CFL Pass

Defence has been backbone of Blue Bombers' undefeated start to season

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 likely 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).

Gainer Disciplined: Gainer the Gopher is in hot water. The Saskatchewan Roughriders mascot came under fire Saturday night for his actions during the club’s 38-25 home win over the B.C. Lions. After the game, the Lions tweeted a video of Gainer walking on to the field while pulling a stuffed lion by the tail. The mascot threw, then kicked the lion before spreading its legs and grabbing it in an inappropriate spot before punting it. Some fans voiced their displeasure on social media. “We agree that Gainer took it too far during Saturday’s game against B.C. Lions,” the Riders said in a statement. “We’ve talked to Gainer about it and taken away his stuffed lion.”

Jennings to start: Life isn’t about to get any easier for quarterback Jonathon Jennings, who 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 with 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.

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