Bombers lay an egg at the Doughnut Box (& 10 other thoughts)

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were defeated by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats by a score of 31-17 on Friday night in front of 23,721 fans at Tim Hortons Field. Below are my thoughts on the game.

Anemic attack

The Bombers followed up a 56-point, 588-yard performance in Montreal last week by recording just 17 points and 280 yards of offence against the Ticats. Winnipeg went without a first down from the 12:44 mark of the second quarter to the 12:28 mark of the fourth quarter — that’s half the game, if my math is correct — and failed to record a gain of more than 16 yards.

The club was never going to be able to match last week’s offensive output, but it was still surprising to see such a large regression over the course of just one week. This unit should be taking steps forward as Chris Streveler gains experience, not backpedaling.

Hall-ful defence

It was during the third quarter of Friday night’s game when my phone vibrated to indicate that I’d received a text message.

“Richie Hall should open a store that sells pillows, cotton balls, mattresses, and memory foam,” the message read. “Its name? Soft Zone.”

As much as Winnipeg’s offence deserves the benefit of the doubt for Friday’s anemic performance, the defence has long-since worn out any goodwill it once enjoyed in Bomberland. Richie Hall’s unit gives up too many yards, a chronic issue that has haunted this club for the better part of three seasons. Winnipeg allowed 408 passing yards against Mike Reilly in week one and another 369 yards to Jeremiah Masoli in Hamilton. That’s simply unacceptable.

The Bombers used to generate more takeaways than any other team in the CFL. Creating turnovers was a way to generate points, momentum, and quick field position. Giving up more yardage than any other team in the league was a reasonable price to pay for the number of takeaways that the defence was able to record.

Winnipeg has just three takeaways this season on defence, an average of one per contest. That might not be a problem if the Bombers found a way to minimize yardage as a result of forcing fewer turnovers, but that hasn’t happened.

I have concerns about how Winnipeg is deploying its defensive personnel. The Bombers are paying a lot of money to veteran defensive backs Chris Randle, Maurice Leggett, and Chandler Fenner. This isn’t inherently an issue — players with strong coverage skills are worth a significant financial investment. My concern lies in the way in which these players are used — if defensive backs aren’t going to be given the opportunity to challenge receivers for the football, why invest in such talented players?

Any young defensive back on a minimum contract should be capable of covering a receiver from twenty yards off the ball in soft zone coverage. It’s becoming evident that one of two scenarios is playing out in Winnipeg — either the Bombers are vastly overpaying their defensive backs or Richie Hall is struggling to properly utilize the talent in his secondary.

I believe it’s the latter. And that’s a huge problem.

Streveler struggles

The #Strevolution hit a speed bump at Tim Hortons Field with the rookie pivot completing 17 of 30 pass attempts for just 147 yards. Streveler was also held without a passing touchdown for the first time in his career after tossing for three scores in each of his first two contests.

Streveler made some plays with his legs (five carries for 55 yards), but needs to do a better job of throwing the football downfield. Darvin Adams, Adarius Bowman, and Nic Demski all have the ability to win 50/50 balls, but they can’t catch what Streveler doesn’t throw.

Tabbie targets

With all due respect to the receiving group in Calgary, Hamilton will have the league’s best receiving corps if they ever smarten up and offer Mark Chapman a fair contract. Brandon Banks is dynamic, Jalen Saunders is explosive, Terrence Toliver brings skill, speed, and size, and Luke Tasker is arguably the league’s best possession receiver. I wouldn’t be surprised to see all four reach the 1,000-yard receiving mark by the end of this season.

The Ticats wined and dined Chapman at Friday night’s game and it’s possible that the two sides will begin discussing a contract in the near future. I expect the Central Michigan product to shine should he ever decide to come north.

Canadian carries

Sean Thomas-Erlington came into this week with just three career carries. Drafted in the eighth round of last year’s draft, I think it’s a safe bet that people who don’t follow the Montreal Carabins had never heard of Thomas-Erlington before Friday night.

Well, the secret’s out — this kid can carry the football. Thomas-Erlington rushed for 92 yards on eleven attempts, including a sensational 23-yard run that saw him hurdle over Taylor Loffler.

Hamilton has two Canadian players who can produce at the running back spot in Thomas-Erlington and Mercer Timmis, the Calgary product who ran for two touchdowns on Friday night. Alex Green is a good player, but if I’m June Jones I keep rolling with the Canadians even after he returns to health.

I’ve always felt that more teams in the CFL should utilize national ball carriers and I’m pleased to see more Canadian talent getting a look in the backfield.

Hamilton hogs

I’d be remiss if I didn’t commend the Ticats for the outstanding play of their offensive line. Ryker Matthews has locked down the right tackle spot since signing with Hamilton midway through last season, while rookie right guard Darius Ciraco has been a revelation. I didn’t see Ciraco as a day-one starter heading into the draft, but he’s quickly proving me wrong.

M.O.P. Masoli?

If asked to cast a ballot today I would have no hesitation in voting for Jeremiah Masoli as the Most Outstanding Player in the East Division. The six-year pivot has built on a strong second half of last season and is currently on pace for more than 6,000 yards passing this year.

It’s early, of course, but with Ricky Ray (unofficially) out for the season and the Montreal Alouettes in the proverbial toilet, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Masoli earn some hardware come season’s end.

F-bombs away

The number of obscenities that were audible during Friday night’s live mic game generated some buzz on social media. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on the way in which the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council polices networks regarding language, but TSN was cited last year for profanity after a complaint was filed by a viewer.

I really enjoy live mic games — hearing what players and coaches have to say adds a lot of insight and enjoyment to the viewing experience. I hope TSN isn’t forced to eliminate the live mic initiative should they prove incapable of eliminating all obscenities from reaching the broadcast.

Unfortunate timing

Speaking of live mic games, coaches hate doing them because it forces teams to change the verbiage they use in their offensive play-calling. Every team is doing several live mic games this season, so there shouldn’t be a competitive advantage for any particular team comes season’s end.

Still, the timing of Winnipeg first live mic game is unfortunate. Chris Streveler has had just five weeks to learn Paul LaPolice’s offence — and now some of its terminology will change.

Supplemental draft looms

The CFL is holding a supplemental draft on Monday with Oregon product Tyler Johnstone expected to earn a first-round bid from multiple teams.

Johnstone, 25, was a collegiate left tackle who would likely be enjoying a solid NFL career were it not for some untimely injuries. Given his national status north of the border, it’s easy to see why Johnstone is coveted by so many teams.

The Bombers don’t need immediate help along the offensive line, but the club has the option of bidding their own or B.C.’s first-round pick in order to acquire Johnstone’s rights by virtue of last month’s trade with the Lions. The supplemental draft functions on waiver order, so Montreal will have first dibs on Johnstone, followed by Hamilton and Winnipeg (via B.C.).

B.C. back-to-back

The Bombers will return to Winnipeg tonight to prepare for a date with the B.C. Lions at Investors Group Field next Saturday, the club’s first home game in 23 days. It’s never too early to start thinking about playoff seeding and Winnipeg’s upcoming back-to-back games with B.C. will decide the season series between the two teams. Regardless of the score, don’t look for either side to back down from adding points late in the game as, should the teams split the home-and-home contests, the scoring differential will decide the season series between the two teams.

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