Bombers dominate Lions to remain best in the West (and seven more thoughts)

Photo courtesy: Paul Yates/BC Lions

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the BC Lions 43-22 on Saturday night at BC Place Stadium. Below are my thoughts on the game.

Vanilla becomes thrilla

BC Lions defensive back Marcus Sayles called Winnipeg’s offense “vanilla” this week, which seemed like a fair enough assessment. The unit had a poor start to the season, struggling to generate ground distance and relying mostly on short runs to move the ball through the air.

Rookie receiver Dalton Schoen told CJOB after the game that Sayles’ comments added to Winnipeg’s motivation “for sure”, saying the comments “hurt”. The Blue Bombers played in Vancouver just five days after beating the Toronto Argonauts on the road, so being able to rally around bulletin board material may have reinvigorated an otherwise tired team.

Zach Collaros had his best game of the season, delivering the ball with precision and using his legs to move the pocket. He was anything but vanilla, making a sensational dive at Schoen to convert a key second midway through the third quarter. He was also effective in the red zone, coming away with a touchdown each time he led Winnipeg’s offense inside BC’s 25-yard line.

Nathan Rourke was the early favorite to win MVP this year, but the reigning MOP outshot him in Vancouver, completing 76.7% of his passes for 288 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. It wasn’t Collaros’ best single-game performance based on passing count — he threw for 302 yards against Hamilton — but it was his most complete effort of the season.

Winnipeg’s run game finally came to life against the Lions as Brady Oliveira and Johnny Augustine rushed 19 times for a season-high 96 yards. The club entered Saturday’s game averaging a league-worst 3.9 yards per carry but managed to gain 4.9 yards per carry against the Lions. It’s still not a sensational number, but it’s a step in the right direction.

When asked if Winnipeg would celebrate the win with vanilla ice cream, star defensive end Willie Jefferson said he’d prefer something else.

“We don’t do vanilla,” Jefferson said. “We want chocolate cups.”

Taken for Grant-ed

Janarion Grant returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown, which was the perfect time for the once-dominant running back to rediscover his game. short week — especially on the road — and Grant’s return set the tone for Winnipeg to claim a fifth straight win.

Blocking was solid across the board, but Redha Kramdi, Mike Miller and Shayne Gauthier made particularly impressive blocks to help Grant get out on the wide side of the court. The speedster followed his blocks brilliantly and found his way to the end zone completely intact.

“We’ve been waiting for this,” Willie Jefferson told CJOB. “We know Janarion has the ability to break big plays like that.”

Grant returned another kickoff for a touchdown late in the second quarter, but was called up for a waiting penalty on Malik Clements. The call was legitimate, although it took place relatively far from where Grant returned the ball near the touchline.

BC began to smash their kickoffs after Grant’s second big comeback, which allowed Winnipeg to start some practice near midfield. Choosing not to kick deep is one of the best compliments a team can give an opposition return specialist, although it would have been nice to see Grant given the chance to continue his hot streak.

mane attraction

In case there’s still any doubt, Nathan Rourke is clearly a legit CFL quarterback.

The 24-year-old faced pressure from a three-man Winnipeg defense when he hit Josh Pearson for a 66-yard touchdown pass late in the second quarter. Winston Rose was a step behind the rookie receiver and Rourke took full advantage, placing the ball perfectly on his shoulder for the score.

Winnipeg defensive coordinator Richie Hall blitzed BC’s next practice, sending seven rushers after the young setter. Rourke responded well, quickly throwing a 36-yard pass that Dominique Rhymes knocked down for a touchdown against Nick Taylor.

Hall has been in the CFL for over 30 years as a player and assistant coach and hasn’t been able to make life miserable for the young setter. The defense still cheated Rourke at times — defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat made a deft interception after moving back into zone coverage — but Rourke held firm against a strong unit.

Rourke finished the game completing 64% of his passes for 278 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Winnipeg’s defense also deserves credit for keeping Rourke in the pocket, as the dual-threat passer didn’t register a single run attempt.

Enjoy the Schoen

It seems like a foregone conclusion that Nathan Rourke will win Most Outstanding Canadian this year, but how about Dalton Schoen winning Most Outstanding Rookie? The Kansas State product had eight catches for 117 yards and two touchdowns against BC and often looked like a first read in the red zone.

The six-foot-one, 218-pound target now has 21 receptions for 333 yards and three touchdowns in five career CFL games. He ranks third in the league in receiving yards behind Malik Henry of Calgary and Eugene Lewis of Montreal and is tied for first in touchdown receptions alongside four others.

Schoen has been targeted consistently all season, but he may now be Zach Collaros’ favorite receiver, especially since Nic Demski was dropped due to injury.

“He’s definitely a pro beyond his years,” head coach Mike O’Shea said. “He doesn’t look like a kid, he looks like a seasoned veteran.”

I’ve dressed Schoen in fantasy every week, which is a big part of why I’m ranked 21st in our 3DownNation league. He’s only $2,500 over the salary cap — the minimum amount — though that could change after his breakthrough game in Vancouver.

Lucky who?

Demerio Houston recently won the starting position at borderline cornerback and had a great game against Lucky Whitehead. The star receiver finished the game with just two catches for 14 yards on four targets, all of which were new season lows.

Whitehead has ridiculed many of the league’s top defensive backs over the past two seasons but played no part on Saturday, finishing the game as BC’s fifth-best receiver.

Houston also recovered Jevon Cottoy’s fumble in the fourth quarter and intercepted a late Michael O’Connor pass that was deflected. The young defensive back just keeps getting better.

let’s go

Marc Liegghio’s perfect start to the season came to an end when he hit the post on a 43-yard field goal attempt in the fourth quarter. He missed again moments later when he shoved in a 33-yard kick from the left, when the game was already well in hand.

The West product had his first 13 shots early in the season, including shots from 45 and 46 yards in Vancouver. He is now 13 of 15 on the season for a solid average of 86.7%.

In a weird way, late misses could help Liegghio go forward. He can now return to IG Field without being weighed down by the pressure of an ongoing streak, while fans will quickly forget Saturday’s late misses given the performance of the team as a whole.

Smoke and mirrors?

The Lions entered Saturday’s game as favorites after an impressive 3-0 start to the season but will now come under scrutiny after being outplayed at home. It’s worth noting that BC’s three wins came against modest competition – Edmonton, Toronto and Ottawa are 2-10 combined – but I still think they’re a good football team.

Rourke is the real deal and his receiving body is electric (do yourself a favor and check out Dominique Rhymes’ two touchdown catches – they were as good as you’ll see anywhere). There’s work to be done on the special teams and the offensive and defensive lines need polishing, but this club is right there with the rest of the top teams in the Western Division.

Next

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers (5-0) return home next week after a two-game road trip to host the undefeated Calgary Stampeders (4-0). The Stamps are coming off a dominating 49-6 win over the Edmonton Elks and have been playing well all season, even though their schedule has been relatively light so far.

It should be a great game featuring the two best clubs in the CFL right now. The West Division is more competitive than ever with the Saskatchewan Roughriders (4-1) and BC Lions (3-1) trailing both teams, so there’s no room for the complacency on the part of both clubs.

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