Defenses reigned supreme in the CFL Western Final. 2 Key factors stood as the primary reason for the Blue Bombers Victory. The Blue Bombers’ effectiveness in the pass rush and the Lions’ neglecting to run the football.
BC Lions’ Tibo Debaillie Interview Ahead of West Division Finals
Reflecting on the CFL West Semi-Finals
Alouettes’ Jeshrun Antwi Interview Ahead of East Finals
East Semi-Finals Reflections
Alouettes’ Reggie Stubblefield Interview Ahead of East Semi-Finals
BC Lions’ Tibo Debaillie Ahead of CFL West Semi-Finals
Predicting the Rest of the CFL Season
CFL 2nd Period All-Star Team (Weeks 8-14)
CFL Midseason All-Star Team, Awards
First Period CFL and Divisional All-Stars
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Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Most Sacks in a CFL Playoff Game in 31 Years
At times Vernon Adams Jr. was holding on to the ball for too long but this was a result of good coverage from the defense. Winnipeg had 9 sacks on Saturday which tied the all-time CFL record for most sacks in a playoff game and was the most in the last 31 years.
The pressure was highly impactful and executed in such a way to keep Vernon Jackson Jeffcoat, Jake Thomas, and Willie Jefferson all had a pass knocked down at the line. 4 of the sacks came from the defensive line group, 4 sacks from the linebackers, and 1 sack from the defensive back group.
Brady Oliveira Had a Huge Game, At First
Brady Oliveira finished the day with 21 carries for 109 yards and a touchdown (5.2 average). Winnipeg’s first drive took 7 minutes off the clock in large part due to Brady’s rushing abilities. This possession time may have been a factor in BC later going away from their own run game as it can create a sense of running out of time.
Oliveira’s first run was a 15-yard gain despite there not being a big hole at the line. His 2nd run was 10 yards up to the left using his arm to stay off the ground for an extra 2 yards to pick up the first down. On the third run, he fought for extra yards on a 10-yard carry. His touchdown was an 8-yard score thanks to some help from his teammates helping shove him forward. He closed out the first quarter with a 15-yard run in which he had a linebacker holding on to him for the last 7 yards. Oliveira’s first run of the 2nd quarter saw him break 2 tackles for a 16-yard gain.
Up to that point, Oliveira had rushed for 96 yards on 11 carries, 8.7 yards per carry, and only had 1 rush under 4 yards. BC’s run stopping at this point flipped a switch and prevented Oliveira from rushing for more than 4 yards on a rush the rest of the game. Oliveira had only 13 yards on his last 10 carries averaging 1.3 yards per carry over that span.
Oliveira came into the game ready to make an immediate impact and his first 11 carries greatly shaped the landscape of the match and how people will remember it.
Zach Collaros Did Just Enough
It was not a particularly impressive day from the reigning back-to-back MOP as he completed 14 of his 21 passes for 158 yards. His 7.5 yards per attempt is not what people are used to seeing out of him following another great season in which he had 10.1 yards per attempt. His longest throw of the day was arguably his easiest as Kenny Lawler was completely open 29 yards downfield due to a bust in coverage.
Collaros’ performance was rather pedestrian in the West Final which was won thanks to a combination of strong running early on in the game, a complete defensive clinic, and a fantastic special teams touchdown by Nick Hallett.
Winnipeg’s offensive line did their job keeping the pressure limited by the Lions’ standards in the pass rush department. By my count, Mathieu Betts was held to 2 QB hurries in this game which is quite a contrast to his 8 QB hurries in the West Semi-Finals against Calgary. Collaros was pressured periodically and remained composed, extending the play at times. Additionally, having 0 interceptions against a team that averaged 0.83 interceptions per game is a positive.
The 13th Man Had a Great Game
The Winnipeg fans did a great job making a lot of crowd noise to limit the BC’s ability to communicate on offense. BC had an illegal procedure penalty on the first drive and it was visually apparent that it was making communicating difficult. There was a play in which Lucky Whitehead appeared to be asking what the play was ahead of the snap before seemingly choosing his own route due to not being able to hear. The Blue Bombers fans did their part in cultivating a strong home-field advantage that most CFL teams would love to have. The Bombers fans played a great game for a strong football team that deserves it.
Kenny Lawler Played Like Kenny Lawler
Lawler led the Bombers in receiving and finished with 6 catches on 8 targets for 83 yards. Lawler had a remarkable catch near the sideline in which he got his elbow down on the ground just before his momentum carried him out of bounds. A good portion of his catches came with Garry Peters covering him who is one of if not the best cornerback in the CFL.
Sergio Castillo’s Misses Were Uncharacteristic
Castillo missing from 46 wide right and hitting the right side of the goal post from 34 yards was surprising. The miss particularly from the 34-yard range was out of character for Castillo who made 90.2% of his field goals and made all of his attempts from within 40 yards. Castillo is heading back to Hamilton for another Grey Cup which is where he went 5 for 5 in the 2021 Grey Cup despite it being an extremely windy football game.
BC’s Creative Fleaflicker
BC ran a creative flea flicker play in which Vernon Adams Jr. flipped the ball to Taquan Mizzell, who flipped the ball to Alexander Hollins who then flipped it back again to Vernon Adams Jr who was dropped back ready to pass. I love the creative play design with lots of movement and misdirection, however, I do not like it against Winnipeg’s playoff pass rush. It took 3 seconds for Vernon Adams Jr. to be in a position to pass just to take an 8-yard sack.
An Absolute Nightmare Game for The Lions
This game likely felt like a waking nightmare for the Lions and their fans. Keon Hatcher getting injured early into the Lions’ second possession was a huge loss. In addition to being a CFL All-Star this season, Hatcher was also 2nd in receiving yards this past season at 1,226 and was first in yards per game at 87.6.
TJ Lee was a CFL All-Star on the defensive side at halfback and was excellent all year long. Lee was injured early into the Bombers’ second possession and did not return to the game. Both of those losses are key pieces of BC as a football team suddenly being unavailable early in a playoff game.
For the Lions, it would only get worse. Vernon Adams Jr. appeared to injure his knee when he was sacked early into the 2nd quarter. The next play BC punts from deep in their own end and it is blocked and returned for a touchdown.
BC’s next offensive series opens awkwardly as Taquan Mizzell is tripped up over his teammate’s legs ending a run play at 4 yards despite it looking to have strong potential. On 2nd down Willie Jefferson blocks a pass and it is intercepted by Kyrie Wilson despite him being face masked which only made the field position better for Winnipeg as they got the ball at BC’s 33-yard line.
The Late First Half Touchdown Made It a Game Again
With 4 seconds left, BC ran a low percentage play to try to get back in the game as they trailed 3-18. Adams threw up a prayer into the endzone and it was deflected and caught by Justin McInnis for a lucky touchdown to put BC with 8 points of the Bombers before halftime. It was an essential moment for the Lions that brought them back into the game.
Tough Day for Vernon Adams Jr.
Vernon Adams Jr. definitely made some good plays throughout the game, such as a 23-yard pass to Alexander Hollins down the right sideline in the face of pressure. He completed 13 of his 26 passes for 221 yards and 1 touchdown with 3 interceptions. Without the 45-yard touchdown which involved some luck at the end of the first half, he would have only had 176 yards.
It was a game filled with obstacles such as losing a top receiver, playing through pain in his knee, and playing without a run game, 9 sacks. He was even knocked to the ground on BC’s first run play. Regardless, BC needed a stronger performance from him.
I believe this was a game in which the Winnipeg defense played well rather than Vernon Adams Jr. playing poorly.
BC’s Decision to Not Run The Football Lost the Game
A lot of people will remember this as a game in which BC failed to run the football however what BC really failed to do was to even attempt to run the football. The Lions ran 36 passing plays but gave the ball to their running back only 5 times. It was a strong year overall by the BC Lions’ coaching staff but unfortunately, the management of the run game was an area needing improvement at various points in the season and it came to a head in the Western Final.
Taquan Mizzell finished the game with 37 yards on 5 carries (7.4 average). Granted the average is inflated by a 22-yard run with some space up the right side on his first carry of the game, but it’s a great average nonetheless. He was only under 4 yards on a carry twice. In the first quarter, Adam Bighill tackled him on a 3-yard gain and Kyrie Wilson held him to 1 yard on a rush in the third quarter.
After the 1-yard gain in the 2nd quarter with 4 and a half minutes left, the Lions did not run a single run play for the entire rest of the game. They played the last 34 minutes of football without a run play despite their running back producing at a rate of 7.4 yards per carry.
I hate to say it, but the truth is that if you play an entire 2nd half of football without a run play you do not deserve to win. Winnipeg has an extremely smart defensive coordinator in Richie Hall and the Lions played right into his hands. Winnipeg recognized the play call tendencies that they did not need to be concerned about watching for the run game and put all the gas into the pass rush. In the first 26 minutes of the game, Vernon Adams Jr. was sacked 2 times. In the 34 minutes of the game that BC decided to completely abandon the run game in, the Lions gave up 7 sacks.
The Lions trailed only 10-18 at halftime and were 10-21 after the third quarter. It was a game that was within reach for almost the entirety of the game, which made abandoning the run all the more befuddling.
Using VA in Short Yardage in the 4th quarter
Vernon Adams Jr. was clearly playing through pain in his knee following a sack in the 2nd quarter. The BC Lions’ decision to use Venon Adams Jr. as the short-yardage quarterback in the 4th quarter was a highly questionable decision given the fact he was already playing hurt. The Lions have Dominique Davis who has proven to be reliable for this exact play. Putting Adams Jr. in a position to have his leg pulled around when he is already injured and has taken 7 sacks at that point made no sense.
BC’s Run Defense Made the Proper Adjustments
Brady Oliveira took all of the momentum as he rushed for 96 yards on his first 11 carries and a touchdown. BC was a different team in stopping the run on Oliveira’s final 10 carries as he was limited to 13 yards (1.3 yards per carry). Josh Woods led the way in the run-stopping department finishing with 4 run stops and 2 run-stop assists. BC did a remarkable job stopping Oliveira over the final 40 minutes of the game which is a tall order. However, with how limiting Winnipeg’s defensive play was for the Lions’ those stops needed to begin earlier in the match.
Special Teams Had Some Great Performances
Sean Whyte made both of his field goals including a 48-yarder.
Stefan Flintoft averaged 45 yards per punt over 5 punts. He had a great punt in the first quarter dropping it in right on the 5-yard line on a 40-yard punt. He frequently placed them in areas that were very difficult to return from. Flintoft even completed a pass for 9 yards on a fake punt to Patrice Rene for a first down. Rene also made a good special team tackle in the third quarter.
Terry Williams looked good in all of his returns as he averaged 30 yards per kickoff return over 3 returns and had a 14-yard punt return. Marcus Sayles had a 21-yard punt return and Lucky Whitehead had a 19-yard punt return.
Winnipeg’s Defensive Play
Seeing so many players from this position group have multiple QB hurries is a testament to what a strong game Winnipeg had in the pass rush. Some of them are in part caused by strong play from the secondary preventing receivers from getting open.
Jackson Jeffcoat and Willie Jefferson both had 2 sacks, 3 QB hurries, and both batted down a pass at the line. Jeffcoat and Jefferson playing at a high level might be the biggest constant of the Bombers’ postseason success over the past 4 seasons. It’s not even the first playoff game they both had 2 sacks or more. In the 2019 Grey Cup Jeffcoat had 2 sacks and Jefferson had 3.
Ricky Walker and Cameron Lawson both had 3 QB hurries. Jake Thomas and Thiadric Hansen both had 2 QB hurries. Thomas also batted a pass down at the line.
Kyrie Wilson was impactful in this win. In addition to his three tackles, he had 2 QB hurries, a sack, a run stop, and an interception catching a pass that was deflected at the line by Willie Jefferson.
Brian Cole had a sack and a stop against the pass. Malik Clements had 2 sacks and a QB hurry.
Adam Bighill had a QB hurry and a run stop but left the game near the end of the 2nd quarter with what appeared to be a right knee injury.
It was a strong game from the defensive back group for Winnipeg. Evan Holm had a strong 4th quarter as he broke up a pass to Rhymes late in the game and also broke up a pass in the final minute. BC’s final offensive play resulted in an interception for Holm.
Brandon Alexander broke up a pass targeting McInnis in the 2nd quarter.
Deatrick Nichols had a tackle on a short pass forcing BC to punt in the 2nd quarter and also broke up a short pass.
Redha Kramdi got the QB quickly on a blitz for a sack in the third quarter. He also had 4 tackles and a run stop.
Demerio Houston jumped a route for an interception in the 4th quarter.
Nick Hallett blocked a punt and recovered it himself before taking it 15 yards for a touchdown.
BC’s Defensive Play
Marcus Moore had the most tackles in this group with 3, 2 of which were run stops. Moore also assisted with a run stop. Moore held Oliveira to 0 yards on a 2nd and goal from BC’s 3-yard line with Bo Lokombo and Josh Woods helping as well.
Sione Teuhema had a sack in the second quarter getting past the line and a receiver who was in pass protection. He also assisted with a run stop.
Francis Bemiy had a QB hurry and had a great run stop in the 2nd quarter keeping Oliveira to 0 yards and had 2 tackles.
Tibo Debaillie had a runstop against Augstine keeping him to 2 yards in the 2nd quarter and had a QB hurry in the third quarter which resulted in an incompletion.
Woody Baron had a sack and 4QB hurries. David Menard had a QB hurry and assisted with a run stop. Josh Banks also assisted with a run stop.
Mathieu Betts had 2 QB hurries. Betts had 8 QB hurries in the previous week by my count so Winnipeg’s pass protection deserves a lot of credit in this matchup.
Josh Woods was highly impactful and had the most tackles of anyone in either the Eastern or Western Division Final this past weekend with 12. He also had 4 run stops, assisted with 2 run stops, and made a stop against the pass. In the fourth quarter, he kept Brady to 0 yards on a stop.
Bo Lokombo had 4 tackles, and 2 run stops, and assisted a run stop as well. He had a run stop for a 0-yard gain in the 1st quarter. He also stopped Prukop on a rush from the 3-yard line on 2nd and goal in the 2nd quarter. Lokombo also blitzed in the 2nd quarter and knocked down a pass when doing so.
Manny Rugamba had 2 tackles and broke up 2 passes in the end zone. His first breakup was an improbable Cobra Kai-style breakup as he was falling his foot kicked the ball away from Lawler. He broke up a pass to Demski in the 2nd quarter.
Isaiah Messam had a tackle and a QB hurry. Ryder Varga assisted with a run stop and an assisted with a stop against the pass.
Garry Peters had a difficult assignment as he was on Kenny Lawler much of the game. Lawler did have some good pickups at times but never any moments in which the coverage was not good from Peters. Peters had 4 tackles and assisted with a stop against the pass.
Adrian Green and Marcus Sayles both had 3 tackles. Sayles stopped Oliveira on a run holding him to yards. In the third quarter, Sayles made a very good run stop blitzing from the right side and then tackling Oliveira from behind holding him to 1 yard on the carry.
TJ Lee had 2 tackles but left the game early on the Bombers’ second offensive possession due to injury.
Mike Jones had a tackle which was a stop against the pass. Quincy Mauger provided good coverage on a deep shot to Rasheed Bailey on a play that resulted in an incompletion in the endzone in the third quarter.
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