December 17, 2018

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Record: 10–8–0

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Blue Bomber Report (10–8–0)

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Opinion

Veteran leaders can carry Bombers into playoffs

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols' return to safe, competent quarterbacking has propelled Blue and Gold back into playoff discussions.</p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols' return to safe, competent quarterbacking has propelled Blue and Gold back into playoff discussions.

This time of the year, you start to create arguments for why one team or another is a viable candidate for the post-season, and due to the play of Adam Bighill, Weston Dressler, and Matt Nichols of late, the Blue Bombers have entered into this discussion.

During this three-game winning streak, we’ve seen Nichols return to his traits of being safe and smart with the football; accurate, but not compelling. Against Ottawa, in overtime, he was as clutch and timely as it gets. After watching the lead he built up evaporate, and all the momentum the team had dissipate, he simply took the offence on a touchdown drive and completed a two-point conversion at a time when anything else wouldn’t have been enough. He finished the day a very Nichols-like 27 of 36 for 265 yards and three touchdowns with zero turnovers. Last week, the defence did all the heavy lifting; this week, it was the offence that dominated.

When you try to figure out the erratic play of Nichols and the offence, it’s been a curious study, and it took the suggestion of a keen football observer to point me in the right direction. “You know why the Bombers have won their past three games, don’t you?” he asked, with utmost confidence. “No, I most certainly don’t,” I replied, incredulously. “It’s the return of Weston Dressler,” he asserted.

If you want to talk about the straw that stirs the offensive drink of this football team, it truly might be Dressler. While his numbers may not suggest it, his mere presence on the football field appears to change things for this team. Big picture, if you look at the past seven games, the team lost all the ones he wasn’t playing in and won all the ones he did play in. Against Ottawa this past Friday, he was the team’s second-leading receiver with five catches for 61 yards, but more importantly, he also contributed two touchdowns.

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This time of the year, you start to create arguments for why one team or another is a viable candidate for the post-season, and due to the play of Adam Bighill, Weston Dressler, and Matt Nichols of late, the Blue Bombers have entered into this discussion.

During this three-game winning streak, we’ve seen Nichols return to his traits of being safe and smart with the football; accurate, but not compelling. Against Ottawa, in overtime, he was as clutch and timely as it gets. After watching the lead he built up evaporate, and all the momentum the team had dissipate, he simply took the offence on a touchdown drive and completed a two-point conversion at a time when anything else wouldn’t have been enough. He finished the day a very Nichols-like 27 of 36 for 265 yards and three touchdowns with zero turnovers. Last week, the defence did all the heavy lifting; this week, it was the offence that dominated.

When you try to figure out the erratic play of Nichols and the offence, it’s been a curious study, and it took the suggestion of a keen football observer to point me in the right direction. "You know why the Bombers have won their past three games, don’t you?" he asked, with utmost confidence. "No, I most certainly don’t," I replied, incredulously. "It’s the return of Weston Dressler," he asserted.

If you want to talk about the straw that stirs the offensive drink of this football team, it truly might be Dressler. While his numbers may not suggest it, his mere presence on the football field appears to change things for this team. Big picture, if you look at the past seven games, the team lost all the ones he wasn’t playing in and won all the ones he did play in. Against Ottawa this past Friday, he was the team’s second-leading receiver with five catches for 61 yards, but more importantly, he also contributed two touchdowns.

Not enough evidence for you? Well, let’s look at how the play of Nichols changes when Dressler is in the lineup over this seven-game sample. In the games that Dressler didn’t play, Nichols was 76 of 125. That’s a 60 per cent completion ratio. He also threw for four touchdowns and eight interceptions. That’s not the stuff of legends. The past three games, where Dressler has played, Nichols attempted 81 passes and completed 61 of them. That’s a 75 per cent completion rate, or 15 per cent better than the games Weston was out. In these past three games, Nichols has thrown four touchdown passes compared to only one interception. That’s the same number of touchdowns as the four games Dressler was out, but seven fewer interceptions. It’s no coincidence: Dressler is the most veteran receiver of this group, and the guy Nichols knows is going to be in the right place at the right time when things get heated and critical. Dressler is a leader and highly respected, so it’s no surprise the other receivers play better when he is active.

Though the defence wasn’t able to follow up their near-shutout performance against Edmonton, when the Ottawa game was on the line one of their players refused to relent against an onslaught. Though the Redblacks had erased a 15-point lead and looked like they couldn’t be stopped, at the most critical juncture, on the five-yard line, Bighill forced a fumble. When it seemed like the entire defensive unit was gassed and unable to make a play to slow down Trevor Harris and his prolific attack, Bighill had both the conditioning and mental tenacity to strip the receiver of the football as he was about to score a TD. To be able to respond like that, and snap out of the funk the defence had been in, is something very few players can do.

If these three lynchpins for the Blue Bombers can continue to stay healthy and perform like this, then not only will this team be in the playoffs, but they could make some noise, too.

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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