How To Beat The Bombers?
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have been overwhelming in 2021.
Best record in the CFL.
League leading +123 point differential.
Undefeated at home.
Undefeated in the West division.
Most outstanding player front running quarterback.
No points allowed in nine fourth quarters.
They haven’t been perfect, there have been interceptions, fumbles, missed kicks and penalties but the sum of their parts has been special as they attempt to win back-to-back Grey Cups spanning the void that was 2020.
So what is the rest of the CFL to do about these Bombers, shut it down, go home and start planning for 2022 kickoff next May?
Despite Winnipeg taking everyone’s best shot weekly and persevering, teams have no choice but to keep trying to crack the Bombers code knowing that all it takes is four good quarters of playoff football and the Bombers can be eliminated.
In an effort to see what might be possible IF Winnipeg doesn’t win the final game of the season I looked back at their only loss thus far, week three in Toronto to gain an understanding of what the Argos did well enough to win 30-23, and whether other teams can replicate it.
What jumps out first and foremost is Toronto’s ability to control the time of possession, a staple of Mike O’Shea’s Bombers clubs. At 20:14 of possession week three was only the second time this season Winnipeg didn’t win the time of possession metric, beating their second worst standard by nearly seven minutes (27:07 Week 4 against Calgary).
How did Toronto control the ball in such overwhelming fashion? Effective ground gains on first down and preventing second down conversions for the Bombers offence.
Week three was the coming out party for Toronto RB DJ Foster who worked in a tandem backfield with John White to gain 6.2 yards per carry on first downs, Winnipeg’s second worst performance in the category behind only week two, also against the Argos (9.3 yards per carry).
Meanwhile the Bombers offence converted just 33% (6/18) of their second downs which was bested by only the week two matchup against Toronto (29% conversion rate). All of this while holding then starting RB Brady Oliveira to just 3.2 yards per carry on first down with only week two against Toronto going lower (2.8 yards per carry).
So how did Toronto lose week two against Winnipeg if all these important measurables were actually superior to their winning effort?
Quarterback play. In week two Toronto got a lacklustre start from McLeod Bethel-Thomson completion less than 50% of his passes for under 100 yards on 20 attempts before being replaced by Arbuckle. In week three Arbuckle completed 72% of pass attempts for over 300-yards.
By effectively throwing the football and controlling the clock Winnipeg had their winning formula disrupted and began to chase as QB Zach Collaros had a season high 33 attempts, matched only by his sparkling 417-yard performance against BC in week 9.
Despite throwing it more, the Bombers downfield aggression actually dropped off (7.57 yards in air per attempt) compared to their eight wins (10.36 yards in air per attempts). Offensive Coordinator Buck Pierce called 83.7% pass plays in week three, when combined with the poor second down conversion rate above you get just fur second down rush attempts from a Winnipeg club that loves to be equal parts run and pass threat regardless of down, distance, field position or score differential.
What does it all mean?
In order to beat the 2021 Winnipeg Blue Bombers it appears you need to win the turnover battle, play them back-to-back gaining valuable intel from game one, hope their kicking game continues to struggle, create chunk plays and consistent first down rushing gains offensively, get rush stops on first down and make great plays in the secondary when challenged with conversion attempt passes.
Sounds simple enough right? It might not take all of that, the formula could be completely different and Winnipeg could just choke away a playoff game with a couple big scoring plays given up and an off day offensively, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
To take down the champions will take a complete team effort with great line play, above average quarterbacking and maybe, just maybe a hint or two of luck. Think your team has what it takes?
Marshall Ferguson is a former U SPORTS Quarterback at McMaster University now serving as CFP Founder, Host & Director of Content, play-by-play for the CFL on TSN, analyst for CFL.ca and dad to Noah.