October 21, 2018

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Record: 9–7–0

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Blue Bomber Report (9–7–0)

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Nichols sacrificing gaudy stats for wins

Bombers quarterback eliminates mistakes

Matt Nichols was the best he’s been all season in a 40-32 overtime win over the Ottawa Redblacks last Friday.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback completed 75 per cent of his passes (27 of 36) for 265 yards and threw for a season-high three touchdowns. He connected with veteran receiver Weston Dressler twice, including the game-winning score in extra time, and once to Darvin Adams.

Perhaps most importantly, he didn’t throw an interception, making smart plays throughout the game and especially down the stretch with the game still in the balance.

“Big thing is it always comes down to making sure they’re executing. I thought Matt really saw the game well,” Bombers offensive co-ordinator Paul LaPolice said following practice Wednesday. “You could tell that Matt was seeing the pictures in front of him and was able to get the ball out of his hands quickly, so I think he played a big part of it.”

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Matt Nichols was the best he’s been all season in a 40-32 overtime win over the Ottawa Redblacks last Friday.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback completed 75 per cent of his passes (27 of 36) for 265 yards and threw for a season-high three touchdowns. He connected with veteran receiver Weston Dressler twice, including the game-winning score in extra time, and once to Darvin Adams.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Blue Bombers Quarterback Matt Nichols has yet to eclipse the 300-yard passing mark this season.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Blue Bombers Quarterback Matt Nichols has yet to eclipse the 300-yard passing mark this season.

Perhaps most importantly, he didn’t throw an interception, making smart plays throughout the game and especially down the stretch with the game still in the balance.

"Big thing is it always comes down to making sure they’re executing. I thought Matt really saw the game well," Bombers offensive co-ordinator Paul LaPolice said following practice Wednesday. "You could tell that Matt was seeing the pictures in front of him and was able to get the ball out of his hands quickly, so I think he played a big part of it."

Nichols has shown a steady improvement in his play over the past month. That said, he has yet to return to the player he was last season, when he was nominated as the Bombers’ most outstanding player. In 12 starts this season, Nichols has yet to eclipse the 300-yard passing mark.

But numbers don’t tell the whole story, said Nichols, who is encouraged by what he’s seen in recent weeks, both in his game and the offence. As for the personal achievements, they matter little as long as the wins come.

"This season hasn’t been about a ton of individual accolades, but we’re still the highest-scoring offence in the league and when you’re doing that stuff, you’re doing something right," Nichols said. "No one really cares about stats or whatever else people want to turn things into. For us, it’s just go out and do our jobs and we showed the last few weeks what we’re capable of and just continue to do that."

The Bombers (8-7) have won their last three games to push above .500. They’ve had some strong performances from all areas of the team, including a standout job by the defence in a 30-3 Week 16 win over the Edmonton Eskimos. Last week, it was the offence — a group that paces the CFL with an average of 28.6 points per game — that led the way against Ottawa.

Nichols connected with seven receivers against the Redblacks, including six before Winnipeg was finished its second series.

"They got open, made good catches, made moves with the ball in their hands, did everything you want them to do," Nichols said.

The run game was also in full effect, with Andrew Harris bursting for 163 yards from scrimmage — 132 rushing yards on 20 carries and 31 receiving yards on three receptions — en route to being named one of the CFL’s top performers in Week 17.

"You can see why he’s successful because of his work ethic and how hard he trains. He’s in his third year with us, too… he’s just getting better because he’s been in the system longer and hats off to him — good player," LaPolice said.

The Bombers will have their hands full Saturday when they face off against a Saskatchewan defence that has stifled them twice this year already.

The Roughriders’ defence is a dominant group, leading the CFL in sacks (41) and forced two-and-outs (90), and are a big reason why the Bombers are 0-2 against their Prairie rivals this season.

"When we played them back-to-back earlier in the season, I said they get after the ball extremely well, whether that’s intercepting it or stripping it or just tackling," Bombers left guard Patrick Neufeld said.

"We got to make sure we keep the D-linemen’s hands down and keep Matt clean and get the run game going."

INJURY REPORT: Dressler left Wednesday’s practice early after getting tangled up with a defender during a 12-on-12 drill.

He returned after a short visit to the locker room but remained a spectator for the rest of the workout.

Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea downplayed the incident, suggesting Dressler should be fine. Dressler returned to the lineup three games ago, after missing four games, all of which were losses for the Bombers while he was out.

"It’s pretty clear that he’s a future Hall of Famer and still playing at a very high level. He definitely makes us a better team, makes us a better offence," Nichols said. "I think it’s well-documented how much I love having him in there and I look forward to playing with him this weekend."

Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat was also back at practice, but was limited in what he could do. O’Shea said earlier this week he expected Jeffcoat to return to the lineup some time this season. He’s missed the past five games with an upper-body injury. O’Shea also said defensive back Brandon Alexander and right guard Sukh Chungh, who both sat out Wednesday, should be good to go this week.

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.

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