The end of Willypeg (& 14 other thoughts)

1. Drew Willy’s play in Thursday night’s 20-16 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos was simply unacceptable. After successfully managing last week’s win over Hamilton, Willy fell back into old habits against the Eskimos with sluggish decision-making and errant throws. Willy also continued his frustrating season-long struggle to connect on the long ball, consistently missing targets over twenty yards downfield. Outgunned and outclassed by the opposing pivot (again), it was obvious from the fan reaction at Investors Group Field that the relationship between the Bomber faithful and Drew Willy has been fractured, likely to an irreparable degree. Willy was booed off the field three times in the second half with smatterings of “Nich-ols!” raining down from the stands. When the Bombers host Calgary next Thursday — yes, the Bombers have to play the Stampeders at IGF in just six days’ time — the hostility towards Willy is unlikely to abate unless he plays a near-perfect game. Willypeg? That moniker may as well be buried in the grave next to one marked Swaggerville. In any case, those days are done.

2. To Mike O’Shea’s credit, the Bomber boss managed to call a timeout at an opportune moment in the first half when his field goal cover unit had thirteen men on the field, saving his club a penalty. Sadly, O’Shea quickly squandered any faith he’d restored in his game managing abilities when, one half later, he was charged a delay of game penalty for trying to challenge a call that could not be challenged.

3. Speaking of challenges, Al Bradbury’s officiating crew was terrible on Thursday night. Four overturned challenges? Four? That’s pathetic. I try not to complain about officiating early in the season — we let our players off the hook for early-season errors, so I believe it’s best to extend the same courtesy to our officials — but it’s now week four. Twenty-six penalties for 250 yards is simply too many for a game taking place almost a full month into the season. Winnipeg averaged just 7.5 penalties in its first three games of 2016 — considering they almost doubled that number versus Edmonton, that’s a fairly strong indication the officials were too chintzy with many of their calls.

4. O’Shea said after the game that he never considered pulling Willy. It is this type of inexplicable stubbornness that will have O’Shea interviewing for special teams coordinator jobs in five months’ time.

5. A lot of Bomber fans took to twitter during and after the game to complain about Joe Mack’s failure to acquire Mike Reilly ahead of the 2013 season. While there’s no arguing Mack’s blunder was a massive one (one of many, in fact), the Bombers’ current quarterbacking issues fall solely at the feet of head coach Mike O’Shea and general manager Kyle Walters. Drew Willy was the third choice of O’Shea and Walters’ prior to the 2014 season, their first two being Zach Collaros and Henry Burris. Collaros rebuffed the Bombers’ contract offer to sign with Hamilton — reports have since indicated that the Bombers’ offer was actually the richer of the two — while Burris signed a mega-deal with the expansion Redblacks. Since then, what have the Bombers done to improve at the quarterback spot? O’Shea kept Marcel Bellefeuille on as his offensive coordinator for two full seasons, a substandard mentor for a young QB whose counterparts have been developed by the likes of Kent Austin, Marcus Brady, and Jason Maas. Now, under the tutelage of Paul LaPolice and Buck Pierce, Willy has arguably gotten worse. And what about the lack of talent behind Willy? If Willy was originally Walters’ third choice, how is it that he done such a poor job of supplying his team with alternative pivots? Matt Nichols is a serviceable back-up (though O’Shea doesn’t seem interested in letting him play), but what about Kevin Glenn? Glenn would have been the perfect back-up to sign prior to the start of last season, yet the Bombers made little effort to sign him. Twelve weeks later, Glenn could have been had from Saskatchewan for a ham sandwich at the trade deadline and the Bombers again sat on their hands. And then there’s the quarterback who is currently leading the CFL in passing yards (1,475), completion percentage (82.5), touchdowns (9), and efficiency rating (140.1). Trevor Harris, who has started the past three games in place of an injured Burris in Ottawa, could have been brought in to start for the Bombers when he became a free agent in February — even coming in at a dollar figure well under Willy’s $400,000 cap hit. Hindsight’s 20/20, of course, but signing Harris likely would have been a career-defining acquisition for Walters. Instead, his club is left with a starter who can’t throw the long-ball and a back-up the head coach refuses to play. What a shame.

6. Newcomer C.J. Roberts had one of the worst CFL debuts I’ve ever witnessed. With Johnny Adams (boundary cornerback) and Bruce Johnson (field halfback) both out with injury, the Bombers moved rookie Kevin Fogg to Johnson’s spot while debuting Roberts at cornerback. Roberts spent most of the game on the field-side working against Nate Coehoorn, but inevitably wound up covering star Eskimo wide receiver Derel Walker for parts of the game. The result? Among other blunders, a 73-yard go-ahead touchdown that sealed the win. Ouch.

7. Another Bomber who may have earned a plane ticket home on Thursday night was rookie defensive end Shayon Green. Green, who has yet to record a sack this season, took the illegal block penalty on Kevin Fogg’s punt return touchdown long after Fogg had a clear path to the end zone. An established player would have a hard time getting away with such a bone-headed error, much less a struggling rookie.

8. Speaking of Fogg, kudos to the rookie for a strong game on Thursday night. Fogg’s return was electric, while he’s been a quick study in the secondary. Mike Reilly may have shredded the Bombers for 465 yards through the air, but that’s what happens when you let the league’s best player get comfortable in the pocket. Richie Hall dialed up a lot of blitzes and well-disguised looks a week ago in Hamilton — not sure why those plays didn’t make it back into the game plan for this week.

9. The Bombers are now 7-22 (.241) in regular season action at Investors Group Field (2013-present). For reference, the Cleveland Browns — often the barometer for ineptitude in professional sports — are 9-16 (.360) at home over that same time period.

10. The Bombers announced a crowd of just 24,007 on Thursday night, a sad total for a football-mad town on a beautiful July evening. Not that I blame the people of Winnipeg for the poor attendance, of course — given the often-pathetic on-field product they’ve been subjected to over the past many years, 24,000 is a respectable number. Can you imagine how few tickets this team would sell if it was located in Toronto or B.C.?

11. Jake Thomas had another strong game on Thursday night, recording two tackles (one for loss) and a fumble recovery. One of just a handful of Maritimers currently playing in the CFL, Thomas is one of the best Canadians players casual fans likely haven’t heard of.

12. Speaking of Canadian defensive linemen, Jamaal Westerman’s 2016 season is beginning to mirror his campaign from a year ago. Westerman got off to a slow start in 2015, failing to record a sack until week three before eventually reaching a sack-per-game pace. After failing to have much of an impact in weeks one or two, Westerman now has sacks in each of his last two games.

13. I’m going to go on record with the following two predictions: 1. Dominique Davis starts the Bombers’ final regular season game this season with Paul LaPolice patrolling the sidelines, and 2) the quarterback who takes the first snap of the 2017 regular season in Winnipeg is… Darian Durant.

14. Thank goodness the Eskimos ditched those awful green road helmets they donned from 2013-2015. While Edmonton’s new away uniforms (which debuted tonight) are a little bland, but they’re still a nice take on a classic look. Thumbs up from me.

15. The Bombers play host to the 1-1-1 Calgary Stampeders on Thursday, July 21 at 7:30 PM CT at Investors Group Field. The Stamps, who never lost coming off a bye week under John Hufnagel, will have enjoyed 13 days of rest ahead of the contest.

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