For a team looking to play their best football of the season to both solidify the second seed in the West as well as enter the playoffs at their peak potential, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ bye week could not have come at a better time.
Coming off a gutsy comeback win at BC Place Stadium, Mike O’Shea’s group especially needed the bye week to help shorten their injured lists, with several players battling week-to-week injuries and others in need of one last week to return from longer-term ailments. In the young week of practice since resuming from their break, the early returns of the bye week have been promising for the Bombers in preparation for their week 19 tilt against Ottawa.
Both weak-side linebacker Ian Wild and nickel linebacker Maurice Leggett seemed to have benefited from the week off, as the two have suited up for consecutive practices. Wild has been on and off the active roster recently, battling some sort of hindering injury. Leggett, meanwhile, also missed the Bombers’ last game despite returning late in their week 16 game after suffering a then-seemingly serious knee injury early in the second half. With the week off, Leggett’s injury is likely a thing of the past. Wild should be good to go against the Redblacks, too.
The upcoming home-and-home with Ottawa features two important games for the Blue and Gold. Of course the Bombers, who have long clinched a playoff spot, and likely won’t finish lower than third in the West, desperately want that home playoff game, but they also need to put together a complete, all-around dominating performance. That hasn’t occurred since the win over Hamilton in week 8, really.
The Bombers have yet to hit their peak in 2016. Either the defense forces an absurd amount of turnovers and the offense does enough – but nothing spectacular – in approximately a 250-yard passing game, or Matt Nichols and the offense plays great and the defense holds them back (see recent loss versus Edmonton). The latter of which has rarely taken place in 2016 – the offense has been good, not great – but seeing as the first situation has been their most common recipe to success, it’s succeeded more times than it’s caught up to bite the Bombers in the rear. Regardless, it’s time the team reached its peak, with the offense firing on all cylinders, going beyond simply benefiting from turnovers, while the defense continues their ball-hawking ways – all in the same game. That’s where they’ll need to be in the playoffs.
With the injury report looking quite favorable in return from the bye week, the time is now for the Bombers. The offense will get a significant boost in the return of Darvin Adams, who’s been out since week 6 with a collarbone injury. With newly-signed additions Weston Dressler and Ryan Smith still finding their place in the offense, and Drew Willy struggling mightily at quarterback, Adams was single-handily carrying the Bombers’ offense at one point. The Auburn University product was on a tear to start the season, accumulating 503 yards and 3 touchdowns in 6 games to open his second campaign in Winnipeg. Adams will draw in for newly-signed pass-catcher Tori Gurley at the X-position, who still needs time to perfect that play-book. Offensive coordinator Paul Lapolice, meanwhile, probably still needs more time and another game before deciding which slot-back between Clarence Denmark and Smith will be pulled from the roster to make room for Gurley down the stretch, if the Bombers do, indeed, go that route. Adams’ insertion directly into Gurley’s spot continues the recent theme of a bigger-bodied receiver at boundary wide receiver, who can stretch the field and offer their quarterback a larger catch radius on lower-percentage throws.
Along with Adams, the Bombers received more positive news from the long-term injury front, with versatile Canadian offensive lineman Patrick Neufeld returning to practice for the first time since going down in week five against Calgary. The timing couldn’t be any better for the club, as with RG Sukh Chungh on the 1-game following the win against the Lions, it means they now won’t have to… a) keep not one, but two of their bona-fide starting international receivers on the sidelines for a seventh Canadian starter so the Bombers can start a fourth American on the line in Manase Foketi… and b) press rookie Canadian Michael Couture into the starting lineup, as the Simon Fraser product has shown he needs more seasoning in a depth role before being a starter, even in a one-game scenario.
Neufeld returning to the field following the bye week in time to replace an injured starter is perfect timing, as was the bye week itself. The team needs to reach their peak potential, and it’s now late in the season. The playoffs are just around the corner.
The Blue and Gold are undoubtedly getting healthy at the right. So the question remains: will they play their best football of the season at the right time, though?