Bomber Thoughts: Week Four, Winnipeg at Calgary

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 were defeated by the Calgary Stampeders on Saturday night by a final score of 26-25. Here are my thoughts:

1. Drew Willy captivated Blue Bomber fans with clutch, game-winning drives early last season in Montreal and Hamilton. Since then, Willy has regressed in crunch time. Late game interceptions cost the Bombers both of their home dates against the ’Riders in 2014, while a time count violation cost the team a down in the red zone in week fourteen’s match-up with the Ti-Cats. I ragged on Willy for these mistakes last season and was met with backlash from fans who felt a first-year quarterback shouldn’t be held responsible for his late-game errors due to a lack of experience. With Willy repeating both of these errors in the final two minutes of Saturday’s match-up with Calgary, I can’t help but feel my criticism was warranted. Willy’s not a first-year starter anymore. He’s had plenty of opportunities to prove that he’s capable of learning from his mistakes. Here’s hoping that, moving forward, we see Willy close out games like a true professional quarterback should be able to.

2. As much as Willy deserves his fair share of the blame, this game was ultimately lost on special teams. Lirim Hajrullahu missed two field goals (including a potential game winner from 52 yards out) and a convert, an error that’s impossible to downplay in what eventually turned out to be a one-point loss. The Bombers also gave up a blocked punt that resulted in a Calgary touchdown early in second quarter, a mistake for which there is simply no excuse. The play that truly served as the game’s turning point, however, came prior to the blocked punt on Troy Stoudermire’s first quarter fumble. The turnover set Calgary up deep in Bomber territory and allowed the Stampeders back into a game that was in danger of becoming a blow out. It’s beyond me how a team whose head coach specializes in special teams play can demonstrate so much futility in that facet of the game.

3. Kyle Walters was vehement in his efforts to sign Lirim Hajrullahu to a contract extension this past off-season. Despite his efforts, Hajrullahu refused to re-sign, hoping to garner some NFL interest after this season. With the second-year specialist now just 6/10 on converts this season, I’m guessing Hajrullahu’s agent won’t be getting any international calls anytime soon.

4. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: CFL teams should be going for two points on every convert this year. Period.

5. Khalil Bass impresses me more and more every week. He has above-average athleticism that allows him to excel in pass coverage, while maintaining a physical explosiveness that makes him a formidable run stopper and pass rusher. The Bombers may have found a gem at weak side linebacker.

6. I’m still not sure how there wasn’t a penalty called on Tim Brown’s missed field goal return in the second quarter. Though I was unable to catch the number of either of the players involved, the initial block at the goal line saw a Calgary player block a Winnipeg player illegally from behind. To add insult to injury, the Bombers were called for an illegal block on the ensuing Calgary punt.

7. With four games in the books, I think it’s safe to declare the Jamaal Westerman signing a good one. Westerman is on pace for nine sacks this season and has shown consistent week-to-week improvement in his gap discipline against the run. Westerman has a ways to go if he wants to be considered an elite CFL pass rusher, but $175,000 per season for a high-quality national defensive end is still good value.

8. The Bombers have been dying for a third receiver to step up and become an impact player on offence. Darvin Adams, of whom I’ve been fairly critical this season, did just that, recording five receptions for 121 yards and a touchdown. Kudos to him – hopefully Willy will look his way more often from now on.

9. On the topic of receivers, congratulations are in order for Addison Richards on his first CFL reception. With how little Julian Feoli-Gudino has done this season (six receptions for forty-five yards), I’d like to see the rookie out of Regina get more playing time as the season progresses.

10. Maurice Leggett does a great job moving up from his safety spot to compensate for Sam Hurl being out of position on rushing plays. Without Leggett in the mix – ie. week one versus Saskatchewan – opposing running backs would still constantly be breaking off long runs.

11. I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but O’Shea’s unwillingness to address Sam Hurl’s shortcomings at middle linebacker is starting to reach Kualean levels of disillusionment. The sooner O’Shea can set his stubbornness aside and replace Hurl, the better.

12. Though neither was dominant, I thought both Deantre Harlan and Nate Collins showed some good things from Bryant Turner’s regular defensive tackle spot. Harlan displayed some quick feet on passing downs, while Collins was disruptive against the run. Frankly, I don’t see a reason to keep Zach Anderson around once Turner is healthy. I thought Anderson was going to become a household name in 2015; evidently, I was wrong.

13. Demond Washington had his best game in a long time on Saturday night. Just one week after getting repeatedly lit up by S.J. Green, Washington was part of a Winnipeg secondary that held Bo Levi Mitchell to just 165 passing yards. The only time I saw Washington beaten in man-to-man coverage was in the third quarter when Marquay McDaniel got inside positioning on a slant pattern — and was then stripped of the ball by the veteran halfback. Solid bounce back game for Demond.

14. Speaking of good defensive backs, Johnny Adams was able to hold Jeff Fuller to just two receptions for twenty-three yards. Enjoy him while he’s here, folks – Adams will be back in the NFL after next season.

15. The Bombers ran one of the most poorly executed screen passes I’ve ever seen on second and twenty-seven early in the fourth quarter. On the plus side, it’s nice to know Marcel Bellefeuille has a screen pass in the playbook.

16. The bottom line is that Saturday night’s loss was an inexcusable result for the blue and gold. The Stampeders – defending champions or not – were coming off a short week with a very banged-up offensive line. With the stage set for success, the Bombers found a way to give away a close game due to a slew of key errors on offence and special teams. The Bombers will have to be sharper if they hope to come away from next Saturday’s game in Edmonton with a win.

John Hodge, Blue Bomber Talk

Twitter: @BlueBomberTalk

Email: [email protected]

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.