November 1, 2018

Players, coaches putting work in film room to keep penalties down

For CFL teams, a winning season starts with quarterbacks and coaches showing up to work before the sun comes up. It’s players that might still be sore from last week’s game sticking to workouts. It’s the second-team receivers that stay after practice to run routes with the backup quarterbacks so that everyone’s ready, just in case. It’s the defensive back that puts down the video game controller at night and grabs their iPad to watch just a little more film.

In the second part of our discipline series with AGF Investments, we explore the practice of consistency both on and off the field and role it plays for the elite CFL teams who are able to separate themselves from the rest of the pack to score a spot in the playoffs. Consistency, after all, is one of the most important aspects of football and it has to come from within for every player on a championship-calibre team.

As we head into the final games of the regular-season, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are a perfect example of this.

In a hotly-contested West Division, the Bombers are finding that consistency and discipline are helping them get there.

The Bombers go into Week 21 of the season as the cleanest team in the league. Flagged 99 times, they’ve surrendered 932 yards. Calgary, the team the Bombers defeated on Friday night to clinch their playoff berth, is right behind them in penalties taken, with 106 flags for 1,039 yards. At the other end of the spectrum you have the 4-13 Montreal Alouettes. The Als were flagged 152 times this year and surrendered a league-worst 1,571 yards. They cleaned up their act on Sunday, drawing just five penalties for 45 yards – much better than their average of 8.9 penalties for 92.4 yards per game this year.

To win, discipline goes beyond just the flags thrown in a game and the yards assessed on a penalty.

While never easy, training and playing at a consistently high level despite what the standings and scoreboards show always pays off. The Bombers are learning that as the regular season comes to its conclusion. The team has gone through its share of ups and downs this year. They started the season without their starting quarterback, Matt Nichols, and had to rely on rookie backup Chris Streveler. When Nichols had healed up enough to join the team in Week 4, Winnipeg won four of five games. Then the Bombers dropped four in a row and fell to 5-7.

When people wondered if their season was slipping away from them, the Bombers stuck with what they knew. They continued to put in the same work that they had all season, even through their difficult losing streak. It’s resulted in a crucial, perfectly timed five-game win streak. In securing their third-consecutive playoff berth, they’re a strong team playing its best football, just when the games are about to matter the most.

Earlier this season, Darren Cameron, the Bombers’ senior director of public and player relations, gave a glimpse into how Nichols leads by example.

Heading into the Bombers’ game against Calgary, Winnipeg linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox told that the level of attention to detail on his team was something he’d never seen before. Coming from someone that played four years at the University of Massachusetts and had a rookie tryout with the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL before making his way to the CFL in 2017, that carries some weight. He spoke about a 24-7 commitment to football and an entire organization – players, coaches and front office – that’s fully dialled in.

This year’s playoff race is incredibly tight. At the start of Week 19’s games, there were 64 different possible playoff outcomes. The picture became a little more clear in Week 20 and the Bombers will find out who their opponent is at the conclusion of the regular-season this week. With the playoffs on the horizon, it will be the most disciplined teams, both in the games and in the days that lead up to them that will come out on top.