The offence has certainly been front and centre this season but the backbone of unbeaten Winnipeg’s stellar start has been the Blue Bombers’ defence.
Quarterback Matt Nichols completed a club-record 19 straight passes Friday night as Winnipeg (5-0) earned a dominant 31-1 home win over the Ottawa Redblacks (2-3). Nichols finished 25-of-29 passing for 295 yards and two TDs while Andrew Harris had 131 offensive yards and a TD on 19 touches.
Harris, the CFL’s leading rusher last year and chasing a third straight 1,000-yard campaign, is third overall with 441 yards but is averaging a gaudy 6.1 yards per carry. And Nichols is 93-of-127 passing on the season (73.2 per cent) for 1,150 yards with a league-high 12 touchdown passes and just one interception.
But consider that Winnipeg’s defence allowed just 205 yards and held Ottawa to 10-of-28 passing for 102 yards with two interceptions, one returned for a TD by Winston Rose. The Bombers had three sacks and two forced fumbles while essentially pitching a shutout as punter Richie Leone had the Redblacks’ lone point.
Winnipeg hasn’t surrendered a rushing TD this year and just four offensive scores overall. The Bombers are allowing just 16 points and 13.2 offensive points per game, both league lows.
Winnipeg is tied with Calgary for most turnovers forced (17) but has the league’s best turnover ratio at plus-nine. The Bombers are also ranked first against the run (59.2 yards per game) although CFL stats guru Steve Daniels might have a good reason why.
Daniels notes Winnipeg hasn’t trailed in four straight games — the first time it’s done that since the final four contests of the ‘81 campaign — and been behind for just 9:24 the entire season. Subsequently, with teams having to play catchup, they’re more lineky to abandon the run against the Bombers in favour of passing.
That could explain why Winnipeg is ranked fifth against the pass (278.8 yards per game) yet the defence has only given up four TDs through the air, second only to Hamilton (two). And consider the Bombers have been minus linebacker Adam Bighill, the league’s top defensive player last season, their last two games.
Bighill is expected to return Friday night when Winnipeg visits Hamilton (4-1) in a battle of division leaders. The Tiger-Cats lead the CFL in scoring (37.4 points per game) and offensive points (31.4) and are tied with the Bombers for most TDs scored (21).
And with Nichols having completed his last 19 passes versus Ottawa, his streak will carry over against Hamilton. Should Nichols complete his next five pass attempts, he’ll break the league mark of 23 straight completions held by Ticats starter Jeremiah Masoli.
ALOUETTES ROLLING: The Montreal Alouettes hit their bye week on quite a roll.
Montreal (3-2) has reeled off three straight wins, the latest being a solid 20-10 home victory over Edmonton on Saturday. The Eskimos opened the season with a 32-25 win over the Alouettes at Commonwealth Stadium.
Quarterback Vernon Adams has completed 52-of-77 passes (67.5 per cent) for 720 yards with three TDs and no interceptions during the streak. He’s also rushed for 145 yards and three touchdowns and was on the receiving end of Eugene Lewis’s 21-yard scoring strike against Edmonton.
Montreal’s offence has held the ball for over 33 minutes, on average, during the streak. Now, the Alouettes had possession for over 36 minutes in their 41-10 road loss to Hamilton on June 28 but have since done a much better job of capitalizing on scoring chances.
And under interim head coach/offensive co-ordinator Khari Jones, Montreal has tried to be balanced offensively. They’ve averaged 181 yards on the ground over the three victories and Williams Stanback leads the CFL in rushing (504 yards, 6.7-yard average, four TDs).
Montreal’s defence has also done its share. After registering no sacks in the first two contests, the unit had four in the opening two victories then added two interceptions — the first against Edmonton quarterback Trevor Harris this season — in the win over the Eskimos.
ONE-MAN SHOW: Cody Fajardo threw for 278 yards and two TDs and scored another while Shaquelle Evans had five catches for 158 yards and a TD. But it was hard to overlook Charleston Hughes’ contribution to the Saskatchewan Roughriders 38-25 win over the B.C. Lions on Saturday.
Hughes had three of Saskatchewan’s four sacks, a game-high 10 tackles and two forced fumbles in the contest. The 35-year-old Hughes, in his 12th CFL season, boosted his league-leading sacks total to eight.
It’s certainly early, but Hughes is on pace for a career year. His single-season best is 18 sacks registered with Calgary in 2013.
Hughes has recorded double-digit sacks four straight seasons and seven times in the last eight years.
DAVIS STILL OUT: Life isn’t about to get any easier for Jonathon Jennings.
Jennings struggled Friday night in his first start with Ottawa, completing 6-of-15 passes for 45 yards and an interception in a lopsided 31-1 loss to Winnipeg. Jennings is expected to get a second straight start Thursday night when the Redblacks host the Calgary Stampeders.
Incumbent Dominique Davis missed last week’s game due to an unspecified injury and reportedly won’t be ready to face Calgary. The Redblacks mustered just 205 offensive yards versus Winnipeg, including 102 yards passing.
Calgary (3-2) forced seven turnovers, including four interceptions, in its 26-16 home win over Toronto last week. The Argos did muster 417 offensive yards but the Stampeders also registered four sacks.
Ottawa defeated Calgary 32-28 on June 15 at McMahon Stadium with both Davis and Bo Levi Mitchell under centre for their respective teams. Mitchell is currently on the six-game injured list with backup Nick Arbuckle set to make a fourth straight start.