February 18, 2022

Upon Further Review: Winnipeg Blue Bombers


Upon Further Review is a series that looks back at each team’s 2021 season, their key free agent additions and other staff and roster changes and looks ahead to their 2022 campaign.

Looking Back

Winning back-to-back Grey Cup championships is an incredible achievement. Doing it with a pandemic cancelled season in between and still finding a way to climb the mountain top in a shortened season while somehow improving defensive consistency and quarterback play is downright ridiculous.

That was the 2021 Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Ridiculous.

All year they were the best team in the CFL, undisputed. Winnipeg ranked first in both points for and against in 2021. Since 1974, thirteen teams have led in both but only three of those teams went on to win the Cup and just one in the last twenty-three years (’09 Alouettes, ’97 Argos, ’92 Stampeders).

Highlighting this exceptional balance was the Bombers fourth quarter defence. Entering the Grey Cup, only two teams scored against them in the fourth quarter over the first twelve games of 2021. Including playoffs and the Grey Cup, across 2019 to 2021, Winnipeg was 21-2 when they led after the third quarter. 

» Nye: A sneaky good free agency signing for every team
Tait: Ellingson finds his fit in Winnipeg
Bombers sign QB Dakota Prukop
» Upon Further Review: Hamilton Tiger-Cats

When the Bombers traded for Zach Collaros, a certain style of play that complemented their defence came with him. In 2019 we saw what might have been a flash in the pan sprint that culminated in a champagne soaked Mike O’Shea in Calgary. That style of play only improved and hardened over the course of 2021 with increasing success, calling any analyst – yours truly included – to task for believing that a Jason Maas-led Riders offence or Michael Reilly‘s Lions squad would be able to climb over the top of Collaros’ club consistently enough to threaten for a Grey Cup.

In 2021 Winnipeg’s offence had the rare combination of maintaining their running game and physical front identity while possessing the Most Outstanding Player at quarterback and a receiver who led the CFL in yards. They had balance, they had great attention to detail and the type of fighting spirit required to take everyone’s best punch, weather it and push forward for the next challenge.

Something that doesn’t get much love when fans and media discuss the 2021 Winnipeg Blue Bombers is the mental toughness required to accomplish greatness when everyone expects it. It takes a special head coach and staff to reel in an ego soaked locker room when winning and remind them that the most important obstacle is the next one, and the one after that. Mike O’Shea did that with his best players in Collaros, Andrew Harris, Adam Bighill, Jackson Jeffcoat and Willie Jefferson taking his lead and maintaining a level of play through nearly the entire season that many teams would dream to achieve for a month.

New Additions

When Kenny Lawler left for more money in Edmonton during free agency, his league-leading 24% targeted touch percentage left as well, meaning targets are officially up for grabs in 2022.

Enter Greg Ellingson. In what essentially amounts to a trade, Winnipeg gets a more experienced player who can still make the sensational catch and separate from defenders at less money than Lawler would have cost GM Kyle Walters to keep Lawler.

Despite an abysmal season for the Elks, Ellingson still found a way to remain a top-10 CFL receiver in production per touch with above average targets while all other Edmonton pass catchers varied wildly from disastrous (Derel Walker) to under-utilized (Mike Jones).

The takeaway from this is that no matter what system, quarterback or receiver tandem Ellingson is put into, he’ll find a way to be productive when the ball comes his way and it should find No. 82 consistently this season to replace Lawler’s 2021 workload.

Outside of Ellingson, the Bombers only signed two players (DB Tyqwan Glass and QB Dakota Prukop) from outside the blue and gold as Kyle Walters made a CFL-high 89.2% of signings of players who have already played in Winnipeg. Keeping your core intact is one thing. Having the ability to extend that many players at various levels of roster importance when everyone is targeting your talent to steal some championship secret sauce out of Manitoba is special.

Looking Forward

In 2022, the biggest question through training camp – despite proving his worth in 2021 – will be whether RB Brady Oliveira can step in seamlessly for perennial fan favourite, now Argos running back, Andrew Harris. Johnny Augustine should get some run as well and I’d love to see dynamic 2021 Regina Rams draft pick Kyle Borsa get some touches, but the Winnipeg ground game really comes down to moving bodies up front and Oliveira’s development.

% of run touches
Harris – 47.9%
Oliveira – 28.5%
Augustine – 12.2%

1st Down Yards Per Carry Average
Augustine – 7.66
Harris – 5.59
Oliveira – 4.44

% of 2nd & 5 or less conversion runs
Harris – 18/29 62.0%
Oliveira – 8/14 57.1%
Augustine – 2/4 50.0%

Pass Target % & Yards Per Catch
Harris – 3.2% / 8.53 ypc
Oliveira – 3.4% / 5.31 ypc
Augustine – 0.6% / -0.33 ypc

With Oliveira taking an increased role in the offence, Winnipeg experienced a natural turning of the page that was expedited by negotiations in free agency. What we can read into Oliveira’s game looking forward is – as expected – that he compares similarly to Harris in slashing downhill running style, but is still growing his game to include increased open field evasion after a screen pass, a nose for the first down marker on second and medium and a rock solid pass blocking foundation.

All of these come with time, energy and attention which the Bombers are undoubtedly planning to give Brady plenty of this year. I expect he’ll land about 70% of the team’s carries if healthy all year with Augustine getting about 20%, likely starting slowly but earning more reps as the season progresses.

Winnipeg is primed for another run in 2022 with Collaros back, Ellingson added and a defence full of continuity, you have to believe the good times will keep rolling at IG Field this summer

The comment system on this website is now powered by the CFL.ca Forums. We'd love for you to be part of the conversation; click the Start Discussion button below to register an account and join the community!