Sloppy defensive effort costs Bombers chance to end Grey Cup drought (& 12 other thoughts)

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were defeated in this year’s West Semi-Final by the Edmonton Eskimos by a score of 39-32 in front of 27,244 fans at Investors Group Field on Sunday afternoon. Below are my thoughts on the game.

1. Football is the ultimate team game; to blame one player, position or unit for a win or loss is often a foolish assertion made a fan or pundit who lacks an understanding of the comprehensive, team-centered nature of the game. With that said, I believe the 2017 West Semi-Final qualifies as one of the rare occasions on which it is appropriate to lay the blame almost solely on one facet of a team. The Winnipeg Blue Bomber defence cost the club an opportunity to advance to next week’s West Final in Calgary. Winnipeg’s defence gave up more yardage than any other team in the CFL during the regular season, a shortcoming that was mitigated by the consistent creation of turnovers and working alongside the league’s high-scoring offence. On Sunday, however, Richie Hall’s unit failed to record a takeaway and allowed seven receptions of over 25 yards. The complete breakdowns in coverage that resulted in long scores to Brandon Zylstra and Adarius Bowman were disastrous — for breakdowns of that nature to occur in a playoff game is simply unconscionable. It’s Hall’s job to ensure that his defence is prepared, focused, and well-equipped to make plays. After a rough season capped by an awful performance in the playoffs, the Bombers need to make finding a new defensive coordinator its number one priority this off-season.

2. Matt Nichols and the Bomber offence had a solid outing on Sunday afternoon despite the absences of Darvin Adams and Travis Bond. These are Nichols’ statistics in two career playoff starts as a member of the Blue Bombers: 61-of-88 passing for 761 yards, five touchdowns, and no interceptions. Nichols still has his critics, but there’s no arguing with what the guy’s done in the post-season.

3. Speaking of Nichols, Darrin Bauming of TSN1290 reported after the game that the veteran pivot played the final month of the season with a broken finger. I can add that veteran receiver Weston Dressler played the final three games of the season with a broken bone in his hand. What those two accomplished in the West Semi-Final is all the more impressive when you take these serious injuries into account.

4. Mike O’Shea is taking a ton of heat from fans and pundits across the country for his decision to try a fake punt early in the third quarter. While the unsuccessful fake didn’t help the Bombers’ chances, suggesting it was the deciding factor in Sunday’s game is lunacy. O’Shea told CJOB 680 after the game that the decision was made in an attempt to keep Mike Reilly off the field in the second half, a key to Winnipeg’s game plan. When you consider that Reilly led the Eskimos to four consecutive touchdown drives following the fake, O’Shea had a good reason for pulling out all the stops to try to keep Reilly off the field. I also don’t buy the argument that the failed fake punt permanently shifted the game’s momentum. Winnipeg went on a 55-yard scoring drive on its first possession after the fake; Nichols connected on a 20-yard strike to Matt Coates, while Andrew Harris and Timothy Flanders chipped in runs of 17 and 13 yards, respectively. You can argue that O’Shea shouldn’t have tried the fake, but in the end its effect on the game is almost negligible compared to the multiple breakdowns in Winnipeg’s secondary.

5. A word of caution to the “there’s always next year” crowd — yes, while optimism will inevitably reign next season in Bomberland, success in the CFL is fleeting. Between free agency, injuries, player development, and coaching changes, teams are now changing more from year-to-year than ever before. The Bombers appear set-up for long-term success, but so did B.C. last year following an impressive 32-31 come-from-behind victory over Winnipeg in the 2016 West Semi-Final. If you know any Lions fans personally or on twitter, ask them how the 2017 went on the Left Coast.

6. The Bombers sold 27,244 tickets for the West Semi-Final, leaving more than fifteen percent of the seats at Investors Group Field unaccounted for. I was surprised to learn this week that the Bombers had fewer than 23,000 fans at three of the club’s last five home playoff games — 22,843 in 2007, 22,110 in 2003, and 22,508 in 2002. With this in mind, Sunday’s attendance doesn’t look half-bad — still, though, it’d be nice to see the building more full for such a critical contest.

7. Speaking of attendance, hosting its first playoff game in six years should be a nice financial boost for the Winnipeg Football Club in this year’s budget. The first investment the club should make with the extra funds is a contract extension for offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice that makes him the league’s highest-paid assistant coach. The second investment the club should make is a matching contract for Noel Thorpe to take over as the club’s defensive coordinator.

8. One of the controversial non-calls in Sunday’s game saw Andre Proulx’s officiating crew not call the Eskimos for offside on third and short in the third quarter. Two players on the interior of Edmonton’s defensive line jumped, but managed to retreat back from the neutral zone before contacting a Winnipeg player. By the letter of the law, this is the correct call — defensive players don’t have to be ruled offside if they clear the neutral zone without crossing the line of scrimmage. This is not, however, how this rule has been enforced most of this season — as someone who watched all 81 regular season CFL games, I can confirm that defensive players were routinely flagged for offside this year regardless of whether or not they retreated from the neutral zone prior to the ball being snapped. This is the type of inconsistency that drives players, coaches, and fans insane. Sloppy officiating didn’t have an impact on Sunday’s outcome — Winnipeg’s defensive breakdowns saw to that — but it’d be a shame to see one of the season’s three remaining playoff games sullied by the league’s notoriously inconsistent officiating.

9. I had three different people tell me early this season that Matt Coates was the best Canadian receiver on the Blue Bomber roster. While it took the club a long time to find the former Hamilton Hurricane a spot in the starting line-up, Coates used his opportunity to prove what so many people told me five months ago. His eight-reception, 100-yard performance against Edmonton was Winnipeg’s first 100-yard game from a Canadian receiver since Cory Watson reached the century mark on July 4, 2013. Expect Coates to be a week one starter in Bomberland next season.

10. Speaking of receivers, L’Damian Washington likely played his way into a second season with the Bombers following an eight-reception, 74-yard playoff performance that included a touchdown. Clarence Denmark, meanwhile, appears to have played his last game in blue and gold. The seven-year veteran faded down the stretch this season, failing to record more than 70 receiving yards in a single game and making just six receptions in the four games following Darvin Adams’ season-ending shoulder injury. The 32-year-old will likely finish his CFL career with 5,478 receiving yards and 31 touchdowns in 116 games.

11. I need to walk back something I wrote a week ago in my post-game piece. I’d decided with approximately a month remaining in the season that Matt Nichols would be my pick for Most Outstanding Player. He’d had a truly great season to that point — he led the league in QUAR and, though he had 700 fewer passing yards than Mike Reilly, compared favorably to his former teammate in both touchdowns and interceptions. In the end, however, it’s clear that Reilly had the better season. While Nichols missed time late in the season due to injury, Reilly put forward excellent performances against Calgary and Saskatchewan to help his club finish the regular season with an impressive five-game winning streak. I didn’t get the opportunity to vote on player awards, so in the end my opinion is just that — an opinion. Still, I wanted to clear the air — Reilly was fully deserving of the West Division M.O.P. nod he received this past Thursday.

12. Obligatory mention: the Bombers’ Grey Cup drought has now officially reached twenty-seven years. Barf.

13. On a personal note, I want to say a quick thank-you to everyone for another season of your support. I love covering the CFL and knowing that there is an ever-increasing number of people who enjoy my coverage brings me great joy. I will be making some changes to my social media presence over the next few weeks — including the retirement of the @BlueBomberTalk twitter handle — but I want to assure everyone that my coverage of the Bombers will remain largely unchanged heading into 2018. I am unable to attend the Grey Cup this year, but CFL Week in Winnipeg is only four months away. As always, please feel free to engage me in conversation if you see me out in public — getting to meet readers is always a highlight of my day. Finally, a note for Blue Bomber Talk Podcast listeners: our season-ending show scheduled to record on Thursday of this upcoming week (November 16). Cheers.

John Hodge

John Hodge

John Hodge is a lifelong follower of the CFL who has been writing about the league since 2014. He is a two-time finalist of the Jon Gott lookalike contest.
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John Hodge
About John Hodge (289 Articles)
John Hodge is a lifelong follower of the CFL who has been writing about the league since 2014. He is a two-time finalist of the Jon Gott lookalike contest.

28 Comments on Sloppy defensive effort costs Bombers chance to end Grey Cup drought (& 12 other thoughts)

  1. Although Nichols had an MOP type season, there should never have been any question about Reilly. Yes, Nichols played injured which limited his effectiveness the last part of the season but that’s all part & parcel of the process. What he did this year was phenomenal. The Reilly led Eskimos were #1 in net offence, net passing, 1st downs, 2nd down conversions, time of possession, avg gain/pass, & near the top in every major offensive category. Reilly tied for 1st in passing TD’s, was 1st in rushing TD’s, big passing plays, off points, TD drives, game winning drives & net yards along with his almost 6,000 yards passing & #1 QUAR. For MOP there were a lot of good candidates but Reilly was, this year anyway, hands down the MOP.

  2. Not a bandwagon jumper // November 13, 2017 at 1:18 am //

    I enjoyed your columns all season and look forward to more in 2018. As a lifelong BB fan, it’s a pleasure to read not all bad but some good stuff about our team. There is a writer in the main Winnipeg newspaper that is a piece of trash. His one goal is to knock every Winnipeg sports team.

  3. greenonions // November 13, 2017 at 1:21 am //

    Good comments. I agree that a new DC is of primary concern & that Thorpe would be an obvious candidate. Nichols had good stats, was solid, but got a lot of yards when the game was pretty much done. Sorry but the fake punt was a dumb call at that point of the game & at that part of the field. It didn’t help Watson had a clear lane to the runner. How does that happen? Regarding “always next year”, the time was now. Some of the players are getting older & there will be a shifting of the old guard. The offside non-call I think even puzzled the Eskimos. Washington should be back. One of the things that needs to happen is for the Bomber receiving corps to get bigger. Loffler after the last Eskimo game mentioned it – they’re all tall & difficult to defend. Look across the board at those guys – all 6’2″, 6’3″ to a man & most of them in the 215 to 225 range. Bombers have a small group.

  4. Man as a huge Rider fan I couldn’t believe how much I was pulling for the Bombers. It was weird cheering so hard for them. As much as there is a rivalry between the Bombers & SK. I found deep inside past the colours of the uniform there was something called empathy. Knowing what it feels like to have a chance but just knowing the condition of your team is not good.
    I truly wish Lapo for once in his CFL career could have relied far more in his RB. Dresser is great to squeak a surprise here and there. But he dosent have the stature to lean on him as much as Lapo did.

    • Dan Bombers // November 13, 2017 at 11:24 am //

      Great comment I was also really pulling for the riders
      Anyways another season ending in heartbreak with hundreds of unanswered questions. For the first time in years I thought we actually had a shot this year

  5. Evan Einstein IV // November 13, 2017 at 4:41 am //

    The biggest disappointment being the 3 busted coverages. That was not and is not the DC’s fault. That is the corner on the field biting on the wrong route or backing off looking for support from a DB. Richie Hall is not to blame.
    The exact same scenario played out during the very 1st 2017 home game of new Mosaic Stadium this year against the Bombers. The Riders defensive backfield didn’t cover Dressler on 2 separate instances and both plays were walk in TDS for Dressler. It feels horrible to have that happen. That was the beginning of the year. For it to happen in the playoffs. Someone is over thinking and not reacting. Disappointing.
    No doubt that OShea may make a play for Montreal’s ex DC Neil Thorpe. I still don’t think moving away from Richie Hall is smart. The more he’s there the better and more stable the Bombers D will become. Find better players.

  6. Richie Hall would be a better coach if he had Sol Elimimian playing for him.
    Giving O’Shea a free pass again to blame his coordinator is huge oversight 3.0. Bombers issue starts with Wade Miller who is in over his head and the brother in laws Walters and O Shea. Unfortunately it is an attitude thing.

    • Bingo. Richie Hall has been one of the top two or three DCs in this league for many, many, years. I think the problems on defence have more to do with talent gaps than the DC. I think both Ottawa and Winnipeg have GMs that struggle to find good talent. If the Bombers did let Hall go Montreal should snap him up in a heartbeat.

  7. So let me get this straight, you are now complaining because the officiating made a correct call because it didn’t benefit the Bombers. Maybe you better go back and watch some of those 81 games because that has happened numerous times this year, Maybe remove those blue tinted glasses and think back, can you not recall a outside blitz where the player did not time it correctly to the snap of the ball and had to retreat. I maybe missed watching 4 -5 of the 81 CFL games this year and know this happened in previous games. Goosen has been in this league long enough to know if a defensive player is in the neutral zone, snap the ball quickly and get the offside call.
    I think the majority of the CFL fans want the game to be called correctly with the correct calls made on the field.

    • Sher you must be a rider fan because you demonstrated your reading skills (or lack there of) with your comment…leaving the commenting to the ones who understand the game

      • Not sure what qualifies you to judge my reading ability or why you feel I don’t understand the game therefore should not comment. I was commenting on the following comment made by Hodge.

        One of the controversial non-calls in Sunday’s game saw Andre Proulx’s officiating crew not call the Eskimos for offside on third and short in the third quarter. Two players on the interior of Edmonton’s defensive line jumped, but managed to retreat back from the neutral zone before contacting a Winnipeg player. By the letter of the law, this is the correct call — defensive players don’t have to be ruled offside if they clear the neutral zone without crossing the line of scrimmage.

        The officiating crew called it correctly which I think most CFL fans want to see happen. This is not a new rule and to say it was never called that way in any of the 81 regular season games is very subjective.
        As to your comment that I should leave commenting to those that understand the game. I have been watching CFL football for over 50 years and have been a season ticket holder for more than 25 years. Will take you on any day one on one on CFL rules and regulations.
        Now why does my comment make me a Rider fan, maybe I should say showing your ignorance makes you a Bomber fan. I really could care less who you cheer for as long as you watch and cheer for the CFL.

  8. Have to agree with most of this. By the way great job — yours are the best writings on the Bombers we have now.
    So it’s time to fix the defence. The receiving core also needs an upgrade. I love Adams and Dressler, but they are very good receivers — not the kind of stud every other team seems to have that strikes fear.
    Walters needs to finally unearth a cheap superstar at slotback. He also has his work cut out improving the secondary and line backing corps.

  9. Yes, blown coverages very much hurt the BBs, but to contend that the failed fake punt’s ‘effect on the game is almost negligible’ is misleading. Football is perhaps more so than other team sports a game of momentum; the tide clearly turned thereafter.

  10. Bomberzach // November 13, 2017 at 8:43 am //

    There’s evidence that momentum actually does. It play a role in football. A guy from U of Michigan wrote a great piece on it. I hated the fake punt as I could see it coming from my seat. That said Our secondary lost the game and a successful fake punt wouldn’t have changed that. Good work John.

  11. It is obvious after yesterday’s officiating debacle

    CAN – the Jacque , he is costing the CFL millions – think about it

    Mr. Ambrosie , time to get the CFL Professional again
    TSN is looking like the CBC , start looking at ESPN – en-act officiating clinics in conjunction with CIS periodically through the off-season months ( not a big expense )

    Turn it up – stay in the news , a 10th won’t be far behind

  12. How did the Bombers fail?
    1. Defensive strategy was bad and it got worse as the season progressed.
    2. Teams got more talent as the season progressed and the Bombers did nothing to improve when they should have. Look at last season and trading for Heath.
    3. Lack of depth receivers. Edmonton had how many “go to guys” on the field. Not enough targets with Adams gone and Dressler hurt.
    4. This was the best season to win given the age and play of the team. This was the season to invest in winning and now the team will change as talent leaves and new player have to learn the system.

    With all the progress made in the past 2 years the Bombers ultimately fumbled their best opportunity to end the 27 year drought because of the reason above.

  13. Ditchbanger // November 13, 2017 at 9:48 am //

    27

    The natural number following 26 and precededing 28

    9×3=27

    The age at which the following musicians died
    -Brian Jones
    -JImi Hendrix
    -Janis Joplin
    -Jim Morrison
    -Kurt Cobain
    -Amy Whinehouse

    The Atomic number of Cobalt

    3x3x3=27

    In base 10, it is the first composite number not divisible by any of its digits

    It is also the result of adding together the integers from 2 to 7. (2+3+4+5+6+7=27)

    There’s something else……..

    What is it…

    Oh yeah,

    YEARS WITHOUT A GREY CUP IN WINNIPEG!!!!

  14. Winnipeg had a great year with lots to build on. They will be back in 2018. I salute them and THE CFL’s LOUDEST FANS..

  15. How can you fail to mention the terrible game DBs Brian Walker and Brandon Alexander had. Their mental errors cost the Bombers this game. They screwed up NOT the coaches

  16. John, I enjoy reading your comments on 3 down nation. Keep up the good work. This complement comes from a Tiger-Cat fan!

  17. Prove Me Wrong // November 13, 2017 at 11:30 am //

    RYYYYYYYAAAAAANNNNN….. Where are you boy!!! I was SURE you would still be cherping about how bad the Esks and Reilly was….. How does 27 years without a Grey Cup feel??? FANTASTIC!!!!

  18. I was pulling for the Bombers in the 4th to at least make the game more interesting, even though I didn’t really care who won.

    One thing that puzzled me was the Bomber play calling at the end. I mean, they needed two touchdowns, so that means you have to throw a hail mary, get the onside kick, then do another hail mary.

    Instead the Bombers just kept throwing 10 yard passes until they ran out of time. I get that the Esks were in prevent D and two hail Marys around an onside kick is a tall order, but you gotta at least try. You’re losing the game anyways, you might as well go for it. Otherwise you might as well just take a knee

    • Paul Bomber // November 13, 2017 at 2:20 pm //

      There is no heart in this team. Andrew Harris seemed to be the only guy on the field (in Blue) that cared about the final score. The refs were brutal, but what else is new?
      I’m done – – won’t be renewing my season tickets. Wade Miller has got to go. The board has got to go. Promote LaPolice to head coach and offer O’Shea D. Coordinator spot or toss him to the curb. None of which will happen & the Bombers will continue to suck (hence dropping the season tickets).

  19. Agree, O’Shea is a special teams co-ord at best, how many games has he cost this team, last years playoff fiasco should of been his last hurrah…

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