Whether its on special-teams or defense, Bombers’ rookie corner Kevin Fogg has done nothing but continuously spark the team since he became the second-most experienced player in the secondary due to a slew of injuries.
The Bombers’ offense was struggling out of the gate in week 8 at BMO Field, with constant two-&-outs and short drives courtesy of bad field position. The struggles reached a climax when QB Matt Nichols threw a bad interception to Argos’ FS Thomas Gordon early in the second quarter.
But, as they’ve done quite frequently this season, the defense responded on the very next play. Fogg picked off QB Logan Kilgore for his first interception of the night – he’d go on to throw four more – on a great break on the ball from the 1st-year halfback. Middle linebacker Khalil Bass went on to intercept Kilgore on the next possession, and the offense finally punched it in for six. The Bombers would go on to lay a beat-down, defeating the Argos in their own barn by a score of 34-17.
The Bombers were in cover-3 on Fogg’s interception at the 11:08 mark of the second quarter. It was 1st-&-10, and defensive coordinator Richie Hall had called a relatively common, conservative zone coverage.
Fogg was responsible for a deep-third of the field – Fogg (#23), FS Taylor Loffler (#16) and CB Terrance Frederick (#35) split the field into three deep zones – while weak-side linebacker Ian Wild and SAM linebacker Maurice Leggett dropped underneath to middle-hook zones.
Boundary cornerback CJ Roberts (#17) is in a curl-to-flat zone, while field halfback Bruce Johnson (#25) is guarding the flats. Roberts is taking away any corner-route or deep out-route from the no. 3 receiver in the boundary, while cautiously eyeing the flats.
Break-out slotback Kenny Shaw is the intended receiver on the play. The second-year Argo ran a post-corner, meaning he stemmed on a 45-degree angle to the corner before redirecting and breaking inside on a post-route. Seeing as Shaw is the primary receiver on the play, Kilgore’s first read is on the WILL, Ian Wild, to see if a window would open up to throw a strike down the seam. The young quarterback probably thought the SAM linebacker, Moe Leggett, would bail to the flats or use trail coverage on Shaw – a rookie mistake of pre-determining.
Kilgore’s eyes probably lit up when he watched Wild bail to the left, thinking there’d be a huge window to throw the ball to the post-corner. That would’ve been correct except Leggett hadn’t actually fled for the flats as he anticipated, and would have made the interception if he wasn’t eyeing the hook-route of the no. 2 receiver in the boundary.
In the end, Kilgore made a fine decision on the play; he really only needed one linebacker to vacate, and that came into fruition. The interception was simply a great play from Wild and Fogg, who saw Shaw cross his face on the corner-route and immediately crashed downhill to the receiver. Wild, meanwhile, showed off his incredible range on the play. Despite dropping towards the wide-side of the field, the fourth-year veteran redirected when he saw Kilgore ready to release the ball. He flipped his hips and flew over towards Shaw, covering a lot of ground in the process. Wild delivered a bone-crushing hit as the ball arrived, keeping the recipient on the ground for a few minutes. Essentially, Shaw had no chance to catch that pass.
Fogg would finish the game with two interceptions, a sack, a fumble recovery and a 17.2 yard punt-return average, earning Player of the Week honors.
His first interception, though, would be his finest play of the night.
It’s official: the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are streaking, and it shouldn’t end soon.
Having somewhat survived the gruesome opening third of the season, their schedule gets much easier for awhile. In their next three games, the Blue & Gold will play in Montreal and the home-and-home with Saskatchewan. That’s three games that the Bombers are expected to win.
Yes, that makes it six consecutive games the Winnipeg Football Club is expected to win.
The club’s 34-17 win in Toronto, which featured five interceptions from the defense, a 100-yard rushing game and zero sacks-surrendered, has certainly got the ball rolling for the next part of their schedule. This game was another huge confidence booster and, for once, I don’t have this feeling deep down that the team will let the fans down in the next three contests, losing two or more.
BLUE CHIP STOCKS
1. Jamaal Westerman, DE: The Bombers’ Most Outstanding Player nominee in 2015 didn’t even crack the stat-sheet, but he was the best player on the field on Friday. Westerman recorded two quarterback pressures – one of which featured a QB hit – and was consistently grading positively on his pass-rushes on Argos’ LT Chris Van Zeyl. He showed above-average awareness compared to fellow defensive ends when dropping into coverage, and as long as the 31-year-old continues his outstanding work against the run, he’ll continue to earn blue-chip stocks (and be labeled as the best, all-around defensive end in the league).
2. Travis Bond, LG: This was only the rookie’s third ever start, and while he has graded positively in all three starts, the 6-foot-7, 256-pounder is still ironing out the wrinkles in his game. When he makes a good play, it’s always an outstanding play. But, despite these promising blocks, he’s still making plenty of minor errors or leaving some plays on the field. Evidently, Bond has sky-high potential, and since he’s already showing well, it’s hard to imagine just how good he’ll be once he has more experience under his belt. Bond was the Bombers’ best pass-blocker all night, and while he started to catch blocks in the run-game as the contest wore on, his raw strength was enough to open up lanes for running back Andrew Harris.
3. Ian Wild, LB: The fourth-year Bomber has had some good/great games as well as some poor games in 2016. The Argos’ game was undisputedly his best performance all season. Wild played a near flawless game, showing his tremendous range and quickness against the pass, while the Richie Hall’s signature 4-3, 50-front finally worked, opening up lanes for Wild, his MIKE linebacker. Back in week one, the Alouettes attacked Wild in the air, flooding his zone to take advantage of the single high inside linebacker look. But since that game, and as the season has progressed, he’s been absolutely outstanding against the pass. He covered acres of the field, and his nearly decapitating hit on receiver Kenny Shaw during Kevin Fogg’s interception is one of several examples from this game. Wild dropped high and to the right to fulfill a deep, middle-hook zone – almost as an inside robber keeping his eyes on the quarterback while trusting his peripherals (something that Taylor Loffler needs to work at). He then immediately flips to the left faster than most linebackers as Kilgore winds up to throw, and somehow makes it to the receiver to deliver the knockout blow, covering a ton of ground in the process. There aren’t many linebackers in the league that are expected to make that play, with Wild and Adam Bighill being the exceptions.
1. Andrew Harris, RB: Although Harris had a spectacular second half on route to a 123-yard rushing game, his rough start, which included a handful of runs with straight tunnel-vision (he made a lot of lackluster reads and missed cut-back lanes), brought down his grade just enough. It wasn’t perfect, but from there on Harris consistently scraped for every yard despite merely OK run-blocking. He put on a clinic on breaking tackles and keeping feet moving while running through contact, as none of his runs came easy. Harris, at times, needed to create for himself or make up for missed assignments from the offensive line. The Winnipeg native is now first in the CFL in rushing with 503 yards.
2. Euclid Cummings, DT: While nose tackle Keith Shologan’s success was primarily against two young, inexperienced linemen in RG Corey Watman and rookie C Sean McEwen, Cummings managed to dominate All-Star LG Tyler Holmes. The former Argo continues to be a gem as a pass-rusher, notching two pressures on Logan Kilgore. Playing second fiddle to Westerman, the 6-foot-3, 298-lb three-tech was a threat on the edge when Bombers used stunts between the defensive end and defensive tackle, which few of his size can. Cummings also breached the blocking for two tackle-for-losses in one his best, all-around games of the year.
3. Maurice Leggett, SAM: Likely the face of the defense to Bombers’ fans, Leggett was on cue for his weekly programming of entertainment. The third-year defensive back snagged a pair of interceptions – one of them being returned 98-yards for a touchdown – and was effective against the run. Although his first interception earned a neutral grade, his second, which only came about a minute later, was much more of an impressive play. As Leggett dropped deep and to the sidelines as a deep-zone defender in cover-3, he picked up receiver Wallace Miles’ corner route. He then climbed the ladder to make a beautiful catch over Miles while keeping his feet in bounds. It was his nicest interception of the season – he leads the CFL with four – in a game where he didn’t surrender a single catch allowed.
(Just missed: Keith Shologan, Stanley Bryant)
1. Manase Foketi, RT: Based on his preseason, Foketi’s regular season debut went as expected: it wasn’t good. Although his run-blocking was the biggest issue, he struggled blocking across his face, being fooled badly by the out-n-in moves of Shawn Lemon – a premiere pass-rusher – from over-committing. In terms of run-blocking, which is typically an extremely easy job for offensive tackles in the CFL, Foketi struggled with both down-blocking and going up to the second-level. Considering how good Jermarcus Hardrick was playing at right tackle, I’d be counting down the days until his return.
2. Chris Normand, FB: In typical rookie fashion, the 1st-year starter – but sophomore Canadian – followed up a great two-game stretch with a poor one. Normand wasn’t quite as involved in the offense like usual, but he hurt the team more than he helped when on the field.
3. Matt Nichols, QB: Sure, Nichols’ grade would have been better if he needed to do more, but the ground-attack was looking unstoppable, and the defense kept forcing turnovers. In the 28 drop-backs he took, he happened to make a lot of mistakes and miss some throws. Nichols’ first interception came on a throw to rookie receiver Kris Adams, who rounded behind the DB in zone coverage to run his in-route, which was a risky throw based on the following: both FS Thomas Gordon and LB Cory Greenwood saw Nichols staring at Adams, while the halfback seemingly noticed the receiver cutting behind him. It would’ve been a great play if Nichols completed the pass in the small window, but instead he sailed the ball high and to the right. Nichols should have also thrown a second interception, except Greenwood chose to tip the ball up rather than making the easy interception. The veteran signal-caller was looking for Jace Davis on a dig-route across the middle, but Greenwood was sitting right in the passing lane – a rookie mistake for Nichols. He also badly under-threw Adams wide open down the sidelines on a go-route in the third quarter, and other than that, he simply missed some open receivers in the direction he was looking and attempted passes to others that were well covered.
(Just missed: CB CJ Roberts, RG Sukh Chungh)
BUY: Kevin Fogg is legit. Two interceptions, a sack, a fumble recovery and an outrageously good return average; Kevin Fogg played the best game any rookie has played this season (at least in the box score). With Chris Randle, Johnny Adams and Julian Posey soon returning from injury, Fogg will not be the one losing his spot. I’d expect these six starters in the secondary: Adams (B-CB), Fogg (B-HB), Loffler (FS), Leggett (SAM/SS), Johnson (F-HB), Randle (F-CB). Both CJ Roberts and and Terrance Frederick will be kept around – possibly on the 1-game injured list.
SELL: Clarence Denmark has returned better than ever: Look, I’m cheering for Denmark as much as anyone, but all three of his touchdowns have been the result blown coverages. His touchdown in Hamilton was on a fake screen pass, and his 79-yard major in Toronto was off play-action that made the Argos’ entire defensive backfield bite. His other touchdown in Toronto was also blown coverage on his corner-route – HB Devin Smith, who had a deep-third in cover-3, ran with Thomas Mayo’s post-route by mistake. He also had a 35-yard catch in the third quarter that was also as a result of deadly play-action pass.
As the Bombers’ defensive backfield crumbled from injuries, their one consistent defender in the secondary just happened to be a rookie. Kevin Fogg, a 1st-year player from Liberty University, has gotten better every week since winning a roster spot following constant interceptions in training camp.
Fogg’s four tackle, two interception and one fumble recovery game – with a 16.3 average on punt returns – last week in Toronto was likely the best game any rookie has played this season. He was, however, burned for a touchdown on Diontae Spencer’s corner-route, and while he’s not always consistently a shutdown defensive back, it appeared as though Fogg thought the ball was already thrown given he had stopped running on the play. Playing the game’s most difficult position in the secondary, boundary halfback, while also proving to be a threat in the return game, Fogg is gaining the reputation of an exciting, highly-entertaining play-maker in his rookie year.
In a weak rookie class, Fogg could even be considered the leading candidate for the league’s Most Outstanding Rookie award, in fact. There’s very little competition as the season nears September; his biggest competition is perhaps Saskatchewan’s Ricky Collins Jr., who’s become an inconsistent performer given the struggles of the Riders’ offense. Loucheiz Purifoy is starting to come around in British Columbia, but at this point, there’s a lack of notable rookies at skill-positions.
When it comes to league awards, the voters don’t typically look very far past final statistics and other outliers, such as the success of the player’s team, injuries to other rookies, etc.. The level of difficulty of the player’s role/position in their system is not really considered – a defensive back could have five interceptions, but two of them, for example, came when he was in trap-coverage where he’s expected to make the play as the quarterback fell for the trick of the defense (see CJ Roberts’ pick-six against Hamilton) – or necessarily the amount of negative plays accumulated, or even his value to the team. There’s a difference between the ball being thrown to you, and making a play on the ball. Although it’s a different league and group of voters, Kansas City Chiefs’ cornerback Marcus Peters was crowned the AFC’s Defensive Rookie of the Year thanks to a whopping 7 interceptions, but he also allowed the fourth-most touchdowns and second-most yards in the entire league.
Fogg is accumulating those big, eye-popping numbers; he already has 3 interceptions, 42 tackles, a sack, a fumble-recovery and two return-touchdowns called back. It won’t be, but what should be considered is that he plays the defensive backfield’s toughest position in boundary halfback, which consists of being on a complete island in several coverages. The wide-side halfback has constant support from the strong-side linebacker – the short-side halfback does not.
Fogg has also dropped two easy interceptions – one against Montreal and one against Calgary – which would have boosted his stat-line even more, giving him three interceptions where the ball was thrown right at him and a total of five not even at the midway mark of the season.
Deservedly so, Fogg’s performance as a punt returner is causing a buzz around the CFL. He’s been electric back there, proving to be patient behind his blockers before bursting through the seem. It’s unknown if he’s sustainable as a punt returner since he’s more of an east-west runner, but the historic NCAA FCS returner is still young enough to be coached out of his bad habits. With blazing speed and cut-on-dime ability, Fogg has all the physical abilities required, but there’s no guarantee that head coach and special-teams coordinator Mike O’Shea won’t hand the return duties back to Quincy McDuffie when he returns from injury. McDuffie is quite capable, while in Fogg’s case, playing full-time on defense and special-teams is usually too much for a player to handle.
Regardless, if he keeps making big plays on defense, and the Bombers’ defense continues to improve, the accolades will come for Fogg. He could still be underappreciated for how well he plays away from the ball, but a Rookie of the Year award – the first Bomber to win since Chris Matthews in 2012 – would still be quite the feat for number 23.
Both Bombers’ general manager Kyle Walters and his personnel department have, through three seasons on the job, built a contending roster for head coach Mike O’Shea.
It’s for this reason that the Bombers’ terrible start to the season was so puzzling, as none of the free agent signings were underwhelming, and it was very evident that the roster boasted the talent to dominate. Naturally, the blame was pointed directly at O’Shea, but as Bombers’ fans know better than most from experience, the success of a Canadian Football League team is heavily dependent on the quarterback no matter the supporting cast on offense or defense. Drew Willy, the franchise pivot who was signed to mega, $415,000 annual contract, was simply not getting it done.
With Matt Nichols now supplying consistently serviceable play, the Bombers’ entire roster is being showcased, and they appear to be one of the most talented teams in the CFL. The defense, which has played the last few games missing nearly their entire secondary, leads the league in takeaways with 27 – the next team on the leader-board is the Argonauts at 16. The run-game is finally taking off under star, Canadian running back Andrew Harris, who leads the CFL in rushing at 505 yards now that opposing defenses have to, at least, respect the Bombers’ aerial attack. In a league that has underwent a passing explosion since drastic rule changes in 2015, having done it two games in a row, the Bombers are proving to be one of the only teams to be able to win with under 300 yards passing.
Walters’ master plan, which was completed this off-season with free agency and the draft after a planned, three-year rebuild, is coming into fruition. The missing ingredient during the tumultuous start of the season just so happened to be at the most crucial position in the game: quarterback. With Nichols now inserted into a starting role, the Bombers’ last few off-seasons are looking great.
No matter the free agent signings, teams’ scouting departments must be able to consistently discover American players who are sitting on their couches, waiting for a call to resume their professional football careers. Winnipeg’s scouting department has sorely underachieved during Walters’ term, annually failing to uncover a starting caliber American rookie offensive lineman, receiver and defensive end – not to mention some depth at the position – until this year. Travis Bond and Jermarcus Hardrick, although the latter had already spent some time in the CFL, have solidified the offensive line, while Jace Davis and Thomas Mayo are each better than any rookie receiver the Bombers have brought in since Chris Matthews.
Finding young defensive backs has been the only consistent discoveries of the scouting department until this season – Johnny Adams and Bruce Johnson were great acquisitions – and they’ve continued that trend in 2016. Boundary halfback and dynamic kick returner Kevin Fogg is a threat to win Rookie of the Year, while Terrance Frederick and CJ Roberts are developing into future starters as they fill in for the injured Chris Randle and Johnny Adams. Rookie Canadian Taylor Loffler, meanwhile, has solidified a starting safety spot just months after being drafted in the third-round.
Johnny Adams was one of the league’s best defensive backs in his rookie season, while Chris Randle was playing at a higher level than any defensive back in 2016 before suffering an injury. Without them, the Bombers’ secondary has been a dynamic, turnover-machine, displaying the depth of this team.
Walters nailed free agency this signing – the Bombers inked contracts with six big-name free agents: Euclid Cummings, Andrew Harris, Euclid Cummings, Keith Shologan, Weston Dressler and Ryan Smith – defying the foolish belief that free agency is a terrible idea for rebuilding teams, and that there’s always a reason the players weren’t initially re-signed, and it rarely works out, etc. His acquisitions in 2015 have panned out good, too, as Darvin Adams has emerged into a go-to receiver, and two-time All-Star Stanley Bryant has been consistent protecting his quarterback’s blind-side.
The Bombers’ offensive line has been one of the teams weakest positional groups during all of Walters’ tenure, but they weren’t getting the recognition they deserved while Drew Willy was behind center during the first five games of the season. Versatile international pick-ups Jermarcus Hardrick and Travis Bond were great acquisitions, while 3rd-year Canadian Mathias Goossen, who’s in his first season as a full-time starting after being selected with the second overall pick in 2014 – is blossoming into an elite center. According to 3 Down Nation’s John Hodge, the Bombers surrendered an average of 3.2 sacks-per-game with Drew Willy at the helm. Under Nichols, who’s decisiveness and movement in the pocket is the difference, the average sack-rate has dropped to 1.66 sacks-per-game since making the switch at quarterback.
The defensive line, meanwhile, has been good all season, and they’re making the flashy plays now that the defensive backfield is encouraging offenses to run the ball, and quarterbacks to hold onto the ball. A unit that has plagued this defense over the last two seasons, former Toronto Argonaut Euclid Cummings has been a one-man wrecking crew at defensive tackle, supplying the needed pressure from the pass-rushing, three-tech position. Jamaal Westerman continues make a case as to why he’s the most well-rounded defensive end in the game, and opposite him, Shayon Green is finally coming along after a tumultuous start to his rookie season. This unit has dominated the opposite offensive lines three weeks in a row – all of which were played in front of a supposedly patch-work secondary.
There’s no direct correlation between Matt Nichols and the defense, of course, but the offense is finally controlling both the time-of-possession and the field-position. He hasn’t had to carry the team, passing for 350-to-400 yards on a consistent basis like most quarterbacks for their team to have a chance – in fact he hasn’t even had to pass for 300 yards. But he’s managing the production on first down, recognizing busts in coverage and giving his receivers opportunities to make plays. In two of three starts, Nichols has simply stuck to basics of the system, managing the game and delivering the ball to his play-makers – and kudos to Nichols; Drew Willy wasn’t capable of fulfilling even the simpler job for pivots in Paul Lapolice’s offense.
It’s scary to imagine how good this team would be if an elite quarterback like, say, Mike Reilly was leading the charge – at the end of the day, quarterbacks make the entire roster better. But, for now, Nichols is holding up his end of the bargain, and his serviceable play is proving to be enough on a team with a great supporting cast, from the starters all the way down to the practice squad.
Having won back-to-back games since early 2014, the Bombers are going streaking.
Facing a backup quarterback – the second in as many weeks – in Logan Kilgore versus Toronto means the Bombers have a good chance to do something no one expected only a few weeks ago: carry a .500 record into the bye week.
The week seven victory has given the Bombers a lot of confidence going into their contest in Toronto. It was likely the biggest home win of this current regime since their week one domination of the Argos in 2014.
1. Matt Nichols: The numbers would say otherwise when comparing both starts, but Nichols improved his play significantly against the Tiger-Cats. 246 passing yards is a rather pedestrian number, but that can be attributed to the Bombers’ success on defense and, mostly, special-teams, which gave the offense fantastic field-position the entire first half. If Nichols had to drive the offense the length of the field consistently, there’s no doubt in my mind that the offense still would have put up more than enough points to win. He put his receivers – particularly Kris Adams in his 1st-career start – in positions to be successful in the second half, and the young receiving corps mostly disappointed. Shoddy pass protection, conservative play-calling and mediocre production in the run-game resulted in zero second-half points, but they’d already done enough damage in the opening two quarters of action. Although Andrew Harris had his worst game of the season on the ground and the offensive line was below-average to their own standards, Nichols’ decisiveness and ball-placement was enough to carry the offense. His 13-yard touchdown pass to rookie SB Thomas Mayo depicts Nichols’ night quite well, as the veteran QB simply anticipated and threw his receiver open, showing exceptional touch to put the ball over HB Emmanuel Davis and into Mayo’s bread-basket. The Bombers’ offense should have a field-day against the Toronto Argonauts in BMO Field if Nichols can maintain this level of play.
2. Christophe Normand: The Bombers’ decision to place veteran fullback Tim Cronk on the practice roster following training camp, thrusting second-year Canadian Chris Normand into a starting role, completely worried me. Undersized and inexperienced at the position after playing running back for Laval, Normand spent all of last season on the practice roster, and was suddenly being asked to be the lone fullback on the roster in Paul Lapolice’s fullback-heavy offense. Yet the 24-year-old is coming into his own at the position, indicating his bright future as an athletic, play-making full-back comparable to Ottawa’s Patrick Lavoie, another former Laval ball-carrier. Normand produced impressive explosion metrics at the 2015 combine, but his blocking has been the most surprising part of the 220-pounder’s game. Near the end of the 1st quarter, Normand drove Ti-Cats’ defensive end Adrian Tracy back seven yards on an outside zone run, which allowed Andrew Harris to bounce it off-tackle. That was incredibly impressive, but Normand’s highlight-reel play came on the very next snap, as he received a check-down pass from Nichols and proceeded to hurdle over middle linebacker Larry Dean, who, under no means, necessarily went low at the sophomore Canadian. It was incredible. Normand’s performance against Hamilton has succeeded that against Edmonton for the best game of his young career.
3. Taylor Loffler: The 2016 CFL Combine winner’s football smarts were my biggest takeaway from watching his tape during my pre-draft work, and based on what he’s displayed in two career starts in the CFL, you’d never have guessed that the Bombers had a rookie back at free safety. For all intensive purposes Loffler should continue to start in the defensive backfield – even if Macho Harris returns to health – until Patrick Neufeld is healthy to complete the ratio. At that point, the Bombers can re-evaluate the free safety position, which, by guess, would mean no changes; Loffler will continue to solidify the secondary as the starter at free safety. His exceptional reach, vision and sound technique gives the University of British Columbia and Boise State product great range, as he sees the routes in front of him develop quickly so he can step up and account for weaknesses in the zone-coverage called. The third-knockdown of Loffler’s career came on Hamilton’s opening drive of the third quarter when he picked up Luke Tasker’s post-route, staying in his hip-pocket as QB Jeremiah Masoli extended the play outside of the pocket. The first-career interception of Loffler’s career, which came late in the first-half, may have been an even better play. Already in a position to breakup the pass to Andy Fantuz’s in-route, Loffler still managed to use his 6-foot-4 frame to wrestle away a turnover after HB Kevin Fogg tipped the ball into the air. With each game that passes, whether it’s on special-teams or defense, Loffler continues to show signs that he could be another Craig Butler – a ratio-breaking Canadian who made a huge impact in his rookie season.
4. Bruce Johnson: The third-year halfback is becoming the player I thought he’d be this year after an early season foot injury that sidelined Johnson for a few weeks. Upon moving back to field halfback after a tumultuous start to the year in the boundary, Johnson’s responsibilities have been simplified and his play has drastically improved. He’s a tremendous press-man defender in man-coverage, so it’s no surprise that he’s much more comfortable in the flats rather than in other zone-coverage roles. Johnson’s lone pass allowed in Wednesday (and Thursday) night’s win came in the third-quarter when he made a tremendous speed turn to redirect and take away an outside-breaking route, which would have been limited to one or two yards had he not missed the tackle. The result: A mere six yards. Johnson is thriving in his old position at field-side halfback.
1. Jake Thomas: He’s undersized, and everyone knows it’s coming, but offensive lineman are constantly dummied by Thomas’ bull-rush. The Acadia product compensates for his lack of size by keeping his pad-level low and his quick feet constantly moving. He can control double-teams better than some 305-pound defensive tackles, consistently opening up lanes and 1-on-1 match-ups for his fellow linebackers and defensive lineman. Thomas, who recorded only one pressure on the night, is a career-backup due to his limited repertoire, but he’s proving to be a valuable, Canadian backup at that.
2. Shayon Green: The bad news is that Green, Adrian Hubbard (since released), Trent Corney and Justin Cole have all struggled drastically this season as the Bombers continue to plug in different pass-rushers into the lineup in hopes of finding one that can produce respectable play opposite Jamaal Westerman. The good news is that Green, with an incredible eight QB pressures total in the Bombers’ last two games, is showing signs of life after a brutal start to his CFL career. Coincidentally, while Green recorded six of those pressures against Edmonton, he graded significantly better against the Tabbies. Despite terrible, ineffective play, the Bombers have kept the Miami product around this season for one reason: his incredible athleticism, which ultimately equals potential for defensive ends in the CFL. Green seriously had one pass-rush move for the first five games of the season – a mediocre speed rush – and seems to have since started to pick up the nuances of other techniques in the CFL under defensive line coach Todd Howard. Offensive tackles will soon start to respect his other moves rather than cheating in their kick-steps to defend his predictable speed-rush, and as he further develops his repertoire, Green’s patented speed-rush will open up.
3. Stanley Bryant: Following a great game for the offensive line in Edmonton, Bryant could be found in the “Junk Bonds” section of this weekly post-game analysis for the first time all season. The two-time All-Star, unsurprisingly, bounced back against against Hamilton’s duo of Adrian Tracy and John Chick at home in a big way, and while he gave up the same amount of pressures this week as last week – just one – he kept the pocket much larger for his quarterback and certainly improved his blocking in the run-game. I also noted that Bryant did his best in assisting a struggling Michael Couture, occasionally giving the rookie’s man a quick stiff-arm before the defensive end closed the distance to make his move.
(Just missed: Maurice Leggett, Clarence Denmark, Khalil Bass, Kevin Fogg)
1. Michael Couture: Veteran interior lineman Jeff Keeping, who injured his knee in the opening preseason game, cannot get back any sooner. I expected at least two years before Couture was ready to be starter in the CFL, but he’s proving to be even less pro-ready than expected, and it’s becoming a concern. I don’t want to be hard on the youngster so early into his career, but he essentially lost every 1-on-1 match-up he saw. As a fantastic defensive coordinator, it’s almost disgraceful that Hamilton’s Orlando Steinauer hardly attacked the rookie left guard, continuing his game-plan of having his defensive tackles essentially spy the quarterback in hopes of drawing offensive lineman out of their zone to open up lanes for blitzing linebackers. Regardless, Couture, the second-best blocker in 1-on-1 drills at the CFL Combine, recorded the worst grade, by far, of any Bomber this season.
2. Sukh Chungh: It makes sense that C Mathias Goossen – in his third CFL season – is outplaying Chungh, who’s only in his second season, but the latter is certainly in a slump right now. While his performance against Hamilton was nowhere near as poor as that of Couture, it was not good enough. He only gave up two pressures, but again, Nichols’ decisiveness played a huge role in that low number. It appears as though an injury is bugging the Calgary product, as he seems to be losing his technique when he starts to be fatigued.
3. Justin Cole: The second-year American’s return to the team after a training camp injury sent Adrian Hubbard packing, but he’s been no better than Hubbard – they’ve both proved to be ineffective. Sure, he recorded two sacks in the Hamilton game, but also really did nothing special on either play; his first was the result of LT Brian Simmons’ feet being completely stuck in the mud, and his second came as he was unblocked on a stunt inside. Although Cole’s been listed as the starter since being promoted to the active roster, Shayon Green has taken more snaps in both of those games.
(Just missed: Mathias Goossen, Trent Corney, Ian Wild, Andrew Harris)
BUY: Lightning delay helps Bombers. Being in a long delay is not an easy thing to handle as a player, and the Bombers’ experience gave them an advantage. It’s difficult to stay mentally prepared, and it’s much harder to keep your body ready to play a game for over 2 hours. The Bombers had already been a part of two weather-related delays this season, and they also had a home-field advantage, with constant deliveries of food and, most importantly, access to stationary bikes and elliptical machines in the locker room.
SELL: Discrediting the special-teams’ performance. The team’s best unit this season has been special-teams, and the best unit against the Tiger-Cats was easily Mike O’Shea’s group. It was the best performance of any special-teams unit this season, and Mark Kilam’s Calgary Stampeders blocked three punts in week one. The Bombers limited the league’s most dynamic returner, Brandon Banks, to merely 3.8 yards-per-return, and also returned a punt for a touchdown by Kevin Fogg, which was negated due to a terrible penalty taken by Kyle Knox. In his season debut, Knox was a menace on special-teams – he was in on at least four tackles – but it was fellow linebacker, Tony Burnett, who scooped up Derek Jones’ block punt in the 1st half. The ‘teams constantly gave the offense great field position, and deserve more credit than the offense or defense.
No, Milt Stegall is not an active Bomber, and it’s not 2006. A modern-day Blue Bomber football team arrived in Edmonton, conquered the Eskimos, and left the City of Champions with a legitimate victory. The Bombers’ 30-23 victory was the club’s first win in Northern Alberta since 2006, indeed.
And Stegall wasn’t the miracle performer. Instead, a pair of Canadians provided the magic in the club’s huge win for Mike O’Shea’s desperate group.
1. Andrew Harris: The Winnipeg native has been due for a break-out game on the ground, and he certainly delivered in Edmonton – a team that he’s coincidentally been known to dominate during his days as a BC Lion. Rushing for 127 yards on 5.8 yards-per-carry, Harris’ finest hour came in week six. While the Bombers’ offensive line played their best game of the season, I try to make sure that the play of the offensive line (and the opposition’s defensive line) has no impact on my observation of the running back’s performance; he’s assessed for his reads and what he does after making the right (or wrong) read. He could grade equally as successful in a game where he averages 2.6 yards-per-carry or 5.8 yards-per-carry. Harris made confident reads with anticipation, and showed no signs of hesitation and good pad-level hitting the hole in the second game versus the Eskimos’ struggling defense in 2016. He broke three tackles at the point-of-attack, but also consistently kept his feet moving through contact for extra yards. With Harris’ star-studded performance, the Bombers’ offensive line’s best game of the season run-blocking, and Edmonton’s demoralizing interior defensive line play, the recipe for great offensive success running the football was in place for the Bombers – 127 yards was the result.
2. Jamaal Westerman: Six pressures, an unblocked sack, but a QB-stop nonetheless, and ridiculous run-support, Westerman was, once again, the Bombers’ best defensive player; in other news, there’s nothing to see here. Eskimos’ LT Tony Washington proved to be the next offensive lineman incapable of blocking Westerman’s patented counter pass-rush move, but it’s hard to blame him considering the NFL veteran’s huge tool-box and unpredictability at his stem that’s claimed so many victims in the CFL. Along with his club move, Westerman could also hit lineman with a grab, rip or swim move after the initial bull-rush, and if they begin to guess, he’ll take advantage by continuing his bull-rush all the way, or turn his rush into a speed-rush. Essentially, Westerman is unblockable, and his counter/club move claimed victims three times three times to provide severe pressure on QB Mike Reilly.
3. Darvin Adams: The fourth-year veteran has become the Bombers’ most valuable player in the receiving corps, and an integral contributor to the offense; in other words, he’ll be heavily missed for the next 6 weeks as he recovers from a shoulder injury. Adams connected with QB Matt Nichols in each of his first seven targets on route to a total of 10 catches on 13 targets for 121 yards and a touchdown, which was the result ofa a good release off the versus press-man but largely a bad play from CB Pat Watkins, who was caught peaking into the backfield. Adams’ performance before the injury proved his worthiness, as his consistent play can be broken down to four really good plays and two spectacular plays. Adams’ 1st-quarter leaping, out-of-bounds grab qualified as two of those huge plays, as he perfectly drove CB Pat Watkins to flip his hips around exactly as he began a quick, sharp cut to the sideline that was proceeded with a fantastic catch. An incompletion early in the third quarter was his other exceptional play, where Adams fought off a physical press-coverage with power and his cut-on-a-dime ability to create great separation on another out-route.
4. Jamarcus Hardrick: The first-year Bomber looked right at home back in his natural position at right tackle. Hardrick did not surrender a single QB pressure despite being matched up with an All-Star DE, Odell Willis, and strict sack-master, Markus Howard. With prototypical size, raw strength and natural, quick feet, Hardrick possesses all the physical gifts to be a great book-end, and with Willis and Howard each playing poor games, his physical gifts were all he needed. As he continues to polish his technique, Hardrick will win more battles three yards into the pass-rush when the quarterback hits the top of his drop and the defensive end is forced to make a decision on how he’ll attack the play. But, regardless, Thursday was a major step in the right direction with the Bombers relying on Hardrick to be a staple at right tackle as Canadian starter Pat Neufeld is out for an extended period of time.
1. Travis Bond: I’ve always believed that if Bond hadn’t missed the Bombers’ second preseason game in Ottawa due to an ailing injury then he’d have won the starting spot at left guard out of training camp – he was that good in his first and only preseason against the Alouettes. Bond showed exactly why the Bombers thought he was worthy to store him on the two-man active roster reserve all season in his season debut in Edmonton. Thursday was the best the offensive line has looked all season, and Bond was a significant contributor. He saw a lot of one-on-one blocking, too, as defensive coordinator Mike Benevides loves to eliminate the opposition’s center from double-teaming in obvious pass-blocking situations by aligning both defensive tackles as 4-techniques that shade the inside of the offensive tackles, with defensive tackles outside the tackles. Bond, as a result, saw a lot of All-Star interior defender Almondo Sewell, and made him look rather pedestrian, frankly. One of Bond’s few, and only major, blemish was a sack allowed from Howard – the defensive end who aligned as a three-technique, and beat the rookie left guard with a spin move.
2. Taylor Loffler: The eventual third-round pick in the 2016 draft has shown this season exactly what I concluded in my pre-draft work: he was the most pro-ready CIS defender available in the draft. So when a series of past injuries consequently made the former University of British Columbia Thunderbird drop to the nineteenth selection, the Bombers knew exactly who they were getting. That pick has already payed dividends just a few months since the draft, as Loffler was an integral piece of the Bombers’ success against the Esks’ aerial in his first-career start. Formerly a member of NCAA D1 program Boise State for four years, Loffler broke up two passes with big hits, and despite not recording a solo tackle, he was in on a lot of gang tackles. He also managed to, impressively, allow just one catch – a 24-yarder to Chris Getzlaf in garbage time – whereas starting FS Macho Harris allowed two touchdowns to Cory Watson when the Eskimos visited Winnipeg a few weeks ago. Harris is still an upgrade over the Canadian rookie at this point in his career, but Loffler should remain a legitimate option to complete the Bombers’ seven starting Canadians while RT Pat Neufeld is out.
3. Khalil Bass: It’s no coincidence that Bass has had a considerably larger impact on the defense since he’s been allowed to play linebacker rather than basically playing defensive tackle, aligning head-up on an offensive lineman on the line-of-scrimmage on first-down. Bass’ best two games of the 2016 campaign have come in the last two weeks, with Richie Hall attacking the run-threat of Jerome Messam and John White differently than in past games this season. He showed great anticipation and took good angles to the ball against the Eskimos on Thursday, but made two really huge plays in second quarter on John White in the hole, absolutely laying a lick on the start runner at the 12:13 mark, and then doing a great job scraping from the back-side to the cut-back lane at the 6:22 mark, making another physical stop. While Bass played a huge role in limiting White to just 8 yards rushing, he was better than usual in pass-coverage, making a great play to quickly change directions and instinctively pick up – and knock-down – Derel Walker’s crossing route later in the second-half.
(Just missed: LB Ian Wild, CB Terrance Frederick, C Mathias Goossen)
1. Justin Cole: Yes, the Bombers still have a huge hole in their defense at front-side defensive end. Shayon Green, though he easily had his best game against Edmonton by a mile, should have been cut two weeks ago after getting numerous chances to supply something in his starting role; former Alabama rush-end, Adrian Hubbard, did no better excluding a game-winning sack vs. Hamilton, and has since been cut; and Justin Cole’s season is certainly off to a rough start given his performance in Edmonton. Green ended up receiving more reps than Cole as the game wore on, as the latter was unable to do anything from the 3-tech position – the Bombers will often bring in three defensive ends in certain sets, with one aligning at defensive tackle – and looked ineffective on the edge. Cole looked indecisive and uncomfortable in his pass-rush techniques, which could be due to his lack of reps in practice ahead of this game. He was cut in training camp due to a major injury, and after sticking in Winnipeg for awhile to recover, he went home at some point in the regular season before only recently returning. The Edmonton game can be excused as a warm-up to get re-accustomed to live action, and he should be much better against Hamilton – the Bombers need him to be the answer.
2. Keith Shologan: If the Bombers had one disappointing free agent signing this season it’d be 30-year-old nose guard Keith Shologan. Fourth-year Canadian backup Jake Thomas has consistently out-played the former Saskatchewan Roughrider and Ottawa Redblack in passing situations, and while Shologan is better as a run-defender – Thomas has never be great against the run – he still hasn’t lived up to expectations. The Eskimos and Stampeders have likely set a precedent for attacking the Bombers’ defensive line, consistently calling their protections to the side of Euclid Cummings in four-man fronts with no immediate blitzing threats, even if Cummings’ side of the alignment is the weak-side. The Bombers need Shologan to win those 1-on-1 match-ups to take the pressure off of Cummings.
3. Stanley Bryant: Winnipeg’s premiere left tackle certainly played his worst game of the season against two struggling defensive ends in Willis and Howard. He allowed a bad sack after whiffing on a block on DB Cord Park’s blitz, and was bailed out several times by quick throws from Nichols. The Bombers will need a bounce-back game from their key free agent signing in 2015 against Hamilton’s John Chick, who’s playing at a much higher than level than anyone on the Esks’ defensive line.
BUY: Nichols played good, but Edmonton’s struggling defense was the biggest factor. His stat-line – 26/33 for 304 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs – would say otherwise, but Nichols was rather average against the Eskimos, which is still better than Drew Willy has ever been in 2016. The Eskimos’ defense is nearing 2015-like Roughriders’ ineptitude, and the newly-appointed Bombers’ starter more of less took simply took what the defense gave him. Pat Watkins stood no chance covering emerging wideout Darvin Adams, while both of their halfbacks, Marcell Young and Cord Parks, were simply terrible in this game. A dominant rushing attack helped the offense dramatically, but there’s no denying that Nichols certainly did his job distributing the football to his play-makers. And the best news? Nichols, who isn’t necessarily known as a mentally-tough quarterback, never got down on himself, and also responded to the little adversity he faced. It was refreshing to see the Bombers’ offense under Nichols respond to Edmonton’s third quarter touchdown drive with a six-point drive of their own. The Eskimos – Nichols’ old team who traded him away for virtually nothing- were the perfect team for the six-year veteran to start his stint as the starter against.
SELL: Kyle Walters’ team is still plagued by a lack of depth. The Bombers have had razor-thin depth in the past from the 2012 season to the end of the 2014 season, but that’s no longer much of a pressing issue anymore. Walters has drafted his Canadians exceptionally well, and the scouting department is beginning to actually find their own International players. OK, so finding defensive backs has never been an issue for the U.S. talent-finders in recent years, but holding the CFL’s leading passer to under 300 yards and no touchdowns until garbage time with four backup defensive backs is ludicrous. LG Travis Bond, meanwhile, provided an instant spark off the two-man reserve, while SB Thomas Mayo has been solid when his number is called. Oh, and Matt Nichols is a solid backup – well, now starting – quarterback.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: RB Andrew Harris DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: DE Jamaal Westerman