to the field, hobbling noticeably.
Streveler would complete three-of-six pass attempts for 22 yards to end the game, his mobility greatly limited. He was sacked once and threw an interception on a last-second Hail Mary attempt.
Allowing Streveler to finish the game was a short-sighted and irresponsible decision by Mike O’Shea.
It doesn’t matter that Streveler wanted to return to the field — sometimes football players need to be saved from themselves. It was clear to anyone who watched Saturday’s game that the young quarterback was hurt — probably too much so to be effective. He needed to be pulled.
There’s also the matter of McGuire being the superior passer. It’s no secret that Streveler struggles to produce yardage through the air — he finished the night in Calgary with just 134 passing yards — and that’s when he can buy time with his legs.
McGuire is the type of pocket passer needed to engineer a two-minute drive. Even with his lack of experience, the Blue Bombers would have been better off with McGuire leading the offence than an immobile Streveler.
It was a poor decision late in a key game by Mike O’Shea. Maybe he’ll learn from it.
But I doubt it.
Feed the man
As anyone who knows me is aware, I’m passionate about food. I enjoy making — and, you know, eating — quality grub to ensure those around me are fed.
That’s why it felt wrong watching Andrew Harris get just five carries in the first half of Saturday’s game. Harris generated a career-high 166 rushing yards last week in a victory over Montreal — why go away from him in Cowtown?
Winnipeg ran 25 offensive plays in the game’s first two quarters, which means Harris carried the ball just 20 per cent of the time. That’s not enough.
Harris was given two quick carries following a Streveler interception early in the third quarter and rushed for 18 yards. He would finish the night with 55 yards on 11 carries.
Harris is the Blue Bombers’ best offensive weapon. He needs to be the focal point of the offensive attack — especially this late in the season.
Feed the man!
The Blue Bombers failed to generate consistent pressure on Bo Levi Mitchell, recording just one sack and rarely forcing him to throw under duress.
Willie Jefferson was often deployed at defensive tackle with Jonathan Kongbo, Jackson Jeffcoat, and Thiadric Hansen rotating at defensive end. Jefferson may have 12 sacks on the year, but he failed to make an impact in arguably his team’s biggest game of the year.
It’s easy to blame the secondary for Bo Levi Mitchell’s 337-yard, three-touchdown performance — the unit certainly could have been better — but a lack of pressure will spell disaster for any team tasked with shutting down Calgary’s offence.
The Bombers appeared to get home late in the game when Thiadric Hansen forced Bo Levi Mitchell to spin back toward the pocket. Jackson Jeffcoat hammered Mitchell for a sack, but contacted the quarterback’s facemask with the crown of his helmet. He was penalized for roughing the passer, extending Calgary’s drive.
Winnipeg’s front-seven needs to generate more pressure — whether they blitz or not — in next week’s rematch at IG Field.
Fat Boi ballin’
Jake Thomas had Winnipeg’s only sack of the game, which came late in the fourth quarter. I can’t find video of the sack but it was a sight to behold.
The eight-year veteran beat Shane Bergman in a one-on-one look, tossing Calgary’s left guard aside en route to the quarterback.
That’s relevant for two reasons: firstly, Bergman is six inches taller than Thomas and outweighs him by 70 pounds; secondly, Bo Levi Mitchell has claimed on several occasions — unofficially, of course — that Bergman has allowed just one sack in 91 career games.
It was a nice play from Thomas, who continues to be one of the CFL’s most underrated players.
So long, partner
Speaking of underrated players, 35-year-old defensive back Brandon Smith announced before Saturday’s game that he will be retiring at the end of this season.
Smith has played 172 games with the Stampeders but never became a household name, probably due to a relatively low 17 career interceptions. That doesn’t change that he’s a future Hall of Fame player. I’ll miss watching him play.
Darvin Adams was scratched for Saturday’s game after missing practice this week due to injury. Lucky Whitehead drew in at boundary wide receiver in his absence, recording four receptions for 38 yards.
Whitehead was a healthy scratch last week, which took many — myself included — by surprise. In retrospect, it shouldn’t have. Whitehead’s production has been spotty at best since a 155-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Eskimos in June.
It’s clear that Whitehead doesn’t want to be a healthy scratch again anytime soon. After an early drop, the 27-year-old ran for a 25-yard touchdown on a sweep.
17 points in the last 2:04. ???? #CFLGameday
WPG 20 | CGY 11 pic.twitter.com/Vs2IuWzUvq
— CFL (@CFL) October 19, 2019
It was a quiet night for Winnipeg’s receivers across the board, but Whitehead made the most of his return to the lineup.
I took a look at each CFL team’s top three candidates for Most Outstanding Rookie on Friday, highlighting the best first-year players from around the league.
Calgary was the hardest team to project given the number of quality candidates on its roster. Defensive end Chris Casher, linebacker Nate Holley, and defensive back Raheem Wilson made the list, though receivers Hergy Mayala and Colton Hunchak and linebacker Fraser Sopik have also had strong seasons.
It shows why the Stampeders have been the class of the league for over a decade — the club’s ability to replenish talent is admirable.
Winnipeg had arguably the second-deepest pool of candidates, including receivers Kenny Lawler and Rasheed Bailey, guard Drew Desjarlais, defensive tackle Steven Richardson, and special teams ace Kerfalla-Emmanuel Exumé.
Running backs, eh?
Calgary became the latest CFL team to start a national running back this season, which appears to be becoming a trend. Third-year man Ante Milanovic-Litre recorded 11 carries for 40 yards on Saturday, though he gave up a second quarter fumble.
— CFL on TSN (@CFLonTSN) October 19, 2019
The Blue Bombers have started a Canadian at running back in every game this season, while the Tiger-Cats have done so in all games but four. Ottawa recently added Brendan Gillanders to the starting lineup, while B.C. and Edmonton have expanded the roles of Jamel Lyles and Alex Taylor, respectively.
Starting a national player at running back makes a lot of sense — there are always a few good ones available in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft, while they rarely command top dollar in free agency.
It’s not long ago that Canadian running backs often had to convert to receiver, linebacker or safety if they hoped to play football professionally. It’s nice to see that trend slowly disappearing.
Only one to go
The Blue Bombers (10-7) host the Stampeders (11-5) next week in the club’s final regular season game.
A loss next week would lock Winnipeg into third-place in the West Division, while a win would move them to second by virtue of the tiebreaker. Calgary would then have to win its final game of the season in Vancouver — which, given the absence of Mike Reilly, isn’t a tall order — to finish ahead of the Bombers.
Winnipeg’s loss — combined with Saskatchewan’s (11-5) win over the Lions on Friday night — means the Blue Bombers can no longer catch the Roughriders in the standings.
The Bombers will play in the West Semifinal for the fourth consecutive year with the opponent and location yet to be determined. Winnipeg is 1-2 in those games, with the victory coming last year in Regina.