Winnipeg’s Uncharacteristic Week 7 Loss Calls for Chris Matthews, Better Ball Security

chris matthews
Winnipeg Blue Bombers wide receiver Lucky Whitehead (7) moves into position during Winnipeg Blue Bombers Canadian Football League action.(Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Dane Evans-led Hamilton Tiger-Cats snapped the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ five-game win streak to start the 2019 CFL season, but it was a rare bad showing and the missing presence of some Bombers, specifically Chris Matthews, that made the difference.

The Bombers’ self-inflicted turnovers, untimely injuries at receiver and lack of a ground game outweighed Hamilton’s performance. Although given Hamilton’s circumstances after losing Jeremiah Masoli, they played a solid game. Especially Hamilton’s defence.

After Drew Wolitarsky left in the fourth quarter, Winnipeg was without their three most talented receivers. Wolitarsky along with Darvin Adams and Chris Matthews were all M.I.A. from Winnipeg’s receiving corps in crunch time, leaving Winnipeg in a scramble on offence.

Winnipeg’s inexperienced receivers failed to get open throughout Friday’s game, and when you combine that with an all-around off night from quarterback Matt Nichols, failure is inevitable.

Matt Nichols Poor Accuracy, Decision Making

Simply put, Matt Nichols had a bad game. He was wildly inaccurate, wasn’t seeing the field well and didn’t make the plays his team needed him to. Nichols running out of bounds for a two-yard run with less than 30 seconds left on his own 28 sums up his play-making Friday.

And Nichols knows this, telling media after the game that he didn’t play well enough to win plus admitting he lost control of the ball on two of his interceptions.

A quarterback’s play usually dictates the outcome of football games, something that’s held up for Winnipeg in 2019. One of the top reasons for Winnipeg’s best start since 1960 was the play of Nichols.

Going into Friday Nichols had tossed 12 touchdowns and one interception in 2019. He was the league’s second-most accurate quarterback and was coming off a league-best performance according to CFPerspective’s Marshall Ferguson.

Friday night he was near opposite. Nichols’ tripled his interception total and put forth below league average numbers — even with eight easy dump-offs to Andrew Harris — in terms of Ferguson’s accuracy trackings.

Ferguson marked 27 per cent of Nichols’ 48 passes on Friday as poor, very poor or unacceptable. For comparison, 6.6 percent of Nichols’ passes versus Ottawa in Week 6 had a poor, very poor or unacceptable rating.

Unforced Turnovers Equal Tiger-Cats Points

Winnipeg’s six turnovers Friday nearly doubled the amount they had in their first five games. It’s the main reason the Bombers lost by eight points on Friday.

What stings is that Winnipeg’s errors were mostly of their own doing. Aside from their game-sealing turnovers on downs and Lucky Whitehead’s fumble, Winnipeg essentially handed Hamilton the football four times.

All three of Nichols’ interceptions were either an errant overthrow or a lousy decision, while Kenny Walker’s fumble was a muffed punt — no one forced it.

As a result, 17 of the Tabbies’ 23 points came off Winnipeg turnovers.

Chris Matthews, You’re Up

As mentioned earlier, Chris Matthews was absent from the Bombers lineup Friday at the hands of a coaching decision. While you can’t plan for injuries, healthy scratching Matthews proved costly after Winnipeg’s top two receivers both exited Friday’s game with injuries.

Winnipeg missed Matthews’ presence even more when the likes of Lucky Whitehead and Kenny Walker showed growing pains against a stronger defence and the entire corps failed to provide any downfield threat or separation.

Matthews needs to return to the lineup Thursday at Toronto, and it’s time for Winnipeg’s big offensive, free agent acquisition to show his worth after a chaotic beginning to his season.

Untimely Injuries a Factor

There are legitimate reasons why Hamilton came out victorious on Friday. Ted Laurent and Ja’Gared Davis got the better of Winnipeg’s offensive line, Hamilton took advantage of turnovers plus their defence outplayed Winnipeg’s offence.

That said, the injury card could be played by both teams.

Hamilton lost Jeremiah Masoli early, which quickly put Dane Evans up against a turnover-hungry defence. But Evans did what he needed to and committed only one turnover.

The injuries to Wolitarksy and Adams extremely limited Winnipeg’s passing game. It also made Nic Demski the only Winnipeg receiver with at least 25 CFL games under his belt.

On defence, the underappreciated Anthony Gaitor missed most of Friday’s game, although Gaitor’s replacement Chris Humes played sound in relief.

The injuries don’t help with Winnipeg on a short week. Head coach Mike O’Shea has said Gaitor and Wolitarsky will play, but Adams and Brandon Alexander (injured in practice) are still questionable for Thursday at Toronto.

Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

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