Lack of scoring proves to be Willy’s downfall

If yards were points, Drew Willy would be an elite CFL starting quarterback.

Unfortunately for Bomber fans, accumulating points — not yards — is the only way to win football games.

A lack of scoring cost Drew Willy his job as the starting quarterback of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers this week, a turn of events that would have been considered stunning just a few weeks ago. Willy is among the highest-paid quarterbacks in the CFL and was said by many experts to be the Bombers’ only hope for success in 2016.

After just five starts in offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice’s new Blue Bomber offence — which, in fairness, hasn’t looked like the schematic juggernaut many anticipated it’d be — Mike O’Shea has turned the reigns over to Matt Nichols, the career back-up who was acquired from Edmonton for a bag of footballs a conditional seventh round draft pick last August.

Considering a return to the starting role is possible should Nichols falter, asking the question queried by many in Bomberland remains valid: what is wrong with Drew Willy?

Simply put, the third-year starter appears to have lost his confidence this season. Like a highway car crash victim who fears returning to high speeds, Willy has avoided throwing the deep ball since the first snap of 2016. Number 5 is averaging just 7.7 yards per attempt this season, the football equivalent of driving thirty kilometers below the speed limit on the Trans-Canada Highway.

When forced to throw deep in late-game situations, Willy’s fears have been validated by poor results — as per TSN’s Derek Taylor, Willy has connected on just 7 of 22 deep balls this season. Worse yet, many of Willy’s recent late-game strikes have ended up in the hands of the opposing team. J.C. Sherritt, Neil King, and Joe Burnett each intercepted Willy in the final twenty minutes of the Bombers’ past two games, with Burnett returning his interception for a game-sealing touchdown. This means that Willy has thrown as many late-game interceptions over the past two weeks (3) as deep air-yard completions in his last three games (3).

Ultra-conservative, short-field offence was not always the style of play fans in Winnipeg expected from Willy. The Buffalo product threw for four touchdown passes in his first career start as a Bomber, a scintillating 45-21 victory over the Toronto Argonauts. Fans were repeatedly brought to their feet by Willy’s long completions — he connected on five passes of 20-plus yards in that game — including 27 and 25-yard touchdowns to Aaron Kelly and Cory Watson, respectively. It was an electrifying performance that reinvigorated a Blue Bomber fan base that was jaded following a miserable 3-15 2013 season. For the first time since Khari Jones’ 46-touchdown season in 2002, Bomber fans believed they might have a quarterback capable of consistently lighting up opposing defences with the long-ball.

Instead, Willy has thrown just 23 touchdown passes in the 28 games since that first start in blue and gold, a miserable clip of 0.82 per game. The numbers for the Bomber offence this season don’t look much better when non-passing touchdowns are taken into account.

Player Drives Touchdowns Percentage
Mike Reilly, EDM 54 13 24%
Trevor Harris, OTT 48 11 23%
Bo Levi Mitchell, CGY 56 11 20%
Jonathon Jennings, B.C. 53 9 17%
Jeremiah Masoli, HAM 70 10 14%
Ricky Ray, TOR 56 8 14%
Darian Durant, SSK 36 5 14%
Drew Willy, WPG 68 6 9%

Above are the touchdown drive percentages for the eight CFL quarterbacks who have led more than thirty drives this season. The numbers speak volumes — Willy has by far the worst touchdown drive percentage of all listed quarterbacks, barely more than one-third of the mark posted by league-leader Mike Reilly.

The quarterback is not solely responsible for the success of his team’s offence, of course, but there’s no arguing that he is the most important ingredient for success. And while the quality of the recipe is still up for debate in Winnipeg, replacing the key ingredient is the first step to cooking up an appetizing dish.

The above tweet from TSN1290’s Darrin Bauming speaks volumes about the current perception of Drew Willy in Bomberland. Most fans believe second-year man Dominique Davis — not the high-priced Willy — should be the next quarterback off the bench for the Bombers should Nichols struggle in Edmonton.

The relationship between the Bomber faithful and Drew Willy appears to be beyond repair — unless, of course, Willy wins a handful of games in a hurry. And given his inability to produce points or wins as the club’s starter, doing so from the sidelines is an unlikely scenario.

Time may have run out on the Drew Willy era, but it has not yet run out on the Bombers’ 2016 season. Even at 1-4, some inspired play from a highly-motivated Nichols could get the Bombers to 3-4 bye the club’s week eight bye.

Anything less is likely to bring about the end of the Mike O’Shea era.

Stay tuned.

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