On Oct. 9, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers clinched their first playoff berth since the 2011 season. The Bombers’ win over the B.C. Lions, along with losses by Toronto and Montreal, meant that the blue and gold ended their five-year CFL playoff absence. Many things about this Blue Bombers team differ from the previous years, which is what led this team to the postseason.
Upgrade at quarterback
Matt Nichols was acquired by the Bombers last season, and saw the field quite a bit due to the injuries suffered by Drew Willy. Willy opened the 2016 season as the starting quarterback, but led the team to a dreadful 1-4 start.
After the slow start, head coach Mike O’Shea named Nichols as the week six starter, trying everything to get his team going. Nichols came in and won his first six starts, and never let go of his starting gig. The Bombers believed so much in Nichols that they traded Willy to the Argos during the season.
Nichols differs from previous quarterbacks Willy and Buck Pierce in many ways. For example, he has been able to stay healthy for the Bombers while the other two have struggled with that. Nichols also has a better arsenal of recievers to work with this year, with Weston Dressler, Clarence Denmark, and Ryan Smith backing him up.
Most importantly, Nichols has a better awareness of the happenings on the field, and is able to make the quick decisions while under pressure. Nichols has thrown for 3078 yards, 15 touchdowns, and five interceptions over the course of just 15 games. In contrast, Willy started the season by throwing five touchdowns and four interceptions through five games. In 2014, Willy’s only full season with the team, he threw 16 interceptions in 17 games, almost averaging one pick a game.
Nichols has been able to take care of the ball more efficiently than the previous quarterbacks in Winnipeg, which is a main reason that the blue and gold are heading into the playoffs.
The offensive line, led by Stanley Bryant and Sukh Chungh, has been another key to the Bombers success this season. Bryant is a CFL veteran in his seventh year, his second with the Bombers, and Chungh is in his sophomore season with the Bombers. Both men are making things happen for their team, including giving quarterback Nichols enough time in the pocket to make his throws.
Running back Andrew Harris is also benefiting from the improved offensive line, as he has run for 816 yards and four touchdowns in 13 games, and is averaging 4.7 yards per carry. This is his first season as a Bomber after five successful seasons with the Lions. Harris has brought his success from B.C. to Winnipeg, and fans love the hometown hero. Winnipeg finally has a consistent run game in Harris, and he has the improved offensive line to thank for a lot of that.
The defense has been the backbone for the blue and gold for years, and this season they have gotten better along with the offense. The scoreboard didn’t always reflect how the defense has played in the past, and with the Bombers on the losing end more often than not it was hard to see the defense playing well. The defense was on the field far too often in the previous years, with the offense unable to produce long drives – resulting in them not getting the rest they needed.
Leading the secondary for the Bombers is Maurice Leggett, who is in his third season with the team. He is tied for the league lead in interceptions at seven. With Nichols running the offence, he is able to lead the Bombers on long drives, giving the defense the rest it needs to be productive.
The wait is finally over for Bombers fans, as playoff football could come to Investors Group Field in Winnipeg on Sunday, Nov. 13.