Bombers sputter against Argos, suffer first loss (& 13 other thoughts)

The Toronto Argonauts defeated the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Saturday afternoon by a score of 30-23 in front of 9,866 fans at BMO Field. Below are my thoughts on the game.

Offensive offence

Saturday’s game featured a poor performance from Winnipeg’s offence, which managed just four first downs and 8:54 time of possession in the opening half. The statistic remained lopsided in the second half with Winnipeg controlling the ball for just 11:20 over the final two quarters.

“Not good enough to win the football game. Frustrating, disappointing offensively. It starts with me,” said quarterback Zach Collaros via videoconference. “We have to be better on first down efficiency and stay on the field, that’s the main thing.”

Collaros was generally well-protected, but the team was unable to establish any consistency in the running game. There were also a number of drops from the receiving corps, including two uncharacteristic ones from Kenny Lawler that were costly down the stretch.

38.1 percent of Winnipeg’s total offensive yards came on just two plays: a 51-yard touchdown pass to Darvin Adams in the second quarter and a 39-yard reception by Lawler late in the fourth.

The Blue Bombers only turned the ball over once on a first quarter interception to Dexter McCoil, but the team needs to find a way to generate first downs more consistently. Any opponent will take full advantage when you let them double your time of possession.

Miller makes history

Mike Miller entered Saturday’s game one special teams tackle shy of the all-time CFL record of 190 set by Jason Arakgi in 2016. He recorded three against Toronto, setting a new record at 192.

Special teams tackles aren’t a sexy stat, but the importance of special teams is paramount in Canadian football. To be the CFL’s all-time leader in such a key statistical category is remarkable.

“He’s been playing at such a high level in an extremely important facet of our beautiful Canadian game,” said head coach Mike O’Shea. “He’s the best all-time. He’s not a prideful guy, he’s not going to dwell on this, but he should be happy about it.”

Miller is the ultimate underdog. He was born in Riverview, N.B. and played at Acadia University in the AUS, a conference that doesn’t produce a lot of CFL players. He also went unselected in the 2011 CFL Draft, having to earn a roster spot as a non-counter.

“I don’t think I ever really thought that I would actually break it,” said Miller. “I’ve been in the league since 2011 and all the guys that have grinded things out with me on special teams — there’s too many names to thank — but all those guys have put in the time and the effort just as much as I have. I’m so thankful for all my teammates. I’ve been fortunate to play with some really great players.”

Congratulations to Mike Miller. That’s a hell of an accomplishment.

The hit

Winnipeg safety Brandon Alexander delivered a hellacious blow to DaVaris Daniels over the middle early in the third quarter. It was an awkward, fast-paced play that resulted in a scary shot of Daniels reacting to the hit after his helmet had been knocked off.

Alexander is a consummate professional who does not have a reputation for delivering dangerous hits. I also think he was put in a tough position given the way in which Daniels lowered his head after the ball was thrown too high.

I’ll have a separate article coming regarding the hit, which Alexander discussed extensively after the game. O’Shea was shown discussing the penalty with an official on television but declined to comment on the play after the game.

Questionable kicking

Mike O’Shea passed up a number of long field goal attempts early this season, saying that he’d prefer to let punter Marc Liegghio pin the opposition deep and trust his defence to get a quick stop.

Trailing in the second half, Tyler Crapigna tried and missed field goals from 37 and 47 yards out — the former of which was partially blocked — finishing the game zero-for-two. Crapigna was signed after he was cut by Montreal in training camp to provide competition for Liegghio.

He’s spent the first three weeks of the season focused exclusively on punting and kicking off, but it might be time to let Liegghio start kicking field goals as well. For the record, he’s the all-time record holder for most field goals made at the U Sports level.

It’s August-time

Considering how ineffective Brady Oliveira has been since his breakout game in Week 1 — he had 20 carries for just 57 yards in two games against Toronto — the Bombers would be wise to start incorporating Johnny Augustine into the offence.

The Guelph product played really well when Andrew Harris was suspended in 2019 but has languished on the bench through three games in 2021. Nic Demski missed Saturday’s game due to injury and I thought we might see Augustine assume a portion of his hybrid receiver/running back role. That didn’t happen.

One of the reasons Toronto was able to move the ball consistently was how they rotated running backs John White IV and DJ Foster. Winnipeg should do the same regardless of when Andrew Harris returns to the lineup.

Harris watch

Speaking of Harris, the reigning Grey Cup MVP returned to the practice field as a limited participant this week after sitting out since early in training camp. Winnipeg even teased a potential return on Thursday, but Harris was still ruled out with a calf injury.

Winnipeg has seven days off before their Week 4 game against Calgary, so I suspect we’ll see Harris back in action soon.

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym

A Briggs deal

Congratulations to Jesse Briggs on scoring his first career CFL touchdown. The seven-year veteran has spent most of his career doing thankless work on special teams, but has recently been given the opportunity to start due to a rash of injuries at linebacker.

Jackson Jeffcoat will never make an easier strip-sack than he did on this play as left tackle Dejon Allen appeared to have misheard the snap count. Fun fact: according to Toronto’s website, Allen was named after former CFL head coach June Jones.

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym

Nichols on the boundary

Toronto was unable to get Eric Rogers and DaVaris Daniels going last week against rookie defensive backs DeAndre Alford and Deatrick Nichols. The two receivers had much better performances on Saturday, but most of their big catches — including Daniels’ 35-yard touchdown catch — came to the field-side.

It’s pretty remarkable that two rookie defensive backs are forcing opposing teams to scheme all-star-calibre receivers away from the boundary. Deatrick Nichols had a particularly strong game, making a very impressive knockdown in the first quarter in man coverage on Rogers.

A fresh start

Congratulations to Nick Arbuckle on winning his first start as a member of the Toronto Argonauts.

The 27-year-old completed 23-of-32 pass attempts for 310 yards and one touchdown, making life difficult for a Winnipeg defence that had stifled its opposition through the first two weeks of the season.

He needs to take better care of the football — he fumbled three times — but Arbuckle passed his first big test since departing Calgary in January 2020.

Family ties

Ontario natives Marc Liegghio, Nick Hallett, and Noah Hallett had a ton of family in attendance at BMO Field to watch them play in blue and gold. I love seeing locals at games wearing out-of-town colours to cheer on their visiting family members. It’s great.

The CFL needs to do everything it can to maximize ticket sales and fan interest. Ensuring that rosters include a ton of Canadian talent is one of the easiest ways to do that.

Attendance

The Argos had a capacity limit of 15,000 on Saturday due to the province of Ontario’s COVID-19 restrictions but only managed to attract an announced crowd of 9,866 to BMO Field. That’s 65.8 percent of their potential ticket sales. Yikes.

Toronto has a winning record, an exciting young team, and a great venue. MLSE needs to figure out a way to bring fans into the building.

For reference, the Argos’ average attendance over the past five seasons is 13,976.

Editor’s note: a team spokesperson indicated that Toronto’s capacity was actually closer to 12,000 with social distancing restrictions.

First L

Believe it or not, Saturday’s loss to Toronto was the first for Zach Collaros as the starting quarterback of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He went 4-0 late last season including the playoffs and started this year 2-0.

Double blue view

Toronto’s new home uniforms with navy blue jerseys and powder blue pants are elite. With the boat logo back, one could easily argue that the Argos have the slickest look in the league.

Here come the Stamps

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers (2-1) host the Calgary Stampeders (1-2) on Sunday, August 29 at IG Field. Bo Levi Mitchell will miss the game with a fractured fibula, presumably allowing rookie Jake Maier to make his second-career start.

Calgary has been beaten down by injuries early this season, providing an excellent opportunity for Winnipeg to get a win at home. The teams only play one another twice during the 2021 regular season, which means a victory would go a long way to helping the Blue Bombers secure the all-important season series.

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