Bombers fail to overcome poor start on Labour Day (& 10 other thoughts)

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were defeated by the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Sunday’s Labour Day Classic by a score of 38-24 in front of 33,350 fans at New Mosaic Stadium in Regina. Here are my thoughts on the game.

1. The Blue Bomber defence was poor on Sunday, allowing five receptions of more than 20 yards and a 48-yard rush. The secondary appeared lost on multiple occasions, while the defensive line struggled to generate any type of pass rush. There are multiple factors at play, but I lay Sunday’s poor performance at the feet of defensive coordinator Richie Hall. The Bombers simply have too much talent to be allowing so many big plays. It has now been three games since a Winnipeg defensive linemen recorded a sack — how does that happen when you’ve got Jamaal Westerman, Jackson Jeffcoat, and Tristan Okpalaugo, among others? Hall needs to get his unit clicking — and fast.

2. TSN is seeking to settle a long-standing debate between Winnipeg and Saskatchewan — which team has the loudest fans. Sunday’s game in Regina finished with an average decibel level of just under 100.0 (the info-graph below wasn’t updated by game’s end). Next weekend’s Banjo Bowl now has an added point of interest — in addition to deciding the season series between Winnipeg and Saskatchewan, Saturday’s game will also decide which team’s fans are the loudest in the CFL. Kudos to TSN for capitalizing on a long-debated topic.

3. The Riders seem to have figured out a way to slow down the Bombers’ hurry-up offence: gamesmanship. Twice in the first half Saskatchewan defensive tackles — first Eddie Steele, followed by Makana Henry — went down with apparent leg cramps to prevent the Bombers from going into hurry-up. Leg cramps aren’t uncommon in severe heat, but it was a beautiful 22-degrees in Regina on Sunday and both players quickly returned to the game. Ese Mrabure-Ajufo, another Rider defensive tackle, went down in the fourth quarter and was seen laughing as he was led off the field by training staff. He returned to the game for the Bombers’ next drive. Rider pride, indeed.

4. There was a small handful of offensive plays that kept the Bombers from turning Sunday’s game into a shootout like week two’s 43-40 victory at New Mosaic. Matt Nichols narrowly missed Darvin Adams on what would have been an 88-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter, while the Bombers twice failed to score points in the red zone. It wasn’t a great performance from the Bomber offence, but falling behind 24-3 early was disastrous for Paul LaPolice’s ball control offence. Had it not been for mediocre red zone production and three two-and-outs to start the third quarter, I’d say the Bombers’ offence had a solid road outing. That said, more consistency is needed.

5. A lot of critics predicted the Bombers would struggle to match last year’s 11-7 record because of the club’s over-reliance on turnovers. Winnipeg had a stellar plus-32 turnover differential last season, by far the best number in the CFL. I’m not taking anything away from the Riders’ three-game winning streak — they’ve beaten B.C., Edmonton, and Winnipeg by double-digit margins, after all — but Saskatchewan has a plus-12 turnover differential in those contests. That’s unsustainable. Can the Riders keep winning without getting so many takeaways?

6. Ryan Lankford is a fine returner, but he finished Sunday’s game without a reception. He now has just five receptions in five starts this season — hardly production worthy of a starting spot. Even if it means losing Lankford’s production on special teams, the Bombers need to find a way to get T.J. Thorpe back in the line-up. Thorpe has 33 receptions in six career contests — he deserves better than a spot on the practice roster.

7. It was nice to see Dariusz Bladek get some snaps at centre in Sunday’s game. In what has been a relatively underwhelming 2017 draft offensive line class — a rookie Canadian hog has yet to start a game this season, after five did so last year — I see Bladek as a ten-year CFLer.

8. Speaking of rookie Canadian offensive linemen, Geoff Gray was cut yesterday by the Green Bay Packers. The University of Manitoba product has since joined the New York Jets’ practice roster, meaning the Bombers will have to continue to wait on him. On the flip side, Andy Mulumba — Winnipeg’s first round pick back in 2013 — has exhausted his NFL practice roster eligibility and is without a team for the second consecutive season. I wouldn’t rule out the rush end joining the Bombers this season — if Winnipeg can find a way to clear the necessary cap space, of course.

9. Speaking of NFL cuts, check back to 3DownNation tomorrow for my thoughts on all of the Canadians and former CFLers who were released by NFL clubs this weekend. You can find all of today’s CFL-related NFL transactions here.

10. Andrew Harris was held to just 29 rushing yards against the Riders, tying his worst output of the season. Harris has recorded totals of just 29, 32, and 29 rushing yards in the Bombers’ three losses. His totals in the Bombers’ seven wins? 57, 81, 41, 43, 107, 105, and 75.

11. The Bombers, now 7-3, will remain in second place in the West Division through the long weekend barring an Edmonton victory in Calgary. A win over the Riders in the Banjo Bowl would give the Bombers the season series over Saskatchewan and a six-point cushion over their prairie foes in the standings. A loss would see the Riders win the season series and put the green and white just two points behind Winnipeg with a game in hand. Needless to say, next week’s contest is huge for both sides. Game on.

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