December 13, 2019

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Bombers' offence set to break out, or break down

Paltry passing stats in a passing league a red flag

Opinion

If it's true we fear what we don't understand, then in the case of the Blue Bombers, and its most recent victory against Calgary, I'll be the first to admit this offence terrifies me.

The Calgary Stampeders came into Winnipeg last Thursday night, tied for the best record in the CFL, in spite of having their backup quarterback at the helm. In what was one of the more entertaining games of the 2019 season, your Winnipeg Blue Bombers beat the Stamps, and took a one-to-nothing lead in the season series, without scoring a single offensive touchdown.

If you think that doesn’t make a lot of sense, when you look at the season statistics, almost halfway through the season, things "not making a lot of sense" becomes a recurring theme.

<p>PETER POWER / THE CANADIAN PRESS </p>
If there was a game that exemplifies the danger of being a rushing team in a passing league, it's the July 26 game in Hamilton, a 23-15 loss to the Ticats. Neither team lit up the offensive stats, but Matt Nichols' 261 yards for one touchdown and three interceptions was clearly not enough.

PETER POWER / THE CANADIAN PRESS

If there was a game that exemplifies the danger of being a rushing team in a passing league, it's the July 26 game in Hamilton, a 23-15 loss to the Ticats. Neither team lit up the offensive stats, but Matt Nichols' 261 yards for one touchdown and three interceptions was clearly not enough.

When a team like the Bombers is in first place in the Western division, and tied with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for first place overall in the CFL, there are a few things that do, and should, go hand in hand.

The Bombers have scored the second-most points in the CFL, and given up the second-fewest. They are currently undefeated at home, and two-and-two on the road so far this year. That all fits with being at the top of the division, and if that is all you need to know, then don’t read any further.

What starts to make you scratch your head, however, is when you take a harder look at the numbers.

In the most prolific passing league in North America, only Montreal and Ottawa throw for fewer yards per game than Winnipeg. So Winnipeg sits at number one in points, but seventh in passing yards per game in a passing league. When it comes to passing attempts, and average yards per pass, once again, Winnipeg sits in seventh place, with only Montreal and Saskatchewan attempting fewer passes, and only Montreal and Ottawa averaging fewer yards per toss.

<p>JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS </p>
Andrew Harris is having another stellar season, but can the Bombers ride him all season long? The loss to the Ticats suggests not, when Harris was limited to 53 yards.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Andrew Harris is having another stellar season, but can the Bombers ride him all season long? The loss to the Ticats suggests not, when Harris was limited to 53 yards.

So this just tells us that they are a running football team, right? Correct. Only Saskatchewan has rushed the football more times than Winnipeg, and no team has rushed for more yards, or averaged more yards per rush, than the Bombers. In a pass-happy league, with the biggest professional football field in the world, the No. 1 scoring team currently runs the ball more than anyone else, and is well below average at throwing it.

If that makes perfect sense to you, then it’s fair to say we see things differently.

Indeed, this may be the biggest puzzle that people have yet to come to terms with: the Bombers are tied for first place in the CFL, with an aerial attack that is currently pedestrian. If you’ve followed the CFL for more than a moment, you’d know how unusual that is.

With talents such as Darvin Adams, Chris Matthews, Nic Demski, Kenny Lawler, and Lucky Whitehead in the receiving corps, the most common throw it seems you will see these days, is the check down in the flat to Andrew Harris. Usually on second and medium, after Harris rushed for six or so yards on first down.

<p>JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p>
The Bombers celebrate another interception by defensive back Winston Rose (30). While the offence has benefited greatly on field position by turnovers and kick returns, will that continue?

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

The Bombers celebrate another interception by defensive back Winston Rose (30). While the offence has benefited greatly on field position by turnovers and kick returns, will that continue?

So how can this work? How can a team be doing so well, that is best at running, and not throwing the football?

Well, they’ve forced the second-most turnovers on defence, and have also intercepted the second-most number of passes. So, the offence, even though they were tied for fourth in throwing interceptions themselves, and were seventh out of nine teams in putting the ball on the deck, they do get a lot of opportunities, and they usually get it with great field position from their special teams.

They have also taken the fewest penalties, and have the fewest penalty yards in the league.

The icing on the cake, when it comes to statistics that don’t make any sense, of course, is when you look at the numbers of starting pivot, Matt Nichols. Out of all the quarterbacks that have played eight games so far this year, Matt Nichols has thrown for the fewest yards, and is tied for last with his average per pass. So naturally, with that being said, he has also thrown for the most touchdowns out of anybody in the league. Maybe we just need to learn that sometimes less is more?

<p>JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS</p>
The Bombers' best offensive output of the season came July 12 against the Toronto Argonauts, a 48-21 victory that only produced a combined 239 yards of passing but four offensive touchdowns. Darvin Adams and Nic Demski celebrate one of them.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Bombers' best offensive output of the season came July 12 against the Toronto Argonauts, a 48-21 victory that only produced a combined 239 yards of passing but four offensive touchdowns. Darvin Adams and Nic Demski celebrate one of them.

With all of these statistical contradictions, you get the feeling that this offence is either about to break out any game now, or break down entirely, because with all of these numbers that don’t agree with each other, and an over-reliance of late on one player named Andrew Harris, something has got to give.

 

Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears weekly in the Free Press.

Twitter: @DougBrown97

Doug Brown

Doug Brown
Columnist

Doug Brown, always a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.

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