The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Edmonton Elks 24-10 Friday night at Commonwealth Stadium. Below are my thoughts on the game.
Bend but don’t break
The Blue Bombers had a bad game in Edmonton, but came away with a win thanks to the strength of their defence. The unit prevented the Elks from scoring a touchdown, advancing the ball within 15 yards of the end zone, or generating a play over 25 yards.
Winnipeg’s front seven feasted on Edmonton’s offensive line in the first half with Casey Sayles, LB Mack, Cameron Lawson, Les Maruo and Adam Bighill each recording sacks. The defense rallied on the football all night, punishing opposing receivers with hard, clean shots, including a Malcolm Thompson shot that forced Kenny Lawler to momentarily leave the game.
Bighill was all over the place (as always) and led the team with six tackles. Willie Jefferson knocked down three passes – one of which resulted in a turnover on downs – and Malik Clements tipped a pass that was intercepted by Deatrick Nichols.
Allowing long drives is far from optimal – Winnipeg’s defense was on the field for nearly two-thirds of the game – but wins and losses are determined by what’s on the scoreboard. Given the circumstances, giving up just 10 points was a remarkable effort by the club’s defense and the only reason the Blue Bombers are still unbeaten.
Zach off track
Zach Collaros had arguably his worst game as a member of the Blue Bombers, completing seven of 16 passes for 188 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
The offense only managed 11:58 of possession time through the first three quarters and spat multiple times. Two of Collaros’ completions went for touchdowns — his 81-yard bomb to Dalton Schoen was unbelievable — but the aerial offense appeared almost entirely out of sync.
“We have to perform at a higher level,” Collaros told CJOB after the match. “We are going to celebrate tonight, but we have to get much better.”
The offense finally clicked in the fourth quarter as it chewed 9:33 on a game-winning touchdown, though it was helped by a contact-kicker penalty against Makana Henry. The drive was capped off with a two-yard run from backup quarterback Dru Brown, who was initially pushed aside before the play was reviewed by the command center.
Collaros turned to Greg Ellingson early and often in last week’s win over the Stampeders, targeting him a season-high 14 times. The strategy paid off — he had a career day, making 11 catches for 148 yards — but it hardly seemed sustainable. With Ellingson out of the lineup this week due to a hip injury, Collaros has targeted Schoen nine times, accounting for more than half of his total pass attempts.
Rasheed Bailey looked set to have a flash game when he caught a 26-yard touchdown pass on Winnipeg’s second possession. He had just one more reception for 11 yards on the night, continuing what quickly became a disappointing season for the third-year receiver.
The receiving corps will likely be different next week – more on that in a moment – but with so little ball spread over the past two weeks, I’m starting to wonder how much Collaros trusts his secondary receivers.
For those wondering, the last time a CFL team won a game in which they had seven assists or less was on August 23, 2019, when Chris Streveler had seven assists in a victory of 34-28 against Edmonton.
I picked Edmonton to win Friday night largely because I felt it was a trap game for the Blue Bombers. The Elks hadn’t won at home since Oct. 12, 2019, and Winnipeg was coming off two great performances against two quality West Division opponents.
I defended the choice on Winnipeg Sports Talk with Andrew Paterson on Thursday trying to say, “I’m ready to eat my own words.” I misspoke and instead said, “I’m ready to eat my own hat.”
I tried cutting carbs from my diet, but I guess I have a baseball cap to eat. Do baseball caps contain carbs? MyFitnessPal doesn’t seem to know.
It could have been worse. Danny Austin from Calgary Sun pledged to tattoo Chris Jones’ face on his own face if Winnipeg lost. Alas, no such tattoo will happen.
Kenny Lawler had a solid game against his former team, making seven catches for 98 yards despite a few missed plays after a big hit from Malcolm Thompson. It was nice to see so many of his former coaches and teammates hug him before the game, illustrating the genuine bonds that formed during his tenure in Winnipeg.
Edmonton made Lawler the league’s highest-paid non-quarterback with a contract worth $300,000 in 2022, beating Winnipeg’s offer by about $120,000. I want it on record that, like Lawler, I would be happy to work for any potential employer willing to beat my current salary of $120,000.
Brady Oliveira easily had his best game of the season, rushing 13 times for 62 yards. It was far from a jaw-dropping performance, but he showed some of the power he’s been missing so far this season. It will be interesting to see if he can maintain some momentum next week and relieve the club’s passing game.
Wounded on foot
Carlton Agudosi went down early in the fourth quarter after his left ankle was wrapped in a block. He left the field unable to put weight on his left foot. Agudosi caught two touchdown passes on his CFL debut in last week’s win over the Calgary Stampeders, but didn’t have a reception against the Elks.
Nic Demski has now missed four games with an ankle injury and won’t be able to return to the lineup soon enough. Will he be back? I guess the answer is yes.
The Blue Bombers are 7-0 for the first time since 1960. Not all wins this year have been pretty, but I’m sure it was the same for the team 62 years ago. . People always end up forgetting how teams won games – they just remember How many they won.
We recently discussed Taylor Cornelius on the 3DownNation Podcast and expressed doubts about his effectiveness as Edmonton’s starting quarterback.
The sophomore setter proved me wrong – to some degree, anyway. He showed impressive mobility for his size — he rushed 19 times for 79 yards on two starts — and protected the ball well. He threw two interceptions, of course, but both were knocked down before being taken out.
Cornelius still has accuracy issues which seem to get worse the closer he gets to the end zone. That wasn’t true last week against Montreal, but it was certainly true Friday night. He needs to find a way to target his receptors a little more effectively.
I’m curious to see what the Elks do after Canadian quarterback Tre Ford is ready to return from a shoulder injury in the next week or two. He played very well for a rookie straight out of U Sports but Cornelius is probably a bit more advanced in his development.
Bring your program
Chris Jones has made significant changes to his roster every week since the start of the season. Nyles Morgan made his season debut after completing a six-game stint on the injured list and became the sixth different Edmonton player to start at center linebacker this year after Adam Konar, Deon Lacey, Brady Sheldon , Ben Davis and Tre Watson.
The Elks started three quarterbacks, three running backs, nine receivers, seven offensive linemen, eleven defensive linemen, seven linebackers and eleven defensive backs for a total of 51 different starters. For comparison, the Blue Bombers have started 32 different players. Wow.
put a ring on it
Sergio Castillo received his 2021 Gray Cup ring ahead of Friday’s game, which he won after being acquired by Winnipeg late last season. The charismatic kicker scored five of five in the 33-25 overtime win over Hamilton and arguably should have been named the game’s most valuable player.
Castillo could earn as much as $158,000 this year in Edmonton depending on how many incentives he gets. He has made 18 of 23 field goal attempts this season (78.3%) with a length of 52 yards while performing punt duties intermittently.
Marc Liegghio posted better numbers in his second season in the CFL, making 16 of 18 field goal attempts (88.9%) while serving as Winnipeg’s full-time punter.
Windspeaker Media covered Friday’s game in Nêhiyawêwin (Cree), making it the first CFL game ever broadcast in an Indigenous language. O Canada was performed in Nêhiyawêwin and English, Treaty Six First Nations Grand Chief George Arcand Jr. performed the toss, and the halftime featured an Indigenous performance.
This is what inclusion looks like. The CFL belongs to all of us and it’s great that the Elks have chosen to celebrate and showcase Indigenous culture.
It’s a real shame there weren’t more fans to enjoy it with an announced crowd of just 22,716. For reference, Edmonton averaged 30,321 fans per game in 2019.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers (7-0) will meet the Calgary Stampeders (4-1) at McMahon Stadium next Saturday with kickoff scheduled for 6:00 p.m. CDT. The Stamps are currently resting, which means they will have had plenty of time to rewatch the footage of last week’s 26-19 loss at IG Field.
The Blue Bombers will win the season series if they beat Calgary, which is essential in a very competitive West Division. If the Stamps win, the season series will be decided when the teams meet for a third and final regular season game on Thursday, Aug. 25 in Winnipeg.