Greg Ellingson has career day as Bombers beat Stamps in battle of unbeatens (& 12 other thoughts)

Photo courtesy: CFL

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Calgary Stampeders by a score of 26-19 in front of 29,746 fans at IG Field on Friday night. Below are my thoughts on the game.

Greg and Zach turn it back

Zach Collaros and Greg Ellingson were teammates with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2014 and turned back the clock against Calgary, connecting eleven times for 152 yards. Ellingson was targeted 14 times, which was twice as many as the team’s next-leading receiver.

It’s a testament to the nine-year veteran’s strength and conditioning that he is still able to make such acrobatic catches at this stage of his career. He beat defensive backs in man coverage, consistently found holes in zone, and came down with almost everything thrown his way.

Collaros followed up last week’s stellar performance in B.C. with an even better one against Calgary, completing 27-of-38 pass attempts for 315 yards and two touchdowns. He was sacked four times and received little support from the running game but consistently made plays throughout the game.

Ellingson now leads the CFL with 34 catches for 518 yards and three touchdowns and is on pace to set new career-highs in receptions and receiving yardage. Not bad for a 33-year-old.

An instant classic

If you ever want to convince a CFL skeptic in your life that the league can provide an elite level of entertainment, show them Friday’s game.

The contest had everything — lead changes, third-down gambles, acrobatic catches, ridiculous runs, quarterback sacks, big hits, electric returns, controversial calls, and a raucous crowd. The game was expected to be good but ended up being an instant classic. Bravo to both teams.

Calgary and Winnipeg are scheduled to meet two more times before the end of the season and I’m already looking forward to the matchups.

Agudosi’s debut

Carlton Agudosi made his much-anticipated debut in Winnipeg’s receiving corps and did not disappoint, making six receptions for 70 yards and two touchdowns.

I’ve spoken with scouts about Agudosi in the past and they all seem to agree that he runs great routes for a player of his size. He also high-points the football well, which isn’t all that hard when you’ve got a 40-inch vertical at six-foot-six.

The Rutgers product spent all of last season on the practice roster and was passed over when Darvin Adams and Nic Demski missed time due to injury with the club choosing to promote Kelvin McKnight instead.

Agudosi could have had an even better debut had a couple of plays gone his way. His 38-yard catch against Tre Roberson midway through the second quarter was negated after Calgary successfully challenged for offensive pass interference, while he appeared to slow up on a corner route despite being wide open late in the first half.

“It’s nice to have that guy who’s able to get over top of [defensive backs] and bring it in like that. I’m so happy for him. He’s worked so hard,” head coach Mike O’Shea told CJOB post-game.

The Blue Bombers have relied heavily on Ellingson and Dalton Schoen since Nic Demski went down with an ankle injury but needed another target to step up. It appears Agudosi has stepped up to fill that void.

Third down

Calgary gambled on third-and-goal from Winnipeg’s two-yard line late in the third quarter when receivers Malik Henry and Reggie Begelton collided awkwardly in the end zone and the ball fell incomplete. It was an ugly play — two receivers should never be in the same spot on the field — at a key juncture of the game that resulted in a turnover on downs.

The call didn’t work out as planned, but I still applaud Stampeders’ head coach Dave Dickenson for his decision to keep his offence on the field. Too many teams play not to lose. Control of the game. Play to win.

Things still worked out relatively well for Dickenson even after his team failed to score on third down. The Blue Bombers were forced to punt from their own nine-yard line and Rene Paredes kicked a 48-yard field goal on the ensuing drive to make it a one-point game.

Second down shutdown

Winnipeg’s defence struggled to corral Ka’Deem Carey — more on him in a moment — but held Calgary to 297 yards of offence and a measly 2.6-yard average on second down. Demerio Houston made a team-leading six tackles and caught the game-winning interception after the ball bounced out of Kamar Jorden’s hands.

Willie Jefferson pressured Bo Levi Mitchell a number of times and finally got home for a sack of Calgary’s final possession of the game after cleanly beating Julian Good-Jones. The perennial all-star now has three sacks in his last four games.

Duelling rookies

It was neat to see rookie sensation Dalton Schoen move from boundary slotback to Nic Demski’s vacated field-side slotback position because it meant he would working against Titus Wall. Schoen and Wall have been arguably the two best first-year players in the CFL this season and early favourites to win Most Outstanding Rookie.

Wall had a better individual performance on Friday — he made four tackles and two sacks, while Schoen caught three passes for 24 yards. He came close to making a touchdown catch on the first play of the second quarter, though he failed to maintain possession following a hit from Brad Muhammad.

The CFL’s antiquated qualification process for year-end awards prevents two players from the same division to both be finalists at the league level, which is a shame. It’s still early in the season, but Schoen and Wall have been significantly better than any other rookies around the league.

Here’s Johnny

It’s time for to see more of Johnny Augustine and less of Brady Oliveira. The Winnipeg native struggled to produce along the ground again on Friday, rushing nine times times for just eight yards. He is now averaging 3.2 yards per carry on the year and has yet to break a carry for over ten yards.

Augustine is more elusive than Oliveira and has better breakaway speed. He rushed seven times for 33 yards against Calgary and has the ability to make jump cuts at the line of scrimmage to generate space. Winnipeg has been in second-and-long too often this season and Augustine may be able to turn some of those downs into second-and-medium.

Oliveira deserves credit for made an excellent play in the dying minutes of the fourth quarter when he caught a pass and fought seven yards through a defender to generate a key first down deep in Calgary territory. He still has an important role in Winnipeg’s offence — I just think Augustine deserves the chance to be the starter.

Red zone Bo

I don’t have any hard data to back this up, but it seems like Bo Levi Mitchell often does the same thing when he’s deep inside the red zone. If the end zone is less than eight yards away, he’ll throw an out to his favourite target just inside the goal line — usually on the field-side. His receiver of choice used to be Eric Rogers but now it’s Reggie Begelton.

Pay attention to it the next time you watch Mitchell deep in the red zone. Maybe I’m wrong, but it’s a tendency I’ve noticed over time.

Mitchell had a poor season last year and I was skeptical that he would ever return to the level of play that made him a perennial M.O.P. candidate for close to a decade. His arm certainly looks better this year but he struggled against Winnipeg’s stout defence, completing 12-of-28 pass attempts for 187 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.

The heat

I know a lot of Manitobans love hot summer weather but I am not one of them. It was feeling like 35 degrees at kickoff and the heat clearly tested the players’ conditioning as many were sucking wind near the end of the game.

Football is a fall and winter sport. I’ll take 12 degrees with light rain or minus-five with snow anytime. 35 degrees? Not for me. With that said, I’m glad the fans seemed to love it. Attendance was the highest of the season thus far and I’m sure beverage sales were through the roof.

Carey on

Ka’Deem Carey is unquestionably the best running back in the CFL right now. He rushed 12 times for 110 yards and made some incredible moves to generate 13 yards after the catch late in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. With respect to Bo Levi Mitchell, Carey might even be Calgary’s best player.

Loud crowd

Winnipeg had easily its biggest crowd of the season with 29,746 fans on-hand for the win over Calgary. For reference, there were 26,002 fans at the home-opener against Ottawa and 23,600 in Week 3 against Hamilton.

It feels redundant to keep mentioning it, but it’s worth repeating because it’s true: the fans at IG Field are shockingly loud and provide their team with an excellent home-field advantage.

Vanilla

Winnipeg handed out 2,000 vouchers for a free vanilla ice cream cone at their pre-game tailgate, which was a reference to last week when the club scored 43 points against the B.C. Lions after defensive back Marcus Sayles called their offence “vanilla.”

This is the type of marketing that all professional sports teams need to do. It’s fun, it’s cool, and it’s original. I doubt it cost them anything to run, seeing as they partnered with a local ice cream store and promoted it exclusively on social media.

Up next

The Blue Bombers (6-0) are slated to visit the Edmonton Elks (2-4) next Friday at Commonwealth Stadium with kickoff set for 8:00 p.m. CDT.

Taylor Cornelius had a solid performance in his season debut on Thursday, helping lead the Elks to a 32-31 win over Montreal. It seems reasonable to assume that he will start next week’s game but you never know when Chris Jones is calling the shots.

The biggest story of the week will be Kenny Lawler playing against his old team for the first time after making 64 catches for 1,014 yards and six touchdowns last year to lead the league as a member of the Blue Bombers. He signed a mega-deal with Edmonton in free agency worth $300,000 and has 33 catches for 384 yards and three touchdowns through six games this season.