August 18, 2018

Winnipeg
18° C, Sunny

Full Forecast

Bombers rested and ready

Hope to carry pre-bye-week momentum into game against Hamilton

The last time the Winnipeg Blue Bombers left the football field, following a second straight win over the Toronto Argonauts in convincing fashion, the team’s confidence level was at its highest this season.

The Bombers (4-3) not only climbed above the .500 mark for the first time with the road win back on July 27, but it was also the first time they had followed a victory up with another winning performance.

So at the time it seemed a little bittersweet they were entering the first of three bye weeks, with the advantages of getting some much-needed rest trumping whatever momentum Winnipeg had built up.

“We left it on a good point so you kind of want to keep that rolling,” Bombers linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox admitted after Thursday’s final walk-through before Friday's game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. “But we needed to get away from football so it was good to reset our minds. This week of practice was very solid so I’m not too concerned about it.”

Get the full story.
No credit card required. Cancel anytime.

Join free for 60 days

After that, pay as little as $0.99 per month for the best local news coverage in Manitoba.

 

Already a subscriber?

Log in

Join free for 60 days

 

Already a subscriber?

Log in

Subscribers Log in below to continue reading,
not a subscriber? Create an account to start a 60 day free trial.

Log in Create your account

Your free trial has come to an end.

We hope you have enjoyed your trial! To continue reading, we recommend our Read Now Pay Later membership. Simply add a form of payment and pay only 27¢ per article.

For unlimited access to the best local, national, and international news and much more, try an All Access Digital subscription:

Thank you for supporting the journalism that our community needs!

Your free trial has come to an end.

We hope you have enjoyed your trial! To continue reading, we recommend our Read Now Pay Later membership. Simply add a form of payment and pay only 27¢ per article.

For unlimited access to the best local, national, and international news and much more, try an All Access Digital subscription:

Thank you for supporting the journalism that our community needs!

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Mon to Sat Delivery

Pay

$34.36

per month

  • Includes all benefits of All Access Digital
  • 6-day delivery of our award-winning newspaper
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

The last time the Winnipeg Blue Bombers left the football field, following a second straight win over the Toronto Argonauts in convincing fashion, the team’s confidence level was at its highest this season.

The Bombers (4-3) not only climbed above the .500 mark for the first time with the road win back on July 27, but it was also the first time they had followed a victory up with another winning performance.

So at the time it seemed a little bittersweet they were entering the first of three bye weeks, with the advantages of getting some much-needed rest trumping whatever momentum Winnipeg had built up.

"We left it on a good point so you kind of want to keep that rolling," Bombers linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox admitted after Thursday’s final walk-through before Friday's game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. "But we needed to get away from football so it was good to reset our minds. This week of practice was very solid so I’m not too concerned about it."

The Tiger-Cats (3-4) arrive at Investors Group Field one week removed from a dominating display in a 50-11 win over the listless Montreal Alouettes. Friday marks the final game between the two teams this season, with Hamilton edging Winnipeg in a Week 3 match in Steeltown.

With that, here are five storylines to keep an eye on in tonight’s game.

Jovan Santos-Knox sacked Toronto Argonauts quarterback James Franklin three times when the Bombers last played two weeks ago. (John Woods / The Canadian Press Files)

Jovan Santos-Knox sacked Toronto Argonauts quarterback James Franklin three times when the Bombers last played two weeks ago. (John Woods / The Canadian Press Files)

BACK FROM THE BREAK

Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said he had no concern with the level of focus his team has coming off the bye week.

Known for his tireless work ethic throughout the season, he noted Thursday that he even gave his coaching staff as much time off as possible to recharge their batteries and insists schemes weren’t being debated in the days leading up to practice week.

"With rust versus rest, rest is always the key," he said. "They needed it…everyone in our organization needed it."

But while the Bombers coach was pleased with the effort over the last few days, there is always an inherent worry an inevitable letdown might creep in after a week-long vacation.

"Not with these guys. They came back and proved in the very first practice that they were ready to be back and wanted to be back," O'Shea said.

As for history, it suggests, well, not a whole bunch.

Since 2014, the Bombers are 3-4 when coming off a bye week. That stretch, of course, includes two dismal seasons for Winnipeg, where they went a combined 12-24 over the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Over the last two previous years, however, with Winnipeg’s record a combined 23-13 in 2016 and 2017, the Bombers were 3-1.

For those counting at home, over the last four years league-wise, the team coming off a bye week is 43-38, for a winning percentage of .531.

NEW-LOOK OFFENCE AGAINST TICATS

Winnipeg has won three of its last four games since the return of No. 1 quarterback Matt Nichols. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press Files)</p>

Winnipeg has won three of its last four games since the return of No. 1 quarterback Matt Nichols. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press Files)

The Bombers worst performance of the season came in a Week 3 loss in Hamilton, with the Tiger-Cats rolling to a 31-17 win over the Blue and Gold back on June 29.

Led by Chris Streveler, who was in for injured starter Matt Nichols, the Bombers put up just 280 yards of offence and were dominated in time of possession – 37:30 to 23:30 in favour of Hamilton.

A lot has changed since then, including the return of Nichols. With its No. 1 QB back under centre, Winnipeg has won three of its last four games, with its only defeat coming in a monumental second-half collapse to B.C. in Week 5.

"Overall, I feel like we’ve definitely turned a corner as a team and the last couple weeks we’ve kind of shown each other what kind of team we can be," Nichols said. "So now there’s that next standard that we want to hold each other to, making sure we play like that week-in, and week-out."

The Bombers offence is averaging the most points (31.1) per game in the CFL and they have been particularly good in the first half, outscoring their opponents 93-30 this year. Nichols has been able to spread the ball around to his receivers and Andrew Harris leads the league in rushing yards, totalling 638 on the ground through seven games.

"We all fully trust the system, trust each other and we understand that when we do the things we’re coached to do, in all positions, we have the ability to put up points in a hurry. I think we’ve gotten back to that the last couple weeks and hopefully we stay consistent with that moving forward," Nichols said.

PAY DAY FOR HAMILTON?

As for Hamilton, they are 1-3 since beating Winnipeg, including a three-game losing streak that began immediately after. That was eventually broken in last week’s win over Montreal, but given how bad the 1-6 Alouettes are, is there much to believing Hamilton has found their groove again?

It should be noted that of Hamilton’s three losses over the past month, six points or fewer decided a winner in two of those. But Hamilton was also limited to 20 points or less in all three.

"We’ve played good in a whole lot of spots but we just haven’t made the plays to win games in those losses," said Tiger-Cats head coach June Jones Thursday. "We wanted to get the fight started early last week…and we did answer the bell on that one. Anytime you go on the road wins are hard, and this is a tough place to play, especially when the crowd gets into it."

Despite the predictable jeers from Bombers fans, perhaps a date with Winnipeg is exactly what the Tiger-Cats need right now. A win for the visitors Friday would make it the first season-series sweep for Hamilton over Winnipeg since 2015. With Hamilton winning the final game of the 2017 campaign 30-13 back on Oct. 6, it would also be the first time in three years that the Tiger-Cats have strung together three straight wins over the Bombers.

Needless to say, that hasn’t been lost on those occupying Winnipeg’s locker room.

"The mindset is this is a big one. Last time they came here they came in a whooped us," said Santos-Knox. "We got to make them pay for that."

MASOLI AND CO. THE NO. 1 FOCUS

Hamilton Tiger-Cats wide receiver Jalen Saunders has reeled in 15 catches for 304 yards in the last two games. (Peter Power / The Canadian Press)</p></p>

Hamilton Tiger-Cats wide receiver Jalen Saunders has reeled in 15 catches for 304 yards in the last two games. (Peter Power / The Canadian Press)

In the win over the Bombers, Tiger-Cats’ Jeremiah Masoli completed 75 per cent of his passes, for 369 yards – his eighth straight game with at least 300 passing yards. Three Tiger-Cats had over 80 receiving yards, Sean Thomas-Erlington rushed for 92 yards on just 11 carries and Canadian Mercer Timmis punched in two scores from in close.

While the results haven’t really shown up on the scoreboard at a consistent rate, the Tiger-Cats offence certainly has. The Bombers will have their hands full trying to stop Masoli, whose 2,214 passing yards are second to just Edmonton’s Mike Reilly.

"Good quarterbacks, good receivers, good running backs… they’re a good football team. It’s going to take a three-phase win to win this one," O'Shea said.

One of Masoli’s greatest strengths is his ability to extend plays with his feet, but he’s that much dangerous because of the targets at his disposal. Brandon Banks has flourished under Jones’ offence and yet there is another name in Jalen Saunders that has certainly turned some heads this year.

Over the past two games, Saunders has reeled in 15 catches for 304 yards and is second in the CFL among receivers with a combined total of 686 yards through the air. Bombers all-star corner Chris Randle, the man tasked with covering Saunders Friday, expects to have his hands full come kick-off.

"He has the whole package. He’s become one of the go-to guys for Masoli. Some of the deeper routes have come to him and knowing where he’s at at all times is a real focus for us." Randle said.

The Tiger-Cats are ranked second in the CFL with an average net offence of 411 yards per game, including twice eclipsing the 500-yard mark.

LEGGETT AND FENNER GOOD TO GO

Linebacker Maurice Leggett missed practice this week, but is schedule to start Friday. (John Woods / The Canadian Press Files)</p></p>

Linebacker Maurice Leggett missed practice this week, but is schedule to start Friday. (John Woods / The Canadian Press Files)

It comes as good news then that the Bombers will get a major boost to their defence with defensive backs Maurice Leggett and Chandler Fenner both expected to play.

Leggett’s absence from practice this week (there was a closed workout Wednesday) seemed to put his availability in question, but those fears were extinguished when the Bombers issued their game-day lineup Thursday, with Leggett slotted in as the starting strong-side linebacker.

"It’s important, especially just to get the chemistry down with the guys… to help me mentally as well as physically," Leggett said about missing practice. "The whole body feels great."

Fenner returned to practice this week after missing the last three games with a lower-body injury. He had lined up in the strong-side position before his injury but it appears he’s been relegated to backup behind Leggett. That shouldn’t be considered set in stone, however, with rookie Marcus Sayles set to start at halfback, where Leggett has also played this year.

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.catwitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

Read full biography

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective January 2015.