Bombers sail over Boatmen, improve to 2-0 (& 16 other thoughts)

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Toronto Argonauts by a score of 20-7 on Friday night in front of 22,143 fully-vaccinated fans at IG Field. Below are my thoughts on the game.

Take a pass

Zach Collaros had a strong night on Friday, completing 32-of-40 pass attempts for 292 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. The performance answered a key question that’s faced the Blue Bombers since before they acquired Collaros via trade last season: can the offence move the ball even without an effective ground game?

Second-year running back Brady Oliveira was named one of the CFL’s top performers of the week after rushing for 126 yards in Week 1 but was stifled by Toronto’s tough front-seven, producing just 29 yards on 13 carries.

Collaros looked comfortable in the pocket and generally made quick, smart decisions with the football. You can’t throw the corner route any better than he did to Nic Demski late in the fourth quarter for the game-sealing touchdown.

The only blemish on Collaros’ performance was a third quarter interception to Jamal Peters who was in coverage on Kenny Lawler in the end zone. Toronto appeared to jump offside on the play, which would have given the Blue Bombers a free down.

Collaros confirmed after the game that he thought he had a free play, believing the Argos had jumped.

“Yeah, it was pretty blatant,” said the quarterback bluntly via videoconference.

Winnipeg is still at their best when they can run the ball at will, but it speaks volumes that they’re still able to win when the running game is non-existent.

Secondary opinion

Rookie defensive backs DeAundre Alford and Deatrick Nichols played well last week against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and had another strong performance against the Argos. The pair were tasked with covering star receivers DaVaris Daniels and Eric Rogers and did exactly that, limiting them to six receptions for 60 yards.

Nichols was called for an illegal contact penalty on Rogers that nullified a sack by Jackson Jeffcoat in the first half, but more than made up for it with a fourth quarter interception off Nick Arbuckle.

Alford was beat deep by DaVaris Daniels in the third quarter, but the ball was overthrown by McLeod Bethel-Thompson. Outside of the one blemish, he was superb.

CFL rookie Josh Miller made his first career start at field-side cornerback in place of Mike Jones, who moved to strong-side linebacker this week in place of an injured Josh Johnson. He blew three tackles — two of which came against Ricky Collins Jr. — though none of them went for big gains.

Willie or won’t he

Willie Jefferson was listed as questionable for Friday’s game due to issues with his ankle and head. The ankle problem is nothing new — he was listed as questionable in Week 1 — but he developed the head issue during or after last week’s season-opening game.

I get the feeling that Jefferson will play this season almost no matter what. Even at 80 or 90 percent, he’s still one of the best players in the CFL.

Smooth Sayles-ing

Casey Sayles continues to make an impact in his rookie CFL season. The Ohio product started on Friday night for an injured Steven Richardson and made a remarkable tackle on John White IV in the second quarter to force a turnover on downs.

Jackson Jeffcoat had a nice strip-sack in the fourth quarter, while Thiadric Hansen and Ricky Walker were noticeable along the line of scrimmage as well.

Take some Pepto-Bismol

The Blue Bombers had a tough time stopping the runs on Friday, allowing John White IV to rush for 111 and one touchdown on just 12 carries.

Head coach Mike O’Shea shrugged off the statistics after the game, seemingly unconcerned by Toronto’s rushing yardage.

“I’m not sure how relevant that is,” said O’Shea via videoconference. “That’s not one of those stats we track to determine wins and losses.”

O’Shea emphasized that his unit helped win the turnover battle by forcing four takeaways. It’s clear the veteran bench boss cares a lot more about forcing turnovers than he does about arbitrarily stopping the run.

Just for kicks

There were a number of questions about Winnipeg’s kicking game after Mike O’Shea passed on a few long field goals in last week’s win over Hamilton.

The head coach told the media that his decision was based on three factors — he didn’t want to give Brandon Banks the chance for a big return, Marc Liegghio was doing a nice job of punting directionally, and he was confident in his defence’s ability to get a quick stop.

O’Shea passed up the chance to try a 52-yard field goal on Winnipeg’s second drive on Friday despite his team having a moderate wind at their backs. The decision worked beautifully as the defence forced a two-and-out, then Zach Collaros connected with Rasheed Bailey for a 35-yard touchdown two plays later.

For what it’s worth, placekicker Tyler Crapigna told the media this week that his range in perfect conditions is 55 yards. He’s made a number of field goals of over 50 yards in his career, including a 53-yarder in 2016 with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Bailey scores

Second-year receiver Rasheed Bailey scored his first career touchdown with this sweet grab working against star defensive back Shaquille Richardson.

Bailey kept his touchdown ball and told the media after the game that he plans to sleep with it in his bed tonight. The last time he scored a touchdown was in 2015 when he caught an 18-yard score from Tim Tebow.

Winnipeg needs a young American receiver to step up, particularly with Darvin Adams on the one-game injured list. Kenny Lawler looks like an emerging star, but there’s still room for others to make an impact.

Don’t forget: Winnipeg signed Bryant Mitchell this past off-season for a reason.

Big rig Briggs

Jesse Briggs made arguably the biggest play of the game when he stripped John White IV deep in Toronto territory after a big gain. The veteran Canadian was only in the starting lineup due to injuries to fellow linebackers Kyrie Wilson and Jontrell Rocquemore.

The turnover set-up a penalty-assisted two-play touchdown drive that ended with Nic Demski’s touchdown reception.

He doesn’t often see the spotlight, but Briggs is one of those key Canadians who does a bunch of little things to help his team win each week.

“No one in our building is surprised by Jesse’s play,” said O’Shea after the game. He may not be a regular starter, but it’s clear the Bombers are comfortable with Briggs being a member of the No. 1 unit.

Pass protection

Brady Oliveira had a quiet night rushing the football, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have an impact on the game. The second-year ball carrier saw a lot of Henoc Muamba and Cameron Judge and routinely picked up blitzes with ease.

The Blue Bombers only had one error on blitz pickup that I noticed and it was Nic Demski — not Oliveira — who whiffed on Chris Edwards coming off the edge.

Place your bets

Winnipeg entered Friday’s game as seven-point favourites against Toronto, ending a five-game streak of underdogs covering the spread this season.

If you’ve been making money each game by blindly taking the points — which usually works for the first week of two of the CFL season — it’s time to change your strategy.

Quarterback quandary

McLeod Bethel-Thompson looked sensational against the Calgary Stampeders in Week 1 but completed 10-of-20 pass attempts for just 70 yards on Friday before he was pulled in favour of Nick Arbuckle.

The young passer wasn’t much better, completing 10-of-19 pass attempts for 96 yards and an interceptions. Here’s an interesting question: who will the Blue Bombers have to defend when they take on Toronto next week?

This is pure speculation, but I think it’ll be Arbuckle.

Harris watch

My sources indicated before the season got underway that Andrew Harris would not play in Winnipeg’s first two regular season games.

Now that both contests are done, I have no idea what the chances are of him playing next week. We’ll have to wait and see when and if he starts practicing.

Mixed massages

If you ever want to treat yourself, do what I did on Friday: go for a massage before attending a CFL game.

The massage did wonders for my degraded carcass, the football game was entertaining, and the weather was perfect. You can’t beat that combination.

Holy smokes

There was a fan who spent the first half smoking cigarettes in the seats located under the press box at IG Field.

I don’t particularly like the smell of smoke, but there’s something remarkably nostalgic about smelling cigarettes at a live CFL game. It brought me right back to being a little kid watching games at old Winnipeg Stadium.

Gone but not forgotten

Former Blue Bombers’ quarterback Chris Streveler was playing in the NFL preseason for the Arizona Cardinals on Friday night when he did this.

There aren’t many quarterbacks who finish runs with their heads down. Streveler is one of them.

Collision

There was a fatal collision involving a pedestrian that took place on Friday evening just north of IG Field on Pembina Highway. I want offer my condolences to the family and friends of the deceased.

Traffic can be intense around the stadium on game days. Whether you’re walking, driving or taking public transit, please do so carefully.

Next up

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers (2-0) complete their back-to-back with the Toronto Argonauts (1-1) on Saturday, Aug. 21 as part of the CFL’s Week 3 action.

It will be Winnipeg’s first road trip of the season and their first return to BMO Field since they coughed up a 20-0 lead there in Week 8 of the 2019 season.

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