Bombers beat Redblacks in familiar fashion at TD Place (& 11 other thoughts)

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Ottawa Redblacks on Friday night by a score of 19-12 in front of 22,185 fans at TD Place. Below are my thoughts on the game.

More of the same

Many Bomber fans were wondering how the club would look tonight after a less-than-stellar performance in Week 1 still resulted in a win and it was shocking how similar tonight’s game was to last week’s at IG Field.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: for much of the first half, the offence failed to put plays together into consistent drives, the defence allowed Masoli and the Redblacks’ offence to put up yardage but did a good job of keeping points off the board, and both sides of the ball were better after half-time adjustments. Even the time of possession for the two games was within five seconds of each other (28:43 last week versus 28:38 tonight) and the Bombers finished with 19 points in both games.

Of course, there were still things that improved in tonight’s game. The Bombers were able to run the ball better, finishing with 26 rushing attempts for 115 yards — almost double the rushing yardage from the first meeting of these two clubs — and the defence kept the Redblacks out of the endzone for the entire game. There were some close calls when Ottawa was able to get the ball deep into Bombers’ territory, but they were stopped before getting into the endzone. However, if we’re discussing Ottawa being able to move the ball…

Picking up where he left off

For the third straight game — I’m including the 2021 Grey Cup — Jeremiah Masoli was able to move the ball effectively against the Bombers’ defence, finishing with 27 completions on 38 attempts for a total of 331 yards. For a defence that was setting records just last year, it’s concerning that a quarterback can work their way downfield so consistently.

With that said, though they have allowed substantial yardage through the first two games (441 total yards in Winnipeg, 425 total yards in Ottawa), the Bombers’ defence is getting the job done when it comes to points on the board. Despite the 866 yards allowed, the Bombers have limited the Redblacks to just one touchdown and a total of 29 points through 120 minutes of football. The yardage allowed is the kind of thing that will give defensive coordinator Richie Hall a headache but the defence is playing well enough to win games and ultimately, that’s all that matters.

Thunder & lightning

It’s been interesting to see the division of work between Brady Oliveira and Johnny Augustine through two games. The coaching staff has been saying that the two players will rotate this season, with neither being the “main” running back. Both players had better games in Ottawa, but how are they comparing to one another?

Oliveira has started both games this season and has been the player carrying the ball on over 70 percent of the running plays so far. However, Augustine has the better average at 5.3 yards per carry compared to just a 2.7-yard average from Oliveira.

I’m not trying to advocate for one player over the other. Oliveira is larger and more physical, while Augustine has a remarkable burst at the line with incredible speed. I thought it was notable that Augustine was the running back on the field at the end of the game this week when the Bombers were trying to kill the clock.

Both players are good options. I’d like to see them move closer to a 50/50 split rather than the 70/30 split we’ve seen through two games.

The new guys

After the losses of Kenny Lawler and Darvin Adams this offseason, the Bombers had a couple of holes to fill at receiver.

Signing Greg Ellingson in free agency was a solid move which has already rewarded the club. Ellingson has a touchdown in each of his first two games as a Blue Bomber and seems to already have rekindled his connection with Zach Collaros from when they were playing together in Hamilton.

The final receiver spot was won by American rookie Dalton Schoen, who has done nothing but impress at every step in his very young career. Schoen looked great in the preseason and through two regular-season games is sitting at seven receptions on nine targets for 127 yards. He scored his first CFL touchdown with 5:41 left in this game to extend the Bombers’ lead to seven points — their largest of the night.

Two games aren’t a huge sample size but so far, the new guys have fit right into the receiving corps and aren’t missing a step.

O-line ups and downs

Much like last week, the vaunted Winnipeg offensive line spent the first half struggling against the Ottawa front seven. The running game was struggling and Collaros didn’t seem to have a comfortable amount of time to find receivers downfield.

Left guard Geoff Gray took a couple of holding penalties at inopportune times in the first half — one of which took away a long completion to Dalton Schoen — and when starting centre Michael Couture went down with an injury, I thought the offence might be in for a long night with reserve offensive lineman Chris Kolankowski in his place.

Couture didn’t return to the game but much to the delight of Bomber fans, the offensive line played much better in the second half. The offence was able to increase its yardage output by 20 percent despite having one less drive in the second half, and that number looks even better considering that the Bombers were trying to kill the clock rather than push downfield on their final drive with 1:50 remaining.

Collaros had much more time in the pocket and it should be no surprise that the average drive length increased from 3.8 plays in the first half to 7.4 plays in the final 30 minutes of the game. It’s a lot easier to score points and win a game when you double your average drive length at halftime.

Where’s the game?

TSN lost the game feed for two possessions in the second quarter, leaving many of us wondering what was happening in the game. Ottawa went 2-and-out and the Bombers started at their 19-yard line after an illegal block penalty on the punt return.

The video feed resumed suddenly on a free play for the Bombers where Collaros forced a ball into coverage for an interception after Cleyon Laing jumped offside. The issue was that the feed cut in as the ball was in mid-flight, leading to a nation of viewers not realizing that play would be negated and assuming the Bombers had just lost the ball again. Luckily, the issue didn’t last too long.

On the topic of penalties…

Penalties galore

After accumulating four penalties for 38 yards last week in their home opener, the Bombers were flagged a whopping nine times in tonight’s game for 95 yards. Those aren’t numbers you expect to see from a Mike O’Shea-led football team.

It wasn’t just the Bombers getting the refs to toss their flags, the Redblacks were also flagged 10 times for 96 yards. While many of the penalties were absolutely warranted, a number of them were marginal at best. It would have been nice for the refs to have kept a few of those flags in their back pockets to allow the game to progress.

It seems fitting, given the number of flags, that the game was ultimately clinched by the Bombers thanks to a roughing-the-kicker penalty taken with under a minute left with the Bombers deep in their own end.

Not so Rose-y

After a poor showing in the home opener, in which Jaelon Acklin scorched him with six catches for 143 yards, there was a lot of focus on Winston Rose all week. Rose was dominant at his corner position in 2019, leading the league with ten interceptions en route to the Bombers ending their 29-year championship drought, but could he reach those heights again.

Lining up primarily against each other for a second consecutive week, Acklin finished the evening with seven catches on eight targets for 77 yards. Though the yardage was less than last week, seven catches is still a large number.

Rose was also beat in the second quarter on a 41-yard completion to Darvin Adams as it started to pour rain at TD Place and was also called for a rather questionable illegal contact penalty early in the fourth quarter which kept the Redblacks’ offence on the field.

Tonight may have been an improvement for Winston Rose, but his play won’t have quieted the conversation about him for another week. It’s safe to say fans will be watching Rose closely this Friday at IG Field.

Mr. 100

Congratulations to right tackle Jermarcus Hardrick, who played in his 100th CFL game on Friday night. Hardrick has been holding down the right side of the Bombers’ offensive line at an all-star level since he joined the club in 2016.

While he’s a stellar tackle, Hardrick is perhaps best known for his seemingly endless energy and positivity, both on and off the field. He can always be seen hyping up his teammates and celebrating every play — he originated the “Hardrick Hop” after touchdowns at IG Field, during which he and his fellow linemen do their best to jump into the stands.

There have been many popular offensive linemen in the history of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers but with the exception of Chris Walby, I haven’t seen nearly as many jerseys in the stands for any other o-lineman. Hardrick is fully deserving of his status as an absolute fan-favourite Blue Bomber.

Congrats, Jermarcus — here’s to the next 100 in blue and gold!

Third-string woes

The Bombers surprised the league on Tuesday when they announced that third-string quarterback Dakota Prukop had been placed on the six-game injured list. Joe Mancuso, who signed with the Bombers before training camp but was released, returned to the club this week and served as the holder for field goals in Prukop’s place in Ottawa.

The Bombers, like a number of other teams, typically utilize all three of their quarterbacks in various parts of each game. While losing a third-string QB doesn’t always have a huge impact on a team’s success, Prukop ran the short-yardage package for the club in addition to his duties as the holder.

It will be interesting to see how the Bombers deal with the loss of Prukop for at least the next month and a half. Backup quarterback Dru Brown took over short-yardage duty in Ottawa but was called upon just once.

Next up

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers (2-0) are hosting the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (0-1) on Friday, June 24 at 7:30 p.m. CT at IG Field. The Bombers are calling for a classic Winnipeg “whiteout” at the game and will be wearing white jerseys with their new third uniform blue pants. This will mark the first time the club has worn their current road jersey with blue pants — it should be a good uniform combination and I’m excited to see it on the field next Friday.

Thanks to my brother John for letting me fill in for him this week, as he and his wife got possession of their new home today. This weekly post-game piece will return to its usual level of expertise next week when it is firmly back in John’s hands. I always appreciate that chance to share my thoughts on 3DownNation.

Tim Hodge thinks about uniforms way too much. He’s the co-host of The BlueBomberTalk Podcast, a lifelong CFL fan, and father of twins affectionately referred to as "the Growds." Follow him at @CFLUniMonitor.