Bomber Thoughts: Week Eight, Toronto at Winnipeg

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.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers v Toronto Argonauts

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were defeated by the Toronto Argonauts on Friday night by a final score of 27-20. Here are my thoughts:

1. Robert Marve did everything one could possible expect of a quarterback making his first professional start on Friday night. Completing eighteen of twenty-nine passes for 203 yards, a touchdown and an interception, Marve moved the ball relatively effectively and in such a way that proved he’s more than a reckless improviser when given the chance to operate a CFL offence. Though Marve’s athleticism will always lend itself to extending plays with his feet, the second-year pivot didn’t hesitate to go through his reads and check the ball down to his short option targets when necessary. That isn’t to say Marve had a mistake-free game — he ran the read-option poorly on the offence’s final snap of the game, while Nick Moore’s bone-rattling hit on A.J. Jefferson late in the fourth quarter prevented what would have been a second interception — but Marve did enough to put the Bombers in a position to win, which is all anyone could ask given the circumstances. I look forward to watching #16 go back to work versus Calgary in two weeks’ time.

2. Mike O’Shea’s first order of business this upcoming bye week should be the dismissal of special teams coordinator Pat Tracey. The Bombers’ special teams units have been consistently dreadful this season, an area that was victimized again tonight on an A.J. Jefferson punt return touchdown that ultimately proved to be the game’s deciding score. Kirk Penton of the Winnipeg Sun reported via twitter that O’Shea “works on [special teams] just as much as Tracey during practice,” something that is both encouraging and concerning — encouraging in that O’Shea may be willing to take on the extra duties of coaching special teams, concerning in that he may already be doing his best to improve his club’s poor special teams play. At the very least, it’s evident that a change is needed. At 3-5, this team can’t afford to lose another game due to special teams errors.

3. I found it exceptionally difficult not to cheer for Toronto’s Chad Kackert in Friday’s game. Kackert has fought a number of brutal ankle injuries since the midway point of the 2013 season, even leading to an early retirement prior to 2014. Still just twenty-eight years of age, Kackert’s now back on the field where he belongs. Kudos to him. Watch him receive Friday night’s game ball here.

4. Lirim Hajrullahu deserves credit for having his first great game of the season. Hajrullahu posted a decent punting average of 46.8 yards and executed the perfect coffin corner boot midway through the third quarter, pinning the Argos back at their own one yard line. Hajrullahu also went 4-for-4 on his field goals, three of which came from a distance of more than forty-five yards. And while Hajrullahu missed a one-point convert (insert obligatory “CFL coaches should go for two every time” comment here) following Cameron Marshall’s first quarter touchdown reception, many fans who watched the game on television have suggested the kick actually was good. If so, that would be the second such instance this season.

5. As discussed this week on the Blue Bomber Talk Podcast, Troy Stoudermire has done nothing to continue earning a spot on this team’s roster. The second-year return man has been ineffective on special teams since returning from injury five weeks ago and has had very limited success when dispatched on offence, recording just three receptions for seven yards. Presuming Justin Veltung will be healthy enough to play following the bye week, I’d like to see Stoudermire scratched in favor of the CFL rookie.

6. I’ve spent the past month singing Khalil Bass’ praises and tonight he demonstrated why. The rookie linebacker recorded a game-high nine tackles and showed off his coverage skills midway through the second quarter on a play that saw him expertly break-up an outlet pass intended for Chad Kackert in the red zone. It’s only week eight, but I’d currently consider Bass the front-runner for the West Divison’s Rookie of the Year award.

7. Jace Daniels was having one of his worst games as a pro prior to suffering what appears to be a serious foot injury. Look for rookie Corey Lewis to start at right tackle after the bye if Daniels and Devin Tyler remain hurt.

8. Speaking of the right tackle position, turning to Lewis would mean the Bombers are now onto plan E. Plan A was to sign SirVincent Rogers in free agency, but he elected to sign with Ottawa. Plan B was to start Marc Dile, but he was cut after missing most of training camp with an upper-body injury. Plan C was Daniels. Plan D was Tyler. I expect Kyle Walters and company to make the signing of a new American tackle a high priority during the upcoming bye week.

9. Jake Thomas must be upset that he’s no longer starting for the blue and gold. For the second time in as many weeks, Thomas crashed through an opposing offensive line to swallow a ball carrier for a crushing two-yard loss. As a bonus, Thomas also chipped in a sack this week. The Bombers have their fair share of blemishes, but their front office deserves a lot of credit for restocking this roster with Canadian talent. As shaky as Sam Hurl and Julian Feoli-Gudino have been at times this year, it’s refreshing to see a Bomber team start eight national players while still having other Canadians of impact elsewhere on the roster.

10. I’m not someone who pretends that the fans ever know more about football than the professionals do, but it was nice to see the Bombers beat many of Toronto’s blitzes with some crafty shovel and screen passes. Marcel Bellefeuille has been heavily criticized for keeping his quarterbacks in five- and seven-step drops against blitz-happy defences instead of designing plays that incorporate misdirection in order to take advantage of overly-aggressive defences. Tonight, the Bombers were rewarded on such a call when a short screen pass turned into Cameron Marshall’s fifty-six yard touchdown reception. Hopefully we see more of these types of calls from Bellefeuille.

11. Speaking of the fans being right, I wonder if Mike O’Shea was honestly expecting Robert Marve to be worse than Brian Brohm tonight?

12. For those who asked this past week, the answer is no — firing Marcel Bellefeuille mid-season wouldn’t improve the Bomber offence. As much as he’s struggled at times, the club’s best bet is to stick with Bellefeuille until at least the end of the season.

13. Is Jamaal Westerman the CFL’s best pass rusher? With six sacks in eight games, he’s certainly in the conversation.

14. The Bombers head into their first bye week of the season with a lackluster 3-5 record. With a large number of Grey Cup tickets left to sell, this team will have to be much better as the season progresses if they hope to use November 29th’s championship game to drum up excitement among a local fan base that is starved for wins. With back-to-back dates with Saskatchewan immediately following their August 29th date with Calgary, the next three games will tell the tale of the 2015 Winnipeg Blue Bomber season. A 6-5 record would have Bomber fans across the province dreaming of home Grey Cup glory. Anything shy of that should be considered failure.

John Hodge, Blue Bomber Talk

Twitter: @BlueBomberTalk

Email: [email protected]

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.