December 13, 2018

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Record: 10–8–0

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Blue Bomber Report (10–8–0)

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Opinion

No one saw Bombers' offensive failure coming

If the ongoing championship drought of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is beyond all statistical probabilities and common sense, it probably then surprises few people the end of the club's 2018 campaign came about because of the performance of the one phase of the game that largely carried it for the past three seasons.

Indeed, just when you thought you’d gone over all the possible ways this team could lose this football game, not scoring a single touchdown was the most unpleasant surprise. In fact, in all of the scenarios discussed on the pre-game show in Calgary, of the possible ways things could go right and wrong for Winnipeg, the thought of the No. 1 offence — statistically — in the league not scoring a major never came up. Not once.

But when you’ve been on the short end of the stick as many times as this franchise has over nearly three decades, you can lose a game in agonizing ways you didn’t even think were possible.

On Oct. 26, just over three weeks ago, the Bombers played the Calgary Stampeders at home and put up 29 points and more than 500 yards of offence. Less than a month later, in the biggest game this franchise has played since 2011, that same offence was full value for four field goals and 245 yards of net offence. That's a decline of more than 50 per cent in both scoring and yardage accumulation.

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THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol</p><p>Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols is sacked by Calgary Stampeders defenders during the first half of the West Final in Calgary, Sunday. The Bombers offence failed to score a major against a stingy Stampeders defence in the 22-14 loss.</p>

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols is sacked by Calgary Stampeders defenders during the first half of the West Final in Calgary, Sunday. The Bombers offence failed to score a major against a stingy Stampeders defence in the 22-14 loss.

If the ongoing championship drought of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is beyond all statistical probabilities and common sense, it probably then surprises few people the end of the club's 2018 campaign came about because of the performance of the one phase of the game that largely carried it for the past three seasons.

Indeed, just when you thought you’d gone over all the possible ways this team could lose this football game, not scoring a single touchdown was the most unpleasant surprise. In fact, in all of the scenarios discussed on the pre-game show in Calgary, of the possible ways things could go right and wrong for Winnipeg, the thought of the No. 1 offence — statistically — in the league not scoring a major never came up. Not once.

But when you’ve been on the short end of the stick as many times as this franchise has over nearly three decades, you can lose a game in agonizing ways you didn’t even think were possible.

On Oct. 26, just over three weeks ago, the Bombers played the Calgary Stampeders at home and put up 29 points and more than 500 yards of offence. Less than a month later, in the biggest game this franchise has played since 2011, that same offence was full value for four field goals and 245 yards of net offence. That's a decline of more than 50 per cent in both scoring and yardage accumulation.

To be fair, the Stampeders were rested and had two starters — Tre Roberson and Jameer Thurman — return to their lineup who didn’t play in the previous contest. But that still doesn't account for a dropoff of 17 points and 256 yards of offensive production in less than a month.

I remember watching a Stampeders player interviewed before the West Division final about the nature of that regular-season loss. He had the audacity and arrogance to essentially suggest Calgary lost that game because the team was running out of incentives and reasons to play hard later on in the regular season. Turns out he may have been on point and candid with how uninterested and uninspired they were as the schedule played out.

If the Bombers' season and playoff push was to end abruptly, it was supposed to be because of its defence, not an underwhelming performance by the offence. Star defender Adam Bighill played with a cast on his left hand, while pass-rushing phenom Jackson Jeffcoat was slapped with a maximum fine from the prior week. Defensive end Craig Roh had even suggested (correctly) before the game that they could rattle Calgary quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell with pressure — bulletin-board material that could come back and surely bite him.

Though the defence played much better this season overall, most figured Mitchell would exploit them, forcing the defenders to revert to their old ways of busted coverages and surrendering explosion plays. Yet, as it turned out, the play of the defence was the only reason the West final was compelling at the end.

Even though the Stampeders won the time-of-possession battle handedly, the Winnipeg defence still held them to 274 yards of net offence in the biggest game of the year. It yielded just 80 yards on the ground and 214 yards in the air, along with forcing 20 yards of plays that lost real estate. They forced the only turnover of the game, outside of the turnover on downs the Bombers committed when they were pressing late in the game. And in return, on this day, the defence was repaid without much of a sniff of complementary football by the offence.

Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols completed 46 per cent of his passes, 15 of 32 attempts, which amounted to just 156 yards in the air. His quarterback-efficiency rating was 61.5, while Mitchell's was 108.8. The CFL's reigning back-to-back rushing champion, Andrew Harris, had three all-stars blocking for him but was outperformed by Calgary's Don Jackson, who accumulated more yards and had a higher rushing average. If you don’t know who Jackson is, that’s the point. And lastly, Winnipeg's offensive co-ordinator, Paul LaPolice, who just one week prior had executed the perfect game plan for the field conditions in Regina and called a monster game in a win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders, looked unimaginative in this one.

It is beyond cruel and unusual for any championship drought to continue into it’s 28th year. But it's an even greater indignation for what we thought was the backbone and foundation of this football team to be absent when it mattered the most.

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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