Bombers suffer defensive collapse in Toronto (& 13 other thoughts)

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were defeated by the Toronto Argonauts by a score of 29-28 on Saturday afternoon in front of 15,532 fans at BMO Field. Below are my thoughts on the game.

1. The Blue Bomber defence gave arguably its worst performance of the season on Saturday afternoon, allowing 572 yards of offence and almost 38 minutes of possession. Ricky Ray was pressured just nine times on 43 pass attempts, throwing for 423 yards (and surpassing 60,000 in his career) and a touchdown. James Wilder Jr., meanwhile, recorded 112 rushing yards on eighteen carries (6.2 YPC) and had 85 receiving yards on seven receptions. Even taking into account the loss of Moe Leggett, this was a very disappointing performance from a Bomber defence that played arguably its best game of the season one week ago against the Lions. Richie Hall’s unit appears to be trending down at the worst possible time — unless he can turn things around quickly, it’s hard to imagine the Bombers bringing Hall back as the club’s defensive coordinator in 2018.

2. I’ve avoided writing about Sam Hurl for almost the entire season, but there’s no denying the veteran middle linebacker had a poor performance in Toronto. Wilder owned Hurl in the run and pass game on Saturday afternoon, making him look foolish on more than one occasion. With Patrick Neufeld replacing Travis Bond due to injury, the Bombers can afford to start an extra American elsewhere on the roster. With Ian Wild back from injury, that position should be middle linebacker.

3. Speaking of Wilder, it’s astounding to consider that the rookie running back now had 914 yards from scrimmage in just his last five games. Here’s hoping he enjoys more longevity than the last big-bodied Argonaut tailback to enjoy such success: 2011 and 2012 East Division all-star Cory Boyd.

4. Andrew Harris had another quiet game, recording just 32 rushing yards and four (yes, four) receiving yards. As the linchpin of Winnipeg’s offensive attack, I’d like to see the Bombers limit Harris’ action over the next two weeks. The Bombers added an American running back to the practice roster this past week in Northern Arizona product Zach Bauman — if Timothy Flanders is still out next week, the club needs to find a way to get Bauman some carries. Harris needs some rest to regain his burst before the playoffs get underway and limiting his touches over the next two weeks is the best way to do that.

5. Justin Medlock has had a great career, but he has now officially supplied the Bombers with the worst field goal kicking in the CFL this year. Even the Eskimos, a team that has dressed four kickers this season due to injury, have a better team field goal percentage (79.5) than Medlock (76.7). Medlock is the CFL’s highest-paid kicker — he needs to be better.

6. I generally think that Mike O’Shea does a good job of managing games, but not choosing the wind in the fourth quarter looms large given Medlock’s last-second miss. With the wind at his back, it’s possible Medlock’s kick would have had enough distance to reach the back of the end zone for a single point, tying the game. Oops.

7. Weston Dressler enjoyed an excellent start to the season, recording 309 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the club’s first three games. Over the following three months, Dressler missed six games due to injury and caught 17 balls for 198 yards in the remaining six contests. On Saturday, Dressler silenced his critics with eight receptions for 129 yards and a touchdown, proving he is still capable of being the primary target in a CFL offence. Considering the Bombers just lost top target Darvin Adams for the rest of the regular season (at least), this is huge.

8. There’s something about playing a former team that tends to bring out the best in players. Tristan Okpalaugo, playing in Toronto for the first time since departing for the NFL almost two years ago, made an outstanding third quarter interception that resulted in at least a ten-point swing. Thomas Miles, who was released by the Argos in March, stopped Cody Fajardo on Toronto’s final two-point convert. This opened the door for Winnipeg to win — not tie — the game on a last-second field goal. Kudos to both former Argos.

9. Dylan Wynn went down with an “injury” on the Bombers’ final drive right as Winnipeg starting running its vaunted no-huddle offence. I immediately got a text after the game from someone calling out Trestman’s bush-league tactic. “Trestman wants to project the image of building character and doing things the right way. Writes books and such on it,” the text reads. “He’s as big a hypocrite as there is.”

10. Chris Givens had a solid CFL debut, recording four receptions for 41 yards and 110 kick-off return yards. Givens has a lot of NFL experience — 1,779 receiving yards in 60 games — and could see more action down the stretch as he and Matt Nichols continue to develop chemistry.

11. Marco Iannuzzi tweeted his intention to retire this afternoon, the announcement coming one day after the Lions were eliminated from playoff contention. Iannuzzi was one of two highly-touted receivers the Bombers passed over in the 2011 CFL draft — the other being Calgary product Nate Coehoorn — to select Saskatchewan’s Jade Etienne, a pick that turned out to be a monumental bust. Iannuzzi currently has 1,665 receiving yards and 1,459 return yards in 114 career games, while Coehoorn — who retired last off-season — finished his career with 2,379 receiving yards in 91 games with the Eskimos. This puts into perspective just how important it is to draft well; the Bombers made a mistake on draft day seven season ago and only now, following Iannuzzi’s retirement, will that error stop hurting them.

12. One change I’d like to see the CFL make is eliminating the ‘half the distance to the goal’ rule for major fouls. As it stands, any fifteen-yard penalty called against a team within fifteen yards of its own goal line results in the ball being moved just half the distance to the goal. This means that, depending on the spot of the ball, serious penalties can cost teams just one or two yards. If you want to take player safety seriously, major fouls that occur from within fifteen yards of the goal line should result in the ball being placed at the one-yard line.

13. Mike O’Shea’s career head coaching record dropped to 34-36 on Saturday, missing an opportunity to reach .500 for the first time since September of 2014. The Bombers also failed to reach twelve wins on the season, a mark the club has not reached since 2002.

14. Winnipeg’s loss to Toronto means the Stampeders (13-2-1) will finish first in the West Division for the fourth time in the last five seasons. The Bombers (11-5) can still finish as low as third should they lose both of their remaining games (vs. B.C., at Calgary) and the Eskimos (8-6) win their remaining games (at B.C., vs. Calgary, at Saskatchewan). All eyes will be on the Bombers’ defence over the next while — unless Richie Hall’s unit can improve, where the Bombers finish in the West standings will likely prove irrelevant.