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This article was published 6/9/2016 (1848 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
On a five-game winning streak, and a five-game run as the starter of this football team, there is no debating Matt Nichols is the No. 1 pivot of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for now and into the foreseeable future. Yet now he has an equal body of work in 2016 as Drew Willy does, it is an interesting comparison to examine.
While their records are near opposites, at 1-4 for Willy and five and flawless for Nichols, the rest of the stat lines are a curious study. Over the course of five games they have attempted approximately the same number of passes — 191 and 177 — have completed almost an identical percentage — 71.7 per cent for Willy to 71.2 per cent for Nichols — and have both thrown for just over 1,400 yards — 1,473 to 1,448. In fact, they have had near identical results in each of their five games as starters except for three major details: the records, the touchdown-to-interception ratios, and the number of sacks they’ve taken.
While the rest of the passing statistics may be a dead heat, in his five starts, Nichols has thrown for seven touchdowns and only a single interception. Willy, conversely, threw for five touchdowns, and four interceptions in his five games to start the season. If there are any amateur football players out there still not convinced about the importance of ball security, I rest my case. Not turning the football over has easily been the biggest performance factor Nichols has brought to the table, and it is directly correlated with the number of consecutive wins this team has been able to put together.
Yet while going over these numbers, I needed to further validate the feeling Nichols has pretty much been blessed with the good fortune of operating from the warmth of a Kevlar cocoon, while Willy was doing his best Denzel Washington impression in Man on Fire during his tenure. The statistics appear to support this conclusion, including something you might not have paid much attention to. In his five starts, Willy was sacked 16 times. In Nichol’s five starts, he has been dropped eight times, or half of what Willy experienced. While I didn’t have the numbers of how many times they have been hit in addition to being sacked, I would bet dollars to donuts Willy was likely hit at least twice as much, too. Since neither one of them is particularly elusive or mobile, it is fair to say operating conditions have been vastly superior in the pocket for Nichols.
While we don’t even have to look up the defensive statistics to know there has been a marked difference between how many times this defence has gotten the ball back for the offence the last five games, and how much more often they’ve scored and gotten off the field, I figured I would look at one last comparable that tends to help the performance of any quarterback in pro-football: the run game. Since Andrew Harris is the primary back for this squad, I simply looked at his averages over the first five games and the last five. When Willy was at the helm, Harris averaged only 41 yards per game rushing. The last five games, with Nichols at the helm, he has averaged almost 90 yards a game. It is therefore fair to say Nichols has had the benefit of running a much more balanced attack than Willy did, and therefore may have thrown fewer picks because he wasn’t forced to run a one-dimensional offence that had him air-balling into the teeth of a defence.
This is not to argue Willy should once again be promoted to the helm of this offence, but rather to show how Nichols has been working under much more favourable conditions during his win streak. The offensive line has protected him better, blocked the running game better, and kept him from having to force the ball downfield into obvious sticky passing situations. Yes indeed, Nichols has been everything this team has needed him to be during this five game fantasy streak. All it says here is this isn’t even close to the same football team Willy led early in the season, so it may be too early to surmise he couldn’t also contribute with these pieces in place.
Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears weekly in the Free Press.
Doug Brown, always a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.