BLOG: Looking at the positive and negative ahead of Blue Bombers clash against the Lions
Ed Tait is a writer for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. This article was originally published at BlueBombers.com.
All the cynics and doubters, critics and doomsayers are never hard to find.
It’s true, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have dropped two of their last three and have lost some significant star power for the season to injury in Jamaal Westerman, Maurice Leggett and Darvin Adams.
All of this has prompted some panic on the fan boards and on social media, fuelling the notion the Bombers will be one-and-done in the playoffs.
Funny thing about all that…
Consider, for example, that a win tomorrow would not only clinch a home playoff game for the first time since 2011, but boost the Bombers to 12 wins – a first since 2002 – and guarantee them the second best record in the Canadian Football League to the mighty Calgary Stampeders.
So, about that black cloud…
“We’ll be pumped for this game. We know what we need to do,” said Bombers left tackle Stanley Bryant. “We’ll do the things we normally do: run around, be physical and have fun.”
“We’ll be the team that knows how to handle its business.”
Part of the negative vibe swirling around comes not just from the now-crowded sick bay, but as a byproduct of what happened in last week’s 29-28 loss to the Toronto Argonauts. The Bombers surrendered 556 yards offence to the Argos and had some whiffs in all three phases that had the squad in a surly mood afterward.
That translated into the practice week over the past few days, during which at one point defensive coordinator Richie Hall called last Saturday’s defensive effort ‘embarrassing.’
“Look, we had an opportunity to win the game and didn’t,” said Harris. “We weren’t happy with our performance. ‘Embarrassing’ is one way to put it, but we’ve just got to be better. There has to be more of a sense of urgency.
“This week we’ve had it at practice just with the attitude we’ve brought every day. I feel like we’ve responded, but now it has to translate to the game. This is when we have to execute at a high level. I mean, if you can’t get up for this game, then we’re not going to be ready for the playoffs.
“This is like a playoff game… it secures us a home playoff game. It’s a must-win. It’s a big one for us.”
The Bombers could still secure a home playoff date even if they lose, providing the Edmonton Eskimos drop one of their final two games. But as Matt Nichols said Friday, he’s been around this league too long to know you can’t rely on somebody else to win for you.
“There’s a playoff-type urgency for us,” said Nichols. “I’ve been in this league long enough to know you can never count on anyone to do you any favours. I fully expect Edmonton to win out and if you want to get where you want to be and be a championship team, you’ve got to win games that are must-wins because that’s what they are when you get to the playoffs.
“You’ve got to be able to handle that pressure and go out and perform. You’ve got to be able to win the games like this, especially at home and with what we have on the line.”
“Here’s the thing,” added cornerback Chris Randle. “We know what we have in our locker room. We have to live up to our expectations. We need to keep taking this day by day and then show on the field we’re better… if we do that then securing the home playoff game will come.”
GAME 17 | LIONS (6-10) at BLUE BOMBERS (11-4)
Kickoff: 3 p.m. CT, Investors Group Field
TV: TSN, RDS-2, ESPN 3
Streaks: B.C.: 5L Winnipeg: 1L
Vegas line: The Bombers are favoured by 5.5 points.
Home/Road: The Bombers are 6-2 at home this year, the second-best home record in the CFL to Calgary’s 7-1 mark. The Lions are 3-5 on the road and have lost five straight away from B.C. Place after winning their first three away games of the season. The Lions five-game road losing skid is their longest in 11 years.
Recent history: The Bombers and Lions have split their season series to date, with B.C. winning 45-42 in Vancouver back on July 21st and Winnipeg countering with a 26-20 victory at IGF just two weeks ago.
Game day weather forecast: Environment Canada forecast: A mix of sun and clouds. Becoming cloudy in the afternoon. Wind becoming south 20 km/h late in the afternoon. High plus 3.
NEXT MAN UP… AGAIN
First it was Jamaal Westerman. Then it was Darvin Adams and Moe Leggett, both lost on the same day a couple of Saturdays ago against the Lions. And last week, the club finished without all-star guard Travis Bond.
But that’s football. Injuries are unfortunate, but part of every season with every team. It’s the squads that have the depth to respond that are often still playing on the last Sunday in November.
There could be more changes to an offence already missing Timothy Flanders this week, with Patrick Neufeld expected to start at left guard for Bond.
“That’s why you have teammates. It’s why you have depth charts and guys that fight for jobs,” reasoned Andrew Harris. “Everyone on our team is a playmaker and can get the job done. You’ve got to be able to step in and make sure there’s no drop off. Those guys have been given an opportunity to make plays. As teammates we have faith in them and are going to have trust that they’re going to get the job done.
“Everyone has a pedigree, or came from a good program or has done good things to get where they are. A guy like L’Damian (Washington)… he’s played in huge games before in college. A guy like Chris Givenshas played in the NFL. Kevin Fogg has stepped in and made great plays for us.
“People rise to the occasion all the time. Yes, it’s not the guy that was once there, but it’s an opportunity for them to become that person or be even better. That’s the nature of this business.”
A BLIP OR A CRISIS IN CONFIDENCE
The words ‘slump’ and ‘Justin Medlock’ have seldom been used in the same sentence. After all, the Bombers all-star kicker – the CFL’s Most Outstanding Special Teams Player from a year ago – is normally as consistent as a metronome.
But after missing two field goals last week, including a potential game-winning 39-yarder on the last play, Medlock is now in a seven-for-13 slump over the past three games. His field goal percentage this season: a league low 76.7.
“It was washed away after about 24 hours. I’ve just been focused in on this week,” said Medlock of last week’s performance in Toronto. “I’ve just moved on. There are two games left and playoffs and that’s really my main focus.”
Medlock has long adopted this mantra after a miss and it will serve him well again, starting tomorrow: his goal is to now to go one for one.
“That’s the approach I take: go on, make the next one. Go on to the next kick and make the next one, go on to the next kick and make the next one,” he said. “That’s the goal.”
THE HARRIS 1K-1K WATCH
B.C. effectively limited the damage of their old teammate two weeks ago, limiting Andrew Harris to less than four-yards per touch, and the Argos followed that up by doing the same last weekend in Toronto. Harris had nine carries for 32 yards and just two catches for four yards.
But the Winnipeg product still has a legit shot at becoming the first player in CFL history to finish a season with 1,000 yards rushing and receiving. With three games remaining, Harris has 903 rushing yards and 820 receiving yards, meaning he would need to average 48.5 along the ground and 90 through the air to make CFL history.
Robert Drummond of the 1997 Toronto Argonauts was the closest to that goal previously, rushing for 1,134 yards and finishing with 840 through the air.
“You’ve just got to stick your head down and keep grinding,” said Harris. “Obviously there’s going to be tough days and tough games. The last three weeks have definitely been a grind. It’s staying true to your every day work ethic and the things that got you to where you are and that’s taking care of your body, studying the game film and trusting in your abilities.
“Getting the ball in my hands on offence is something that we do. There are games where you’re expected to do other things and you’ve got to answer the bell that way. At this point in the season obviously you want to be the guy to make plays and get your team in situations to win and when it’s called upon, you want to be able to execute and deliver.
“For me, it’s staying confident, staying hungry and waiting for those opportunities.”
There’s more…. With 96 receptions Harris is also chasing the CFL record for most receptions by a running back – 102, set by Saskatchewan’s Craig Ellis in 1987.
And if he should crack the century mark, he would become just the fifth Bombers player to do so after Eugene Goodlow (100 in 1981), James Murphy (116 in 1986), Gerald Wilcox (111 in 1994) and Milt Stegall (106 in 2002).
- Matt Nichols starts for the Bombers and is now 21-8 since taking the No. 1 QB chores late last July. Nichols is the CFL’s top-rated quarterback (86.4) and has thrown for 4,442 yards with 28 touchdowns against eight interceptions.
- The Lions counter with Jonathan Jennings, who has thrown for 12 TDs this year against 15 interceptions and 3,086 yards and has a rating of just 58.3
The Bombers’ 46-man roster for Saturday’s game features zero changes. The depth chart still lists Travis Bond at left guard, Jermarcus Hardrick at right tackle and Julian Feoli-Gudino at wide receiver even though Bond and Hardrick haven’t practiced the last few days and have been replaced by Patrick Neufeld and Manase Foketi, while Matt Coates has been working at wide receiver.
“Every day I got better. I know on game day I’m going to wake up and feel like Superman,” said Hardrick on Friday. “Football has done so much for me. I take so much pride in football and know I won’t be able to do this for long. I don’t want to take it for granted. I love everything about it.
“If I’ve got a chance to play a game, I want to play.”
The Lions, meanwhile, have made six changes to their 46-man roster. On are RB Tyler Davis, DB Kendall James, OLs Keavon Milton, and Andrew Jones, DLs Luther Maddy and Kourtnei Brown. Coming off are DB Buddy Jackson, OLs Hunter Steward and Kelvin Palmer, DL Mic’hael Brooks, Bryant Turner, Jr. and Josh Shirley.
Chris Rainey will start at running back with Jeremiah Johnson expected to get the week off; James will start in the secondary for Jackson, while Milton will start at right tackle.
3 BOMBERS TO WATCH
#2 Matt Coates, wide receiver: Looks to make his third start of the season and the first not because of injury. Coates, it would seem, is being rewarded for a good practice week. He’s not a burner, but a good route runner with great hands.
#67 Cory ‘Poop’ Johnson, defensive tackle: He’s a pile pusher and a guy who is becoming more of a force with each defensive snap.
#53 Patrick Neufeld, left guard: Travis Bond is still listed as the starter on the depth chart, but Neufeld has worked there all week after replacing Bond in the first quarter due to injury.
#38 Ian Wild, linebacker: Wild returned to the lineup last week for the first time since July and used the game to, in his words, ‘knock off some rust.’ Consider the rust gone. Wild took more and more reps with the defence this week and his versatility means he can play at a couple of spots in the linebacking corps.
Bombers RB Andrew Harris vs. LB Chandler Fenner
The Lions effectively limited the damage of Harris in their meeting two weeks ago and Fenner was part of that, finishing the day with seven tackles – four of them on Harris. Micah Awe was just as busy, with seven tackles – all of them on Harris.
THE PLAYOFF PICTURE
The CFL released its playoff scenarios earlier this week. Here’s all that remains for the Bombers in their quest to lock up a home playoff game:
- Winnipeg win or Edmonton loss = Bombers clinch second place in the West Division and plays host to the Western Semifinal on November 12th.
- Matt Nichols will make his 30th consecutive start for the Bombers, making him the first Bombers QB to line up behind centre for that many games in a row since Kevin Glenn started 30th straight from 2006-08.
The club record for consecutive starts by a QB is 52, set by Dieter Brock from 1979-82, followed by Don Jonas (49, from 1971-74), Ken Ploen (41, from 1961-64), Khari Jones (36, from 2001-03), Tom Clements (31, from 1983-85).
- Lions linebacker Solomon Elimimian has 128 tackles this season, 15 shy of his own CFL record of 143, set in 2014. He has five games with at least 10 tackles this season.
- B.C. has gone five games without forcing a takeaway. The Lions opponents have now had 76 consecutive drives without a turnover.
- Matt Nichols would need 558 yards in the Bombers’ final two games to become the third QB in franchise history to throw for over 5,000 yards in a season (Khari Jones, 2002; Kevin Glenn, 2007).
“I like Michael O’Shea so I don’t want to spoil his party. That’s got nothing to do with it. We’re not here to spoil anybody’s party, we’re here to win a football game. Last time we came, they played better than us, they made the two big plays and we didn’t and they won.” – Lions GM and head coach Wally Buono.
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