December 10, 2019

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Opinion

Break tendencies, just don't break the quarterback

BEN NELMS / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES <p/>
Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols, left, broke his tendency and scampered for 18 yards against Ottawa, but was hurt on the play.

BEN NELMS / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols, left, broke his tendency and scampered for 18 yards against Ottawa, but was hurt on the play.

On an exceptional night from the offence, laden with masterful play calling and ball distribution to nearly every weapon in the arsenal — at least for three quarters — the only thing that may have curbed your enthusiasm in the Bombers' 29-14 win over the Ottawa Redblacks was franchise quarterback Matt Nichols leaving the game.

I’m a big fan of "tendency breaking" on offence, except when breaking those tendencies ends up breaking the quarterback.

OK, that’s a bit dramatic. He’s not broken by any stretch of the imagination, and by every indication, Nichols should be ready to play when the hapless Argonauts limp into town on Friday night. But the smash up derby that took place at the end of his quarterback-draw gallop was one of the few scenarios that could derail a promising season, for a team with great depth everywhere except, maybe, at the "pocket passing," position.

In what was easily their most prolific display of the season, with 453 yards of offence and nearly 40 minutes of possession, this talent-stuffed group was having a statistical feeding frenzy of a game. Six different receivers, and two backs caught footballs in the passing game, and four runners contributed to 149 yards on the ground.

On only their second offensive snap of the game, Nichols hit a streaking Demski for a major, and then the whole gang got involved.

Harris had 130 all-purpose yards, Darvin Adams stepped up when Chris Matthews went down — including a highlight reel grab that got called back. Wolitarsky had five catches for fifty yards, and Lucky Whitehead even made a play when he managed to shake the entourage of defenders that were following him around all night. Streveler was back authoring his short-play sequences, and trying to run people over. And then came the "tendency breaker," that had many of us holding our breath.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this term in football, it means exactly what it sounds like. Good football teams study their own habits and play calls as much as their opponents, so they know what their tendencies are, and they can change them up. If an offence regularly changes their tendencies, and what they do out of certain formations, and on certain downs and distances, it makes it much harder for a defence to be prepared for them.

So, in this game, the play call that was a departure from what they usually do was calling a designed quarterback draw, for the quarterback that doesn’t like to "hulk smash," who is Matt Nichols. This is not a new call in the Bomber play book, but one almost exclusively reserved for the second pivot that runs angry, and looks like he got lost on the way to linebacker school.

ADRIAN WYLD / THE CANADIAN PRESS</p><p>This is not the kind of pileup you want your franchise quarterback to be underneath. Bombers' Matt Nichols was injured on the play but should be ready to face the Argonauts.</p>

ADRIAN WYLD / THE CANADIAN PRESS

This is not the kind of pileup you want your franchise quarterback to be underneath. Bombers' Matt Nichols was injured on the play but should be ready to face the Argonauts.

Like most tendency breakers, when you do something no one else is expecting you to do, it works like a charm. Defensive players are not going to be worried, or coached to be worried about Nichols purposely taking off down the middle of the field, no matter how much he’s worked on it in the off-season. Unless he’s scrambling and running for his life, it’s not a play you expect to be called, as using his legs for things other than setting himself up to throw darts, is not what he’s best at.

So there he was, the franchise pivot, bursting for 18 yards up the middle, breaking tendencies left and right, and exploiting a vulnerability the Redblacks hadn’t accounted for.

The only problem, when running the football isn’t your strong suit, or something you do with great frequency, is missing out on, or not being drilled in, some of the finer points of the trade. Such as how to prevent being the kid in the bumper car ride that simultaneously gets run into from six different angles.

Seemingly, the more we see of this football team, the more there is to like about it. As much as I’m a fan of watching this offence stay two steps ahead of their opponents, and keeping them guessing, there are some tendency breakers I might hold for a time when the games have more dire consequences, and there are fewer of them left.

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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