No, Milt Stegall is not an active Bomber, and it’s not 2006. A modern-day Blue Bomber football team arrived in Edmonton, conquered the Eskimos, and left the City of Champions with a legitimate victory. The Bombers’ 30-23 victory was the club’s first win in Northern Alberta since 2006, indeed.
And Stegall wasn’t the miracle performer. Instead, a pair of Canadians provided the magic in the club’s huge win for Mike O’Shea’s desperate group.
1. Andrew Harris: The Winnipeg native has been due for a break-out game on the ground, and he certainly delivered in Edmonton – a team that he’s coincidentally been known to dominate during his days as a BC Lion. Rushing for 127 yards on 5.8 yards-per-carry, Harris’ finest hour came in week six. While the Bombers’ offensive line played their best game of the season, I try to make sure that the play of the offensive line (and the opposition’s defensive line) has no impact on my observation of the running back’s performance; he’s assessed for his reads and what he does after making the right (or wrong) read. He could grade equally as successful in a game where he averages 2.6 yards-per-carry or 5.8 yards-per-carry. Harris made confident reads with anticipation, and showed no signs of hesitation and good pad-level hitting the hole in the second game versus the Eskimos’ struggling defense in 2016. He broke three tackles at the point-of-attack, but also consistently kept his feet moving through contact for extra yards. With Harris’ star-studded performance, the Bombers’ offensive line’s best game of the season run-blocking, and Edmonton’s demoralizing interior defensive line play, the recipe for great offensive success running the football was in place for the Bombers – 127 yards was the result.
2. Jamaal Westerman: Six pressures, an unblocked sack, but a QB-stop nonetheless, and ridiculous run-support, Westerman was, once again, the Bombers’ best defensive player; in other news, there’s nothing to see here. Eskimos’ LT Tony Washington proved to be the next offensive lineman incapable of blocking Westerman’s patented counter pass-rush move, but it’s hard to blame him considering the NFL veteran’s huge tool-box and unpredictability at his stem that’s claimed so many victims in the CFL. Along with his club move, Westerman could also hit lineman with a grab, rip or swim move after the initial bull-rush, and if they begin to guess, he’ll take advantage by continuing his bull-rush all the way, or turn his rush into a speed-rush. Essentially, Westerman is unblockable, and his counter/club move claimed victims three times three times to provide severe pressure on QB Mike Reilly.
3. Darvin Adams: The fourth-year veteran has become the Bombers’ most valuable player in the receiving corps, and an integral contributor to the offense; in other words, he’ll be heavily missed for the next 6 weeks as he recovers from a shoulder injury. Adams connected with QB Matt Nichols in each of his first seven targets on route to a total of 10 catches on 13 targets for 121 yards and a touchdown, which was the result ofa a good release off the versus press-man but largely a bad play from CB Pat Watkins, who was caught peaking into the backfield. Adams’ performance before the injury proved his worthiness, as his consistent play can be broken down to four really good plays and two spectacular plays. Adams’ 1st-quarter leaping, out-of-bounds grab qualified as two of those huge plays, as he perfectly drove CB Pat Watkins to flip his hips around exactly as he began a quick, sharp cut to the sideline that was proceeded with a fantastic catch. An incompletion early in the third quarter was his other exceptional play, where Adams fought off a physical press-coverage with power and his cut-on-a-dime ability to create great separation on another out-route.
4. Jamarcus Hardrick: The first-year Bomber looked right at home back in his natural position at right tackle. Hardrick did not surrender a single QB pressure despite being matched up with an All-Star DE, Odell Willis, and strict sack-master, Markus Howard. With prototypical size, raw strength and natural, quick feet, Hardrick possesses all the physical gifts to be a great book-end, and with Willis and Howard each playing poor games, his physical gifts were all he needed. As he continues to polish his technique, Hardrick will win more battles three yards into the pass-rush when the quarterback hits the top of his drop and the defensive end is forced to make a decision on how he’ll attack the play. But, regardless, Thursday was a major step in the right direction with the Bombers relying on Hardrick to be a staple at right tackle as Canadian starter Pat Neufeld is out for an extended period of time.
1. Travis Bond: I’ve always believed that if Bond hadn’t missed the Bombers’ second preseason game in Ottawa due to an ailing injury then he’d have won the starting spot at left guard out of training camp – he was that good in his first and only preseason against the Alouettes. Bond showed exactly why the Bombers thought he was worthy to store him on the two-man active roster reserve all season in his season debut in Edmonton. Thursday was the best the offensive line has looked all season, and Bond was a significant contributor. He saw a lot of one-on-one blocking, too, as defensive coordinator Mike Benevides loves to eliminate the opposition’s center from double-teaming in obvious pass-blocking situations by aligning both defensive tackles as 4-techniques that shade the inside of the offensive tackles, with defensive tackles outside the tackles. Bond, as a result, saw a lot of All-Star interior defender Almondo Sewell, and made him look rather pedestrian, frankly. One of Bond’s few, and only major, blemish was a sack allowed from Howard – the defensive end who aligned as a three-technique, and beat the rookie left guard with a spin move.
2. Taylor Loffler: The eventual third-round pick in the 2016 draft has shown this season exactly what I concluded in my pre-draft work: he was the most pro-ready CIS defender available in the draft. So when a series of past injuries consequently made the former University of British Columbia Thunderbird drop to the nineteenth selection, the Bombers knew exactly who they were getting. That pick has already payed dividends just a few months since the draft, as Loffler was an integral piece of the Bombers’ success against the Esks’ aerial in his first-career start. Formerly a member of NCAA D1 program Boise State for four years, Loffler broke up two passes with big hits, and despite not recording a solo tackle, he was in on a lot of gang tackles. He also managed to, impressively, allow just one catch – a 24-yarder to Chris Getzlaf in garbage time – whereas starting FS Macho Harris allowed two touchdowns to Cory Watson when the Eskimos visited Winnipeg a few weeks ago. Harris is still an upgrade over the Canadian rookie at this point in his career, but Loffler should remain a legitimate option to complete the Bombers’ seven starting Canadians while RT Pat Neufeld is out.
3. Khalil Bass: It’s no coincidence that Bass has had a considerably larger impact on the defense since he’s been allowed to play linebacker rather than basically playing defensive tackle, aligning head-up on an offensive lineman on the line-of-scrimmage on first-down. Bass’ best two games of the 2016 campaign have come in the last two weeks, with Richie Hall attacking the run-threat of Jerome Messam and John White differently than in past games this season. He showed great anticipation and took good angles to the ball against the Eskimos on Thursday, but made two really huge plays in second quarter on John White in the hole, absolutely laying a lick on the start runner at the 12:13 mark, and then doing a great job scraping from the back-side to the cut-back lane at the 6:22 mark, making another physical stop. While Bass played a huge role in limiting White to just 8 yards rushing, he was better than usual in pass-coverage, making a great play to quickly change directions and instinctively pick up – and knock-down – Derel Walker’s crossing route later in the second-half.
(Just missed: LB Ian Wild, CB Terrance Frederick, C Mathias Goossen)
1. Justin Cole: Yes, the Bombers still have a huge hole in their defense at front-side defensive end. Shayon Green, though he easily had his best game against Edmonton by a mile, should have been cut two weeks ago after getting numerous chances to supply something in his starting role; former Alabama rush-end, Adrian Hubbard, did no better excluding a game-winning sack vs. Hamilton, and has since been cut; and Justin Cole’s season is certainly off to a rough start given his performance in Edmonton. Green ended up receiving more reps than Cole as the game wore on, as the latter was unable to do anything from the 3-tech position – the Bombers will often bring in three defensive ends in certain sets, with one aligning at defensive tackle – and looked ineffective on the edge. Cole looked indecisive and uncomfortable in his pass-rush techniques, which could be due to his lack of reps in practice ahead of this game. He was cut in training camp due to a major injury, and after sticking in Winnipeg for awhile to recover, he went home at some point in the regular season before only recently returning. The Edmonton game can be excused as a warm-up to get re-accustomed to live action, and he should be much better against Hamilton – the Bombers need him to be the answer.
2. Keith Shologan: If the Bombers had one disappointing free agent signing this season it’d be 30-year-old nose guard Keith Shologan. Fourth-year Canadian backup Jake Thomas has consistently out-played the former Saskatchewan Roughrider and Ottawa Redblack in passing situations, and while Shologan is better as a run-defender – Thomas has never be great against the run – he still hasn’t lived up to expectations. The Eskimos and Stampeders have likely set a precedent for attacking the Bombers’ defensive line, consistently calling their protections to the side of Euclid Cummings in four-man fronts with no immediate blitzing threats, even if Cummings’ side of the alignment is the weak-side. The Bombers need Shologan to win those 1-on-1 match-ups to take the pressure off of Cummings.
3. Stanley Bryant: Winnipeg’s premiere left tackle certainly played his worst game of the season against two struggling defensive ends in Willis and Howard. He allowed a bad sack after whiffing on a block on DB Cord Park’s blitz, and was bailed out several times by quick throws from Nichols. The Bombers will need a bounce-back game from their key free agent signing in 2015 against Hamilton’s John Chick, who’s playing at a much higher than level than anyone on the Esks’ defensive line.
(Just missed: WR Rory Kohlert, SB Gerrard Shephard, FS Brendan Morgan, CB C.J. Roberts)
BUY: Nichols played good, but Edmonton’s struggling defense was the biggest factor. His stat-line – 26/33 for 304 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs – would say otherwise, but Nichols was rather average against the Eskimos, which is still better than Drew Willy has ever been in 2016. The Eskimos’ defense is nearing 2015-like Roughriders’ ineptitude, and the newly-appointed Bombers’ starter more of less took simply took what the defense gave him. Pat Watkins stood no chance covering emerging wideout Darvin Adams, while both of their halfbacks, Marcell Young and Cord Parks, were simply terrible in this game. A dominant rushing attack helped the offense dramatically, but there’s no denying that Nichols certainly did his job distributing the football to his play-makers. And the best news? Nichols, who isn’t necessarily known as a mentally-tough quarterback, never got down on himself, and also responded to the little adversity he faced. It was refreshing to see the Bombers’ offense under Nichols respond to Edmonton’s third quarter touchdown drive with a six-point drive of their own. The Eskimos – Nichols’ old team who traded him away for virtually nothing- were the perfect team for the six-year veteran to start his stint as the starter against.
SELL: Kyle Walters’ team is still plagued by a lack of depth. The Bombers have had razor-thin depth in the past from the 2012 season to the end of the 2014 season, but that’s no longer much of a pressing issue anymore. Walters has drafted his Canadians exceptionally well, and the scouting department is beginning to actually find their own International players. OK, so finding defensive backs has never been an issue for the U.S. talent-finders in recent years, but holding the CFL’s leading passer to under 300 yards and no touchdowns until garbage time with four backup defensive backs is ludicrous. LG Travis Bond, meanwhile, provided an instant spark off the two-man reserve, while SB Thomas Mayo has been solid when his number is called. Oh, and Matt Nichols is a solid backup – well, now starting – quarterback.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: RB Andrew Harris
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: DE Jamaal Westerman
Credit to DailyNorseman.com for the format