Bombers fail on & off the field in home opener (& 10 other thoughts)

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers lost to the Calgary Stampeders by a score of 29-10 on Friday night in front of 30,165 fans at Investors Group Field. Here are my thoughts.

1. The Bomber offence imploded on Friday night, recording just 315 net yards and 10 points. This was a particularly poor performance given that the Stampeders were without five starters on defence due to injury (Junior Turner, defensive tackle; Charleston Hughes, defensive end; Cordarro Law, defensive end; Deron Mayo, weak-side linebacker; Brandon Smith, weak-side halfback). Matt Nichols had arguably his worst game as a Blue Bomber, completing 27 of 40 passes for 267 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions — one of which was taken back for a touchdown. If you take Andrew Harris’ eight receptions out of the equation, Nichols’ yardage falls to just 198 yards, a paltry figure for a veteran CFL quarterback. Nichols will need to do a better job moving (and protecting) the football next week versus Toronto.

2. I published a piece on Friday about the challenges Investors Group Field has had regarding game day transportation. The Winnipeg Football Club announced a number of changes to the club’s transit plan this off-season, most notably the move of approximately 200 buses from Chancellor Matheson Road (the main entrance to the University of Manitoba campus) to a newly-built transit corridor located on the north side of Investors Group Field.

To the surprise of many, Chancellor Matheson was still full of buses post-game (see above). Winnipeg Transit buses were gone, but no fewer than twenty-five privately-owned buses lined the street. This was agitating and misleading — it appears the club wasn’t set on eliminating all bus traffic on Chancellor Matheson, but merely that of Winnipeg Transit.

Club CEO Wade Miller also promised shorter wait times for those parking on campus, even offering free tickets to fans who didn’t find their trip home to be quicker. Judging by the response on social media (see below), the Winnipeg Football Club will be handing out a lot of free tickets to the club’s next home game on Thursday.

3. Credit where credit’s due: the Blue Bomber defence was very good on Friday night. Keeping the Stamps to just 22 offensive points is impressive, particularly when you consider that ten of them came on turnovers. Richie Hall’s unit even held Jerome Messam — who’s often had the Bombers’ number — to just 71 yards on 17 carries (4.2 yards per carry) with a long of nine. Say what you want about the Bombers as a whole, but the defence came to play on Friday night.

4. Matt Nichols deserves blame for a bad performance on Friday night, but his receiving corps did little to help him out. Weston Dressler and Darvin Adams were solid as always, but fellow Americans Clarence Denmark, Ryan Lankford, and rookie L’Damian Washington contributed very little. The Bombers have struggled to uncover rookie receiving talent over the past many years — Kevin Cone, Jhomo Gordon, Gerrard Sheppard, Jace Davis, and Thomas Mayo are just some of the names who failed to produce — and the inability to find play-making pass catchers appears poised to haunt them again in 2017. T.J. Thorpe, the dynamic rookie who stood out in camp, will be one to watch when he’s healthy.

5. Speaking of Washington, the rookie out of Missouri was alone on a long post route on the Bombers’ final offensive play of the game. Winnipeg was on Calgary’s 34-yard line needing ten yards to convert for a first down — had Washington kept with his route, he would have scored an easy touchdown. Instead, Washington inexplicably broke off his route, causing Nichols’ pass to soar well beyond any of his targets. Dave Ritchie used to say you lose one game for every rookie you start — while I’m not blaming Washington for the loss, I believe those are the types of mental errors to which Ritchie was referring.

6. Rookie field-halfback Roc Carmichael got lit up again on Friday night, allowing a 22-yard touchdown pass to Kamar Jorden that ultimately sealed the game. Carmichael, who allowed two touchdowns a week ago in Regina, is old for a CFL rookie (28) and has appeared in 19 career NFL games. You hate to pile on a first-year CFLer, but it’s hard to see the Bombers not making a change at his spot unless his play improves in a hurry.

7. Boundary cornerback Chris Randle held DaVaris Daniels to just 39 yards on three receptions, while boundary halfback T.J. Heath added two interceptions to his league-leading total of three. I believe this is part of the reason the Bombers give up so much yardage to the field-side of the defence — the boundary side is just too stingy.

8. The Bombers’ offensive line, heralded by many as the best unit in the country this off-season (myself included), may have read too much of their own press heading into the season. Andrew Harris’ running lanes were few and far between versus Calgary, while the hogs have given up eight sacks through two games (though I’d only blame the line for four). Better protection would go a long way to helping Matt Nichols bounce back with a better performance on Thursday versus the Boatmen.

9. Ian Wild left the game with a hand/wrist injury early in the second half, while Tristan Okpalaugo went down with what looked like a neck injury late in the fourth quarter. With just five days before the team’s next game, the Bombers will need those two to get healthy in a hurry if they are to avoid missing time.

10. The Bombers are now 11-26 all-time during the regular season at Investors Group Field. The starting quarterback with the most wins there (6) is… Calgary’s Bo Levi Mitchell.

11. It was a rough night for the Bombers on and off the field. Friday was a missed opportunity to keep pace with the Edmonton Eskimos (2-0) for first place in the West Division, while the club’s efforts to improve game day transportation appear to have failed. The good news for the Winnipeg Football Club is that they’ll have to wait just six days to host another contest when the Toronto Argonauts visit in week four. Stay tuned.

John Hodge is a CFL insider and draft analyst who has been covering the league since 2014.