The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the B.C. Lions on Friday night in Vancouver by a score of 30-9. Below are my thoughts on the game.
Zach Collaros had his best performance as a member of the Blue Bombers on Friday night, completing 28-of-33 pass attempts for 417 yards and two touchdowns. It’s been a long time since a quarterback put up such impressive numbers in Winnipeg and should cement him as the front-runner for Most Outstanding Player at this stage of the season.
Kenny Lawler was Collaros’ favourite target on the night, catching 12 passes for a jaw-dropping 205 yards and a score. He now leads the CFL in receiving yards, surpassing Lucky Whitehead — more on him in a moment — for the No. 1 spot.
Winnipeg’s passing game has been respectable this season, but it’s hardly their calling card. Lighting it up against a talented B.C. secondary was extraordinarily impressive and should put the rest of the league on notice.
The Blue Bombers have won plenty of games thanks to their defence and their running game. Apparently they can dominate through the air, too.
Winnipeg’s offensive line was simply outstanding in Vancouver, allowing zero sacks and helping the club’s running backs average 5.2 yards-per-carry. I’d have to watch the game back but I’m not convinced Collaros took more than one hit all night.
The unit gets a lot of ink and it’s fully deserved. I’m not taking anything away from Collaros, Lawler or Andrew Harris, but having a dominant line sure makes life easier for the rest of the offence.
Stove’s got range
Steven ‘Stove’ Richardson wasted no time making an impact in his return from injury, sacking Michael Reilly on the game’s second play from scrimmage. TSN highlighted the play at halftime and for good reason — he tossed 325-pound Sukh Chungh out of the way before getting by centre Peter Godber to make the sack.
Richardson is ultra-tough against the run, but has enough quickness to make an impact as a pass-rusher as well. Getting him back in the lineup will only make Winnipeg’s defensive line that much more dangerous.
In all, the Blue Bombers got home for five sacks and completely disrupted Michael Reilly’s rhythm in the pocket. They simply smothered the opposition, allowing just 16 yards on seven carries.
Up all night to get Lucky
Lucky Whitehead suffered what the Lions feared was a broken wrist early in the second quarter, which was devastating development for the star receiver. He ended up returning to the game with what appeared to be a heavily-bandaged hand and wrist, but finished the game without a reception.
The former Blue Bomber came into Friday’s game as the CFL’s leading receiver and a favourite to win Most Outstanding Player. It was tough watching him go down given all he’s accomplished this season.
Here’s wishing Whitehead a speedy recovery. He’s one of the league’s most explosive players and he’s made B.C. a must-watch team this year.
As my colleague Justin Dunk pointed out on the most recent episode of the 3DownNation Podcast, it’s interesting that Paul LaPolice didn’t make a serious effort to bring Whitehead to Ottawa. Though Caleb Evans was impressive in his first start, that offence is still two or three weapons away from scaring opposing defences.
As I wrote in Insider Talk back in February, Whitehead almost wasn’t the only receiver Winnipeg lost to B.C. in free agency. The other was Kenny Lawler. I’m sure the Blue Bombers are happy they convinced him to stick around.
Missed it by that much
As good as Collaros and Lawler were on Friday night, they could have connected for another score late in the first quarter. I’d have to watch the play back, but I thought I saw Lawler wide open on the goal line after running a quick slant or dig. Collaros didn’t see him, instead missing on a deep ball intended for Rasheed Bailey.
Rookie placekicker Ali Mourtada took a worry-free approach after missing all three of his field goal attempts in his debut against Edmonton in Week 7. I asked the 31-year-old about his ultra-clever Twitter handle (@hakuna_mourtada) this week and he suggested it reflects his mentality on and off the field.
“It just fits my vibe, so I just rock with it,” said Mourtada. He also said that he’s a big Disney fan and has been nicknamed ‘Prince Ali’ in the past, a reference to the alter ego of the protagonist in Aladdin.
O’Shea spoke highly of Mourtada this past week and his comments aged well considering Mourtada made all three of his attempts on Friday night, albeit from short distances.
Anybody who watches football knows that teams who win the turnover battle tend to win the game. Winnipeg lost the turnover battle two-to-one in B.C. on fumbles from Andrew Harris and Kenny Lawler, but that didn’t seem to matter.
When was the last time a team won on the road by 21 points despite losing the turnover battle? I’m guessing it’s been a very long time.
Kyrie Wilson, Steve Richardson, and Janarion Grant returned from injury this week as Winnipeg seemed to be getting healthy at the right time. That may have changed on Friday after Richardson, Drew Wolitarsky, Mike Miller, and Andrew Harris missed snaps due to injury.
Richardson, Miller, and Harris returned to action but may still be banged up. Wolitarsky did not return with what appeared to be an injury to his right leg.
Slot him in
Speaking of Wolitarsky, it was great seeing the four-year veteran get a chance to make plays in the slot. He made four catches for a season-high 68 yards before leaving the game in the third quarter due to injury.
The six-foot-three, 225-pound target spent almost the entire 2019 season languishing at field-side wide receiver where passes are hard to come by. It’s understandable that Winnipeg wants to keep Nic Demski, Kenny Lawler, and Rasheed Bailey at slotback, but rotating Wolitarsky in is smart.
He’s got the size, hands, and grit to make tough catches on second down, while players like Demski and Lawler can create mismatches on the outside with their speed. Swapping them in and out throughout the game is a great way for Winnipeg to keep opposing defences guessing.
Ground and pound
As I told Andrew ‘Hustler’ Paterson on Winnipeg Sports Talk on Friday, the B.C. Lions are a dome team that can’t run the ball, which doesn’t bode well for them come playoff time.
The postseason will start two weeks later than normal due to the CFL’s pandemic-altered schedule. With the West Final slated for Sunday, Dec. 5, that’s going to make for an awfully cold game if it takes place in Winnipeg or Regina (which, given the standings, seems very likely).
The Lions practice outdoors, but the weather in B.C. should still be pretty balmy come the start of December. I can’t imagine they’d be looking forward to playoff date(s) on the prairies.
I’m not sure why B.C. challenged for roughing the passer late in the second quarter after Willie Jefferson tripped up Michael Reilly.
If Rick Campbell was going to toss his challenge flag, he should have done it on the previous play when Jackson Jeffcoat tackled Reilly up high on a sack. I don’t think either play should have been penalized, but I think the Lions had a stronger argument on the Jeffcoat hit than the Jefferson hit.
Talk is cheap but I love everything I’ve heard from Amar Doman, who purchased the B.C. Lions back in August.
Despite its recent decline in popularity, the team has been highly relevant in Vancouver at times over the past few decades. It will take a significant investment of time and money, but I believe Doman can “restore the roar” in B.C. if he follows through on what he’s talked about thus far.
I wish him the best of luck. The CFL will be a much stronger, more vibrant league if B.C. can become a strong markets.
Former league all-star Duke Williams is reportedly fielding offers from a number of CFL teams following a two-year stint with the Buffalo Bills.
I don’t see Williams as a serious option for the Blue Bombers, though I wouldn’t be surprised if they kicked the tires on him. With that said, I fully expect Williams to end up in the West Division with one of Winnipeg’s rivals. Time will tell.
Winnipeg (7-1) will host Edmonton (2-5) on Friday, Oct. 8 at IG Field. It remains unclear who will start at quarterback for the Elks, but Trevor Harris could be available after coming off the six-game injured list this past week.
The Blue Bombers already won the first meeting of the season, so a victory at home would secure the season series. It will be ’90s night at the stadium, so don’t forget to wear your neon windbreaker with a matching scrunchie.
Who knows? We might even see some T. J. Rubley jerseys in the crowd.