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.
FORMAT CREDIT: http://www.dailynorseman.com/