Despite 3-0 record, Bombers haven't played best football yet
They are 3-0, have scored 12 offensive touchdowns and have allowed only one against their defence and are the trendy pick to win the 2019 Grey Cup.
But you won’t find any members of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers organization patting themselves on the back at this point in the CFL season.
“We’ve had some good success so far but I don’t think we’re playing our best football by any means,” Bombers coach Mike O’Shea said Thursday, a day ahead of a matchup with the 0-3 Toronto Argonauts at IG Field.
“Every time we run the film, the guys are understanding that they can do better. They’re not ones to rest on what they did the week before.”
The Bombers have been installed as 11.5- to 12.5-point favourites for the game against the Argos and it would be a major shock if Winnipeg were to lose, on its own home turf.
That doesn’t make it a guarantee, however.
The Bombers need to keep their game at the high level they established last Friday night in a 29-14 win over the previously unbeaten Ottawa Redblacks. The Bombers moved the ball efficiently on offence, on the ground and through the air, hit on some big plays, and shut the opposition down with stifling defence.
There were few holes in that performance and yet you get the sense this week of preparation was all about taking it to another level.
“We hold ourselves to high standards and we have high expectations for ourselves on a weekly basis,” Bombers starting quarterback Matt Nichols said. ”For us, it’s just all about getting better each week and playing better than we did the week before. Ultimately, that’s going to get you to where you want to be.
“It’s having leadership within the coaching staff and the veteran leaders that regardless of if you’re winning games or not we always expect to do better. When you have that mentality you’re going to put yourself in a good position.”
The Bombers are looking to get to 4-0 for the first time since 2003 and are closing in on a couple of defensive records. They have not allowed a touchdown by the opposition offence in the last two games, nor in the last nine quarters. If they shut out the Argos offence again, they’ll set a team record for games without giving up a touchdown and tie the record for most consecutive quarters (13) without giving up a touchdown.
The Argos have only scored three offensive touchdowns all season, but they’re best game was last week — an 18-17 loss to the B.C. Lions — and the Bombers insist they will not take the Boatmen lightly.
“They’re a talented bunch,” Nichols said. “They do have a lot of veterans out there, an explosive receiving corps, veteran coaching staff across the board that I know is going to have those guys ready to play. I’ve been in this league long enough that the records sometimes can be skewed or misleading and when you turn on the film. They’re a team that plays hard, runs around and plays all over the whistle.”
The Argos lost their first game of the season 64-14 at home against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and then fell 32-7 to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Week 3. Last week, they hung tough against the Lions but lost on a single point after a missed Lions field goal with no time on the clock.
“If you look at this last game, they had a real opportunity to win the game,” O’Shea said. “When you take portions of each and every game, they’ve had times when they were playing winning football. I think it’s a matter of time. They’re defence has improved, they’ve got a lot of weapons on offence. The only thing they haven’t done yet is put up a W. But they’ve had opportunities.”
If the Bombers really are going to be contenders for the Grey Cup this season — fans are not likely holding their breath after going 28 years already since the last Cup win — this is a game they simply can’t lose.
Maintaining focus is of the utmost importance.
“You’ve just got to attack the week as executing well and doing all the right things and not really worrying about their record,” Bombers running back Andrew Harris said. “It doesn’t matter where you stand or where they stand, it’s just about coming out and being physical and playing clean football and trying to get a win.”
Bighill a game-time decision vs. Argos
Middle linebacker Adam Bighill is on the roster and is a game-time decision for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers matchup with the Toronto Argonauts Friday night.
Bighill, who missed last week’s game against Ottawa with a reported hamstring injury, has not practised since July 3, but Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea seems unconcerned.
“That’s the plan right now,” O’Shea said when asked if Bighill will indeed play Friday rather than being a late scratch.
“You’ve heard me say, probably 100 times now — and it’s different for every guy —but guys with this much experience don’t need to practise. They know what they’re doing. They’re attending the meetings, in fact, they’re still a part of everything, taking their leadership role. So they don’t miss a beat when they get out there.”
The Bombers — with Kyrie Wilson taking over at middle linebacker — did just fine last week, so there’s no need to rush Bighill, but you get the sense the 2018 CFL most outstanding defensive players wants back in.
“Coach has been great with allowing me to have some say in how I feel and at the end of the day,” Bighill said. “I understand if he says he feels comfortable with me not playing. I’m going to prepare like I’m going to play. Even though I haven’t practised I’ve gone through a rehab protocol and I’ve been levelling up through that and feel comfortable I can do everything I want to do. It’s just, am I going to get a green light. A lot depends on how I feel (Friday), too.”
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