1. For the second time in as many weeks, Winnipeg Blue Bomber head coach Mike O’Shea waited too long to pull his starting quarterback in a winnable game. This week, in a 33-18 Thursday night loss to the Calgary Stampeders, Drew Willy completed 23 of 33 passes for 234 yards and no touchdowns before a fourth quarter Joe Burnett pick-six ended his night. Willy has never looked like the same player he was prior to sustaining a season-ending knee injury in August of last year, a sad reality that was on full display against the 2-1-1 Stamps. Winnipeg’s starter never got his team into the red zone on Thursday night, sticking exclusively to short and mid-range passes through the first three quarters of the game to little success. While Willy eventually connected on a 45-yard bomb to Darvin Adams (just the third time Willy’s completed a pass that traveled more than 20 yards through the air in as many games), it was clear his confidence was (and is) shot. It’s early, but look for Matt Nichols to start next week’s game in Edmonton. Nichols is unlikely to be the solution to the Bombers’ quarterbacking woes, but, as I wrote last week, it’s become clear that Willy is not.
2. Speaking of O’Shea, I think we can forever dismiss the fact that his players “love playing for him” as being any type of positive reflection on his work as a head coach. At the end of the day, players love two things: collecting paychecks and playing football. Under O’Shea, players have consistently been held to a low level of accountability, earning roster spots for longer than they likely would in other CFL markets. I think we can all agree that Wally Buono would never have put up with a full season of E.J. Kuale’s unnecessary roughness penalties. Similarly, I’d bet my house that John Hufnagel wouldn’t have kept Brian Brohm on his roster through the final week of last season. And so it makes sense that O’Shea’s players love him — under his coaching, players aren’t publicly held accountable for their actions, nor are they often cut. It’s also worth noting that O’Shea is a genuinely likeable guy, if not
a bit very stubborn. I don’t mean to suggest that likeable coaches can’t be effective — though Bomber fans would be wise to remember that Jeff Reinebold (1997-1998) and Tim Burke (2012-2013) were popular with their players during their head coaching stints in Winnipeg — only that a coach should be judged on his ability to win, not elicit affection. O’Shea’s beloved by his players, but he sure hasn’t won much.
3. Since I know I’ll be bombarded with questions about O’Shea’s job security if I don’t address it, I’ll add this: if O’Shea survives this week, I believe there is a high chance he will be fired if the Bombers lose next week in Edmonton.
4. I can’t remember the last time I saw five starters from the same team suffer game-ending injuries in a single contest. Right tackle Patrick Neufeld, left guard Jermarcus Hardrick, safety Macho Harris, weak-side halfback Julian Posey, and weak-side cornerback Chris Randle all left Thursday night’s game with various ailments. A lot of credit is due to the Bombers’ back-up defensive backs for playing well in the absence of so many starters (field-side cornerback Johnny Adams and field-side halfback Bruce Johnson were both already out with injuries). Bo Levi Mitchell passed for just 99 yards in the second half — not bad for a unit that featured three young Canadians (third and second-year men Derek Jones and Brendan Morgan played on the corners, while rookie Taylor Loffler stepped in at safety) and two American rookies (Kevin Fogg and CJ Roberts, the latter of whom was playing just his second career CFL game).
5. Speaking of Loffler, I was very pleased to see the UBC product return to game action after heading to the locker room with an apparent knee injury in the first half. Loffler tore the ACL in his right knee in his senior year of high school and again in his freshman year at Boise State; seeing him suffer a similar injury in his fifth career CFL game would have been devastating. Instead, Loffler returned from the trainer’s room and had a strong rest of the game, including an outstanding special teams tackle on Calgary returner Roy Finch.
6. With the loss, the Bombers are now a putrid 7-23 (.233) in regular season play at Investors Group Field. Major League Baseball players have been benched for hitting .233 — it’s that bad of a number. The Bombers’ ineptitude at home reflects negatively on every member of the Winnipeg Football Club and should serve as a source of embarrassment for the entire organization. The fact that 24,677 fans were in attendance — 600 more than last week, believe it or not — is a testament to the quality of Winnipeg’s fans, not its team.
7. To put the Bombers’ home-field ineptitude into perspective, the club (including preseason) has registered just three more wins at Investors Group Field (8) than Calgary, Hamilton, and Edmonton (5).
8. To further put the Bombers’ home-field ineptitude into perspective, the team could win every home contest from now to the end of next season and still not be over .500 at IGF (23-23).
9. Many people have pointed to the Bombers’ tough early-season schedule as a reason to maintain optimism in 2016. After an
easy win blowout loss to the lowly Montreal Alouettes in week one, the Bombers were slated to face Calgary, Edmonton, and Hamilton twice each over the next six weeks. Pretending for a moment that the Collaros-less Tiger-Cats are an elite team (which they aren’t) and that the Eskimos’ defence is still a fearsome unit (which it isn’t) and that the Stampeders wouldn’t be 0-1-1 if not for their two games versus Winnipeg (which they would be), these six contests represented a very tough stretch of the club’s 2016 regular season schedule. The issue with this train of thought — aside from the reality that Hamilton, Edmonton, and Calgary are all beatable teams, of course — is that the Bombers don’t see the 3-1 B.C. Lions or 3-0-1 Ottawa Redblacks until week fifteen. And the two games preceding those contests? At Calgary and versus Edmonton. Fun.
10. Andrew Harris rushed ten times on Thursday night for a total of just 28 yards. Aside from two carries on second and one, all eight of Harris’ remaining carries came on first and ten. Why wouldn’t Blue Bomber offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice try to be less predictable on first down? And, at the very least, why wouldn’t he try to get Harris in some space? Andrew Harris has never been a great running back between the tackles. I don’t care if it’s a counter, a sweep, a draw or a direct snap, LaPolice has to find a way to get Harris some room to carry the football.
11. Speaking of ball carriers, Jerome Messam — known Bomber killer — had only a decent night, rushing for 65 yards on thirteen carries. Full credit to the Bomber defence for holding Messam to just 19 yards in the second half.
12. The Bombers best hope that boundary cornerback Johnny Adams is healthy for next week’s game in Edmonton for more reasons than one. Firstly, Adams is an excellent cover man and the Bombers will need all the help they can get to contain Derel Walker. Secondly, Adams has been on the one-game injured list all season, meaning his wage has been counting against the salary cap. Next week would be Adams’ sixth consecutive game on the injured list, meaning the Bombers could have prevented his salary from counting against the cap by six-gaming him in the preseason. Oops.
13. Khalil Bass has a spot on my team any day. That guy can hit.
14. Speaking of middle linebackers, I was impressed with the play of Stampeder rookie Alex Singleton on Thursday night. Selected sixth overall in this year’s CFL draft, Singleton got his first career start in place of veteran Taylor Reed and looked sharp at the point of attack. I can’t imagine it will be long before Singleton earns that starting role permanently.
15. Simon Charbonneau-Campeau has two touchdowns in two games against Winnipeg this season, including the fourth quarter score that iced Thursday’s 33-18 Stampeder victory. Charbonneau-Campeau was passed over by Joe Mack in the 2013 CFL draft in favor of Queen’s receiver Johnny Aprile. Aprile, now with the Ticats, has yet to record a reception in twenty career CFL games.