Bomber Thoughts is a blogging series for which Blue Bomber Talk author John Hodge writes new posts immediately following every Blue Bomber game of the season.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers lost their home opener to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats by a final score of 52-26. Here are my thoughts.
1. What is there to say? Willy’s injury aside — we’ll get to that in a moment — the Bombers simply played a terrible game on Thursday night. Winnipeg’s offence was completely unprepared for Hamilton’s cover-zero blitz packages. On defence, the Bombers were able to force just one turnover and allowed Ti-Cat QB Zach Collaros to move the ball at will. On special teams, the Bombers repeatedly punted to the centre of the field, allowing Brandon Banks to break contain on a number of returns. These are all simple game planning and execution mistakes that good teams simply don’t commit. But more on that in a moment.
2. If it wasn’t before, the officiating in the CFL is now officially a joke. Just one week after the CFL lost starters Jonathan Crompton, Mike Reilly, and Darian Durant to injury, Thursday night’s head official Al Bradbury let this hit go unpenalized at the end of the first quarter. For a league that claims to care about the long-term health of its players, there is simply no excuse for this level of incompetence. Period. It’s disastrous. It’s deplorable. It’s an abomination. Football implications aside, the hit Adrian Tracy laid on Drew Willy could very well affect the young QB’s mental health for the rest of his life. Matt Dunigan has been open about his experiences in dealing with post-concussion syndrome, a serious health issue that has had disastrous effects on a huge number of retired football players. It is essential to eliminate head-to-head shots from the game and the only way to do so is to penalize, fine, and suspend the players who deliver them. For this reason, I believe his failure to penalize Tracy should cost Al Bradbury his next scheduled game. Monitoring the quarterback is the head official’s primary responsibility during passing downs (you can see Bradbury’s lower body on the clip of the hit) and Bradbury is clearly incapable of protecting CFL quarterbacks. Let him sit for a week, miss a paycheck, and study up. As for Tracy, the rookie told Drew Edwards of the Hamilton Spectator and 3DownNation after the game that, “we’re taught everybody get to the ball and finish the tackle and that’s what I did.” Tracy neglects to mention that players are also taught not to lead with the crown of their helmet, a dangerous tactic that makes it impossible for the defender to know exactly where he will contact an opposing player. I’m not accusing Tracy of intentionally trying to hurt Willy — far from it — but his play was reckless, misguided, and deserving of a fine.
3. Preparing an offence to work effectively against a cover-zero blitz isn’t rocket science. ‘Cover-zero’, for those who may not know, is a defensive scheme that sees the safety vacate the centre of the defensive backfield to rush the quarterback with four to six fellow defenders. It’s a high-risk, high-reward style of blitz, as the defence is highly vulnerable to the pass should the quarterback succeed in getting the ball away quickly. Offensively, teams need to counter cover-zero looks by having their slot receivers recognize the blitz and break their routes inside to gain leverage in man coverage. This presents the quarterback with a quick passing option to beat the blitz and pick-up a first down. Unfortunately, Winnipeg has been vulnerable to this defensive blitz package since Marcel Bellefeuille started with the club in 2013. I’m getting sick of watching repeated mistakes in game planning.
4. Julian Feoli-Gudino had what had to have been his worst game as a professional football player on Thursday night. His five catches look nice on the stat sheet, but his two penalties — an offside call and a brainless illegal block — cost the Bombers two key first downs in the red zone. Feoli-Gudino’s most egregious error, though, came on Drew Willy’s first quarter interception, a toss that was intended for the second-year Bomber when he failed to break his route off at the appropriate time. Willy berated Feoli-Gudino for his error, a mental mistake that started the avalanche of errors that carried the Bombers through to the end of the first half.
5. Speaking of errors, where was the Bombers’ leadership on Thursday night after Willy was taken out of the game? A team needs its veterans to settle the squad down when adversity strikes. After Willy’s injury, there was no evidence to suggest any such veteran stepped up. Chris Randle played poorly at his new SAM linebacker spot for the second straight week. Bryant Turner was relatively invisible. Clarence Denmark failed to register a catch. Moe Leggett dropped a sure pick-six. Dominic Picard left the field while Willy was injured, later admitting to Bob Irving of CJOB that he wasn’t even aware of which Tiger-Cat delivered the first quarter head shot. Talk about a breakdown of leadership.
6. As much as many of the Bomber veterans struggled versus the Ti-Cats, Nick Moore played well. Moore caught every catchable pass thrown his way, recording six receptions for seventy-nine yards. He deserves to hold his head high this week.
7. Paris Cotton is the lynchpin of the Blue Bomber offence. Even when a large deficit makes it difficult to run the ball, it is essential to include Cotton through screen passes, swing passes, and shovel passes. The Bombers didn’t take advantage of these plays nearly enough.
8. Early in the game I complimented the Bomber defensive backs on their open-field tackling, identifying Demond Washington as a player who had shown great improvement in this area. Two quarters later, Washington tried to take down Hamilton receiver Bakari Grant by performing his patented ‘Demond dive’ into Grant’s legs. Consider this a retraction of my original observation.
9. Late in the game I noticed a lady sitting two rows in front of me knitting a scarf. When knitting becomes your priority at a live sporting event, you know things on the field are ugly.
10. As Kirk Penton of the Winnipeg Sun pointed out, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats now have four wins at Investors Group Field, matching the Bombers’ total since the stadium opened in 2013. That’s just sad.
11. Speaking of Investors Group Field, low ticket sales for Thursday’s home opener saw a number of former Blue Bomber season ticket holders take to twitter to explain why they no longer attend games. People cited IGF’s somewhat inconvenient location, a lack of parking, the increased price of tickets, and the soaring price of alcohol as reasons for their discontinued attendance at games. The reality, though, is that the Bombers are just 4-19 in their new stadium. If those two numbers were reversed, IGF would be sold out every game, hands down.
12. It may have solely been done as a result of a penalty that was called on the Brandon Stewart pick-six, but going for a two-point convert while up by twenty-nine points wasn’t a good look for Hamilton head coach Kent Austin.
13. Lirim Hajrullahu needs to work on his directional punting for next game. And his kick-offs. And his one-point converts.
14. It’ll obviously be a few days before we get any prognosis on Willy’s injury, but my guess is that he’ll be out 4-8 weeks with a concussion. Look for Brian Brohm to start next week versus Montreal.
15. I picked Hamilton to win today’s game largely due to the short week the Bombers had. Let’s hope this isn’t a sign of things to come for Winnipeg — the Bombers come off short weeks to play a well-rested opponents four times this season. No other team in the CFL plays more than two such contests.
16. It was nice to meet 3DownNation editor Drew Edwards before today’s game. If you’re not already doing so, be sure to follow Drew on twitter at @ScratchingPost and tweet at him using the hashtag #StupidSexyDrew (if you don’t get this reference, do yourself a favour and check out the latest 3DownNation podcast).
17. The bottom line is Mike O’Shea and his team should be embarrassed by their effort on Thursday night. Losing at home is bad. Getting blown out at home is inexcusable. Let’s hope the club can clean things up before next week’s date with the Montreal Alouettes.
John Hodge, Blue Bomber Talk