Bombers blast woeful Elks (& 13 other thoughts)

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Edmonton Elks by a score of 30-3 in front of 27,388 fans at IG Field. Below are my thoughts on the game.

Harris good

Andrew Harris reached the century mark for the first time this season, recording 24 carries for 150 yards and two touchdowns. He shone brightest late in the game as the Blue Bombers put the score out of reach.

The Winnipeg native missed the first three games of the season due to injury but has quickly become the league’s third-leading rusher behind William Stanback and James Wilder Jr. Can he win the rushing title for a fourth consecutive season? That originally seemed unthinkable given his late start, but suddenly it’s very much possible.

I appreciate that Harris is a workhorse who loves racking up the yardage, but he’s also a 34-year-old who has had injury issues this year. Winnipeg should have put in Brady Oliveira and/or Johnny Augustine late in the game.

Harris told the media after the game that Oliveira was supposed to go in late, but Edmonton was able to put a few first downs together. He indicated that he’s always happy to carry the ball, but also enjoys seeing his backups get an opportunity to play as well.

Harris bad

Trevor Harris played terribly on Friday night, completing 9-of-22 pass attempts for 87 yards before being benched. DeAundre Alford dropped a sure interception on Edmonton’s first drive, while Mike Jones could have picked one off late in the second half.

Winnipeg’s defence disrupted Harris at times, but he made a few head-scratching decisions and missed a number of open receivers. As well as the Blue Bombers played on defence, Harris still could have done a lot more with what was available to him from the pocket.

Harris has been one of the CFL’s best quarterbacks over the past five years and he has plenty of weapons at his disposal. Needless to say, getting pulled in favour of a rookie like Taylor Cornelius isn’t a good look.

Missed opportunities

“We certainly don’t want to have another first half like that,” Mike O’Shea told the media after the game. His comment was understandable given that his team missed a ton of early opportunities.

Sean McGuire failed to score on third-and-goal from the one, Zach Collaros threw an interception in the end zone, and the secondary dropped two interceptions. Ali Mourtada also missed a 42-yard field goal wide left, though he missed two more in the second half.

A win is a win, but the Blue Bombers played down to the Elks on Friday night. The game was still competitive in the fourth quarter, which shouldn’t have been the case given how many opportunities Winnipeg had to put it away early.

It’s obviously nice when a team can win by 27 points despite a sloppy performance, but the Blue Bombers are better than what they showed on Friday night.

It’s about culture

Winnipeg has more talent than Edmonton, but the clubs are a lot closer in skill level than their records indicate. It’s pretty simple: the Blue Bombers are more than the sum of their parts and the Elks are a lot less than the sum of theirs.

“Special” teams

Deatrick Nichols made Winnipeg’s first big special teams play in a long time, blocking a punt early in the third quarter.

Despite their record, the club’s special teams have been relatively poor this season. The cover units are good, but the kicking game has been abysmal and the return game has been nonexistent.

If the Blue Bombers can figure things out on special teams, it’s tough to imagine them losing to anybody for the rest of the year.

Missing Lawler

Rookie receiver Kelvin McKnight started in place of Kenny Lawler, who was suspended for Friday’s game following his arrest for impaired driving. The move came as a surprise as veteran Naaman Roosevelt has been on the practice roster since late August.

Buck Pierce told the media this week that McKnight has progressed very quickly in terms of his communication with the quarterbacks, understanding the game-plan, and variations in coverages.

Roosevelt has helped McKnight develop — the rookie called him “a great teammate” who’s often “in [his] ear” during practice — which speaks to the veteran’s value, even if he’s not in the starting lineup.

McKnight was respectable against Edmonton — he caught all four of his targets for 22 yards — but it’s obvious that Winnipeg’s offence isn’t the same without Lawler in the lineup.

Hobbling Hardrick

Right tackle Jermarcus Hardrick left the game late in the first half and did not return due to a lower body injury. Patrick Neufeld moved to the vacated tackle spot with second-year man Tui Eli taking over at right guard.

O’Shea chatted with Hardrick after he returned to the sideline in street clothes but declined to offer any insight into the conversation they shared or update his status.

The offensive line didn’t look significantly different after Hardrick’s departure, though I’ll say this: Edmonton applied more pressure on Zach Collaros than an opponent has for a while. Winnipeg ran the ball well but the pocket was vulnerable at times.

If Hardrick can’t play next week, Winnipeg will be forced to start a different set of offensive linemen for the first time this season. For reference, Edmonton has started five different offensive line groups this season. The team that’s started the most different groups is Ottawa with seven.

Making history

The Blue Bombers are now 8-1 for the first time since 1960, which is quite the stretch of time.

Here are some things that happened that year: Indigenous people were granted the right to vote in Canadian federal elections, John F. Kennedy was elected president, Stanley Tucci was born, and the top-grossing film was Swiss Family Robinson.

Capacity crowds

Manitoba has gotten a lot of things wrong during the COVID-19 pandemic, but one thing the provincial government got right was allowing IG Field to operate at full capacity while requiring proof of vaccination in order to attend.

Winnipeg was the first CFL city in which proof of vaccination was required and early detractors of the policy have long since fallen silent. The province did not experience a large spike in new cases after games early in the season — Saskatchewan and Alberta did — while Ontario is just now adapting the same policy as Manitoba.

Manitoba showed strong leadership and other provinces followed. Well done.

Back in black?

The Blue Bombers posted a loss of nearly $7 million in 2020 due to the cancellation of the CFL season. Many expected the club to post heavy losses again in 2021 due to the pandemic, but I’m not sure if that will be the case.

With an average attendance figure of 26,989 this season, crowds have increased by almost nine percent since 2019 when the club averaged 24,800 in ticket sales per game.

The club only got seven home games in 2021, but decreases in player and front office salaries should help account for lost revenue. The Blue Bombers should also host a playoff game, which is always a huge boost to revenue.

We won’t know until the spring, but I’d imagine Winnipeg will come out of this year a lot better-off financially than they originally expected back in January.

Roadkill

If their playoff hopes weren’t already dead, Friday’s loss to the Blue Bombers has ended Edmonton’s season. The club is four points out of the playoffs with by far the hardest remaining schedule of any team in the league.

The Elks have one remaining meeting with Winnipeg (8-1), Hamilton (4-4), B.C. (4-4), and Toronto (5-3) as well as two with Saskatchewan (5-3). To make matters worse, Edmonton will play their final three games in seven days on the road thanks to the league’s COVID-required rescheduling. That’s a recipe for disaster.

I originally picked Edmonton to finish first in the West Division. What a disappointment they’ve been.

Truth and Reconciliation

The Elks and Blue Bombers warmed up for Friday’s game in orange jerseys in honour of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Winnipeg also debuted a special helmet decal designed by Dené Sinclair.

Photo: Nik Kowalski/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

These were wonderful gestures made in recognition of an important cause that’s long-since gone overlooked in our country.

Photo: Nik Kowalski/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Due to advancements in technology, we are currently witnessing the deregionalization of professional sports. 25 years ago it was safe to assume that sports fans cheered for their local teams. With regional access to live games, newspapers, radio, and gear, it only made sense to follow teams in your area. They were all you had access to.

In the Internet age, it’s easy to be a fan from anywhere. Social media, blogs, podcasts, online shopping, and streaming have made it possible to be a fan of any professional sports team regardless of where you live.

Why would a kid growing up in Michigan cheer for the Detroit Lions? The team is terrible and has been for decades. Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs are a lot more fun to watch and receive far more attention from the all-powerful national media. Root for the Chiefs and when Mahomes retires, find the next exciting new team to watch.

I believe this is why more young Canadians are choosing to follow the NFL than the CFL. It doesn’t matter where you live — the Internet has made it easy to follow the Rams, Buccaneers or Seahawks like they’re your local team.

With that said, it’s nights like Friday that make local sports so important. Cheer for the Dallas Cowboys all you want, but they’re never going to honour the Indigenous youth who suffered at residential schools across Canada. Why would they? They’re in Dallas.

Local initiatives matter. Local sports matter. Local matters.

’90s night

The Blue Bombers hosted ’90s night on Friday while paying tribute to the Grey Cup team from 1990. Shoutout to the fan who was shown on the jumbotron holding an original Game Boy.

Here are my top ten favourite ’90s movies: Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Beauty and the Beast, Con AirJurassic Park, Little Giants, My Cousin Vinny, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, The Shawshank Redemption, The Silence of the Lambs, and Wayne’s World. What are yours?

Also, hot take: Home Alone and The Matrix are mediocre at best. Think I’m wrong? Let me know on Twitter.

Next up

Winnipeg (8-1) travels to Edmonton (2-6) next Friday for a third and final meeting with the Elks this season.

Saskatchewan’s (5-3) loss to Calgary (3-5) last week took a lot of pressure off the Blue Bombers in the standings and it’ll be interesting to see how the clubs fare when they meet again on Saturday. If the Riders lose, I don’t see any scenario in which Winnipeg doesn’t finish first in the West Division.

The West Final is slated for Sunday, Dec. 5. If Saskatchewan loses on Saturday, you can pretty much take it to the bank that it’ll be played at IG Field.

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