Upon Further Review: The 2019 Bombers
There is an old saying in football that “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”.
It is widely credited to Packers great Vince Lombardi as part of the lore that he built over time as one of the NFL’s first leader of men with championship aspirations. While the quote actually originated with then UCLA football Head Coach Red Sanders the spirit of the statement remains true and often defines championship teams, but the 2019 Winnipeg Blue Bombers can be characterized by a different simple slogan: Timing is everything.
I like to romanticize the ‘team of destiny’ concept but reality often brings those theories back to earth. No team of destiny would have their best offensive player suspended for two years, lose their starting quarterback and have to trade for another passer whose 2019 resume featured four snaps and a concussion.
Teams of destiny don’t lose back-to-back games on the road after a week long road trip where players bond as dormitory roommates and they don’t lose to winless teams when leading by 20.
The 2019 Bombers were a running team in a passing league. They went against the status quo in style, and relied heavily on internal confidence rather than outward bravado.
They should have fallen apart at various times through the marathon CFL regular season. One could argue they actually did, but like a football mutant unfazed by human weapons the Bombers just kept stumbling forwards towards the goal.
A Grey Cup championship. They did it through perseverance, flexibility and creativity offensively.
First a look at the work of each key arm employed b the Bombers in 2019 with Collaros playing closer to opening day starter Matt Nichols and setup man Chris Streveler.
With one glance it becomes clear how differently Collaros allowed - then - Bombers Offensive Coordinator Paul LaPolice to call games. More aggression, more trust, and more variety than possible with Chris Streveler as shown by passing depth through the first two rounds of the playoffs, both Collaros road wins.
None of that takes away from the positives Streveler brought to Winnipeg’s 2019 season though. They simply couldn’t have won without him supplying the punch to offset Collaros’ artful brush strokes.
Go back even further and you realize it wasn’t just one landmark shift in approach Winnipeg had to survive last season but two. Here are the differences in targeted touches to offensive skill position players in the Nichols to Streveler change.
And the accompanying differences in production grade for those targeted skill position players.
In every section of the field, every down and distance and every quarter the approach for Winnipeg’s offence was thrown into a complexity different stratosphere. This is easy to see numbers on but to interpret them is to understand the complexity and effort it takes to install completely different systems based on starting quarterback available.
Due to the run games prominence passing statistics took a hit across the board for Winnipeg in 2019. My favourite example of this is that the Grey Cup champions in a passing league had a leading receiver - Kenny Lawler - who accumulated just 637 yards.
That was 24th in a nine-team CFL.
Collaros was extremely selective with his vertical passing, trusting the system in place and pushing the ball predominantly on second down as shown by his attempts heat chart for all four games played in Winnipeg.
Check out that boundary slip screen zone to Collaros’ short left. About as efficient a throw as there is in the modern CFL and the eye of his affection.
In the Grey Cup LaPolice and the offence pieced it all together. The game had variety, while still sticking to staples that got them there while mixing in off-tendency calls that took the Ticats breathe away.
Andrew Harris averaged 7.5 yards per carry on FOURTEEN 1st down carries that cold Calgary night allowing the Bombers to play free on 2nd down. He only had three 2nd down carries, but one was a 26-yard backbreaker on 2nd and 17. He had every answer.
There were plenty of plays to pick from highlighting what all of that means but to me none showcased calling the right play at the right time to keep a defence off balance and cash in than Andrew Harris’ first half receiving touchdown from Streveler.
Harris was only targeted beyond ten yard in the air TWICE all season (2.2% of targets). He caught both, but neither from Streveler's time as the starter. One on a gadget from REC Darvin Adams, the other from QB Matt Nichols.
So catching a touchdown pass more than twice that depth of target in coverage? Yeah you can imagine how it made LaPolice, Harris, and the entire Ticats bench feel after a week of intensive study and practice.
At the end of the up and down two men deserved much of the credit - even though they’d never admit it. GM Kyle Walters and Head Coach Mike O’Shea kept the Bombers trending upwards from a playoff loss in BC to a home playoff loss to Edmonton to a Grey Cup against all the odds in the face of injury, suspension and transaction anxiety and for that they will forever be remembered in Winnipeg as the men who ended the drought.
Marshall Ferguson is a former U SPORTS Quarterback, now serving as TSN 1150 Hamilton morning show host, voice of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and CFL.ca analyst.