Blue Review: Nichols’ Win in Edmonton Puts End to Drew Willy Era

In the words of Doug Brown, “If Nichols plays, O’Shea stays.”

With a confident Matt Nichols playing solid, turnover-free football in his first start of the season, the Bombers added a rare win to their formerly 2-25-1 record in Alberta since 2003, defeating a stunned Eskimos team 30-23.

It also, perhaps prematurely and by default, unofficially put a nail in the coffin of WillyPeg in the capital province of Manitoba which, despite a porous 2016 season for starting QB Drew Willy, remains an inconclusively positive or negative check-point for the Bombers.

Here are my thoughts are the Bombers’ huge win at the Brick Field in Commonwealth Stadium.

1. Mike O’Shea’s decision to bench franchise quarterback Drew Willy in favor of Matt Nichols did exactly as intended: it sparked the rest of the team, emphasizing that no one’s job is safe, and that the Bombers are in must-win mode. Although Edmonton’s defense is nearing ’15 Saskatchewan-like ineptitude, and it possibly still would have been won if Willy was at the helm, it was a great confidence builder for a team that definitely needed a boost after dropping back-to-back games at Investors Group Field.

2. Matt Nichols undeniably played smart and poised football in his first start of the season while operating with no pressure on his shoulders, and he deserves a ton of credit and a string of consecutive starts. But it’s hard not to think that the team would’ve also left Alberta with a win for the first time in 10 years even if Willy was operating the offense in place of the eight-year veteran. I doubt he’d have been as successful as Nichols, and it could’ve held the Bombers back for a few weeks until Nichols inevitably took over the reigns down the road, but for the first time this season, the Bombers’ defense consistently gave the offense back the ball, and the run-game was working. With that being said, it’s hard not to wonder how much of this was sparked due to the change at the most polarizing position in sports – quarterback. At this point, it’s hard to argue with Mike O’Shea’s decision at quarterback; while Drew Willy had perhaps his best of the season in Calgary, and the Edmonton game could’ve been a confidence builder, the offense clearly has a limited level of potential under the third-year starter given what has transpired this season.

3. It hurts terribly to lose a key, Canadian starter – particularly when it’s a rare, Canadian right tackle in the case of Patrick Neufeld – to injury, but the loss appeared to be a blessing in disguise for the offense – for a couple games, that is; Canadian depth isn’t as important in the short-term. With LG Jamarcus Hardrick shifting out to right tackle, American rookie Travis Bond filled the hole at left guard and was a crucial difference-maker. The 6-foot-7, 356-lb rookie, with deceptively quick feet and an uncanny amount of knowledge, was sound pass-protecting, and he evidently proved to have the size, power and technique to over-power defenders in the run-game. Paving the way for much of Andrew Harris’ season-high 127 yards rushing, Bond proved in his 1st-career start why, exactly, I thought he was the Bombers’ top performer on both sides of the football in the preseason. Bond has been stashed on the 2-man reserve all season, and it’s clear to see why the Bombers like him so much.

4. 3rd-round pick Taylor Loffler had as admirable of a game as a rookie free safety can have in their first-career start, proving to be a legitimate option to be one of Winnipeg’s seven Canadian starters with Neufeld on the 6-game injured list. Although Macho Harris is, of course, a far more reliable option at safety this young into Loffler’s career, the former Boise State Bronco and UBC Thunderbird, who I dubbed as the 2016 draft’s most pro-ready defender coming out of the CIS in the pre-draft, is already proving to be somewhat serviceable just five games into his pro career. Sliding into the 3rd-round of the draft with teams scared off due to his injury history, Loffler has a promising career ahead of him after two straight exceptional games, and he could be pressed into full-time action sooner than anticipated.

5. Despite still being well-documented, the Bombers’ defensive ineptitude has been over-looked in 2016. But with four rookies starting the secondary with Johnny Adams, Chris Randle, Macho Harris and Julian Posey all injured, the defense ironically played their best game of the season against the league’s best offense. Esks’ QB Mike Reilly was held to under 300 yards with no touchdowns (excluding garbage-time stats) just one week after this exact group, while all playing out position, nearly limited Bo Levi Mitchell to under 100 yards passing in the second-half. The Bombers, evidently, have great depth at defensive back, and a well-deserved cap-tip goes to defensive coordinator Richie Hall for creating a masterful game-plan.

6. Matt Nichols is not a better quarterback than Drew Willy, but number 5’s confidence is shattered and, with the starter struggling mightily, Nichols took advantage of a favorable situation. The quarterback change surely benefited the Bombers – and especially Mike O’Shea – in the short-term, but it doesn’t help the Blue & Gold much in the future. Willy undeniably has a higher ceiling of potential, but after pulling him against Calgary and then starting Nichols this week, his mental-state as a quarterback is perhaps at an irreparable phase for as long as he is a Blue Bomber. See, Willy likely played his best game of the season against Calgary, and given what he’s shown in the past, he likely deserved 1 more start before giving way to Nichols. And if his play against Calgary, which still wasn’t good enough, is as good as it gets for Willy in 2016, then the Bombers will have got a definitive answer in regards to their supposed franchise quarterback, and they’ll have known exact when it’s time to move on. After starting Nichols against Edmonton, the Drew Willy era in Winnipeg will, somewhat by default, officially come to an end when the season is over.

7. Albeit two weeks apart, both CBs Terrance Frederick and CJ Roberts made their CFL debuts against the Eskimos’ lethal offense, and the results were night-and-day. Roberts allowed 3 catches for 116 yards in week four, including the game-winning, 74-yard touchdown pass to Derel Walker, while Frederick notched a game-sealing interception, back-to-back crucial big-hits in the 1st-half to limit gains, and a low completion percentage against from his wide-side corner position, which inevitably had him cover Derel Walker at times. Despite the frequent speed bumps this season, it’s hard not to be incredibly psyched about the talent the Bombers’ will boast in the secondary when everyone returns to health.

8. Nichols and offensive coordinator Paul Lapolice did a sound job remaining afloat despite the losses of starting receivers Weston Dressler, who had 111 yards in the first half alone, and Quincy McDuffie, which threw international rookie Gerrard Shephard and veteran Canadian Julian Feoli-Gudino into the offense. Already without Ryan Smith due to injury, Nichols got the ball to Rory Kohlert at crucial moments in the game, and heavily relied on the play-making ability of Darvin Adams – one of the league’s best role-players at receiver. Finishing with 10 catches for 121 yards and a key touchdown reception versus press-man after Edmonton had gained some momentum with a 7-point drive of their own, Adams is great weapon to have, but the Bombers will certainly still need one of Smith or Dressler to be healthy next week.

9. Free-agent acquisition Euclid Cummings finally notched his first sack of the season with a beautiful speed rush around the edge on a play that’s designed to simply open-up the B-Gap for the defensive end to twist inside and press. Cummings, who notched 8 sacks in his first full season with the Argonauts last year, is only on pace for 3 sacks, but he’s been anything but a bust this season. The sacks will come from his pass-rushing, 3-technique position, as he graded as the Bombers’ best defensive lineman in three games so far this season.

10. The Bombers shocked many with the second-round selection of Queen’s defensive back Brendan Morgan in the 2015 draft, and the sophomore FS has been quite the burden for the Bombers on special-teams. Whereas young Canadians Taylor Loffler and Derek Jones have either been making plays or at least filling their lanes while veteran Canadian DB Teague Sherman is the big-time play-maker, Morgan has taken countless, unnecessary no-yards penalties, missed countless tackles, lost contain too times and has struggled to get off blocks downfield blocks in about one-and-one-third seasons in the CFL.

11. Despite a huge victory that featured a brilliant performance from Matt Nichols, Bombers fans are encouraged to closely watch – and root for – Hamilton QB Jeremiah Masoli. Although he isn’t a pending free agent, if the Bombers’ brass believe he can be a franchise quarterback, they won’t hesitate to organize a deal with Eric Tillman in the off-season. But that only happens if Masoli continues to play at a high level while Zach Collaros is still sidelined.

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Stock Market Report: Eskimos vs. Bombers

With another losing season in the headlights, countless undeserving Bombers have fingers being pointed at them for both the season and the 20-16 loss to the Eskimos and their struggling defense. The same can be said about the weak-spots on the roster – the underlying issues may not be entirely clear at first glance.

The Bombers don’t have much time to get it together, but all it takes is one win at home to get the fans back behind Mike O’Shea’s club. Given all the negativity surrounding this club, we start this Report with the good news.

BLUE-CHIP STOCKS

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PHOTO: JOHANY JUTRAS

1. Maurice Leggett: The third-year veteran followed up a career-best day in Hamilton with another spectacular performance in week four. Heading into his first full season at strong-side linebacker, Leggett was a proven, respected defender in the box against the run. The concern with moving Leggett down towards the line of scrimmage was the increase in man-coverage and the overall expanded duties in all pass-coverages, which he has recently answered in an emphatic way. While Leggett only found himself in man-coverage situations against Eskimos’ FB Calvin McCarty – defensive coordinator Richie Hall called mostly zone coverages for three quarters – he truly excelled in his zone responsibilities, demonstrating his athleticism and decisiveness with a great understanding of the system. Leggett, magnificently, was not documented once for allowing a single completion against the Eskimos’ prolific aerial attack. For reference, Kevin Fogg and CJ Roberts each allowed over 100 yards receiving, and FS Macho Harris allowed two touchdown passes to Cory Watson (one of which was called back). Evidently Leggett, 29, is proving to be an All-Star caliber player at two separate positions in the defensive backfield.

2. Euclid Cummings: There’s no questioning that the Bombers aren’t much better than when they put together a pitiful, 5-13 record in 2015. But under no means does that indicate that the Bombers’ free agent signings from February are anything close to busts. Euclid Cummings is the perfect example of this, as he’s been a terror for offensive lineman this season despite an overall mediocre pass-rush in Winnipeg. With the 1-tech, Keith Shologan, typically drawing the double-teams in four-man fronts, Euclid Cummings is winning his one-on-one match-ups handily. The former Argo had three less pressures than Jamaal Westerman, who recorded five, but he consistently drew help from RB John White and continually gained penetration from his 3-tech alignment. He was solid against the run, too, often scraping to the play-side with good angles and body positioning. Cummings, an outstanding pass-rusher, is close to a break-out game on the stat-sheet, and he certainly has 12-sacks-per-season potential in him.

3. Jamaal Westerman: One strip-sack, five pressures and consistent gap discipline – Westerman did it all against Edmonton. He’s the Bombers’ best player and is likely the best defender in the entire league – it truly is a treat to watch him play. Westerman does all the small, unnoticed things that make him so valuable, such as spinning back to the outside to maintain contain after attempting an inside pass-rush move, or using deception to play the read option perfectly so the offense is mistaken no matter what decision is made. Oh, and in case you weren’t sure, the seven-year NFL veteran is an unbelievably talented, refined and well-rounded pass-rusher who does his job extremely well and more, going the extra mile that few defensive ends can. It was no surprise that on practically every play-call that had Westerman either drop into coverage or not featured as a primary pass-rusher, but rather a role-player to open up a lane for a twisting linebacker, the Bombers’ pass-rush struggled mightily, allowing QB Mike Reilly to step up and create big plays downfield. Although the Bombers’ pass-rush may have seemed rather sluggish against Edmonton, Westerman was certainly not an issue.

SOLID INVESTMENTS

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PHOTO: JOHANY JUTRAS

1. Ian Wild: After a decent first-half that saw, among other things, Wild miss a potential tackle-for-loss in the backfield after riskily driving an open inside gap on a toss sweep to Eskimos’ RB John White, the 26-year-old came alive in the final two quarters. While not necessarily being the one making the tackle, he worked off blocks against the run, and finally wasn’t picked on underneath in the passing game. I thought he read, reacted and mirrored Reilly’s movements very well to take away passing lanes over the middle, while his near back-to-back plays made in the final two minutes of the third quarter essentially kept the Bombers in the game until the end. Reading the play nicely on both occasions, Wild showed off his athletic traits as he chased down Reilly on a roll-out in the end-zone, forcing an intentional grounding call on the 1-yard line. One play later, after not being fooled by play-action, Wild was in Reilly’s face as he turned back to the play on the boot-leg, throwing an interception under pressure to Julian Posey. As the weak-side linebacker in Richie Hall’s defense, Wild is involved in an excessive amount of plays, and after a very rough start to the season in weeks one and two, he’s back to playing at a high level.

2. Weston Dressler: The Bombers’ offense has had a tough time getting the ball to both of their 5-foot-7 receivers from North Dakota, as Willy completed just 37-percent (3/8) of his passes to boundary WR Weston Dressler in the win against the Tiger-Cats, often appearing to be on the wrong page. The QB-WR connection was, at least, somewhat efficient against the Eskimos, hooking up on a 3/6 attempts on cornerback Pat Watkins for 67 yards, which should read 3/4 if Willy hadn’t thrown completely errant tosses to a wide open no. 7 on two occasions. While Dressler also caught four of Paul Lapolice’s patented hitch screens for exactly zero yards, the lack of success on this play cannot be put on the shoulders of Dressler. Lapolice has, somewhat rightfully, abused the hitch screen this season, and Esks’ defensive coordinator had a direct plan to stop it, aligning his weak-side linebacker closer to the boundary against select offensive packages. Although the legendary Saskatchewan pass-catcher has yet to reach the end-zone as a member of the Blue & Gold, he put himself in a position to score his first touchdown in dream-scenario fashion, blowing past Watkins with 26 seconds left in the fourth quarter only to be under-thrown from the struggling Bomber quarterback. With Dressler now doing his part in the Bombers’ offense, Willy has no excuse not to get the ball deep down-field to the receiver who they pay to run hooks, posts and corner-routes.

3. Mathias Goossen: Winnipeg’s best offensive lineman against a stout Edmonton front-seven, Goossen is developing into a stellar Canadian at the center position. The third-year middle-man was the Bombers’ top offensive lineman in week four, and would have been in the Blue-Chip section if it weren’t for his worst blunder of the night: a sack allowed from Reuben Frank, as the defensive end twisted into the A-Gap and gave the Bombers’ quarterback no chance to deliver the ball. That mistake, however, resulted in Goossen’s lone pressure allowed on the night, and although the Eskimos didn’t have too many stunts and twists in their game-plan, Goossen helped himself greatly with his work in the run-game. Often down-blocking with his guards working to the second-level, Goossen won his match-ups handily against even All-Star nose tackle Almondo Sewell. After witnessing the near-disaster that was a 33-year-old Dominic Picard fill the center position last year, it’s quite refreshing to see solid play at the heart of the offensive line.

4. Chris Randle: A staple in either positively-graded sections of this report, Randle has been arguably the CFL’s best defensive back in 2016 since moving back to the short-side cornerback position, surrendering only two catches for 26 yards despite having star receiver Derel Walker aligning in front of him at boundary wide-receiver. Although Walker finished with 154 yards, Randle’s two catches allowed came against a Chris Getzlaf sit-route at 7:14 in the 1st-quarter, and Cory Watson’s high drag route, which went for 18 yards near the end of the second-quarter, as Randle got good depth while covering the flats but was late reacting to Watson crossing his face before missing the tackle. Allowing only two catches is a great feat against the ridiculous duo that the Eskimos post in the boundary, and it’s this type of effort that Bombers’ fans are becoming accustomed to witnessing from the Utah State product.

JUNK BONDS

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PHOTO: JOHANY JUTRAS

1. Shayon Green: Undoubtedly the most outstanding weakness on a struggling defense, Green has more than officially out-stayed his welcome on the Bombers’ game-day roster. The rookie rush-end was the only Bombers’ defensive lineman to notch zero QB pressures – Jamaal Westerman, for reference, was credited for six – and was no better in run defense. Green, a one-dimensional pass-rusher, is continuously washed out by offensive tackles, as it’s easy to defend a defensive end who only has one move in his repertoire. Green is restricted to a very mediocre speed-rush, which gave Reilly constant step-up lanes and plenty of time to find an open receiver. Green should’ve been demoted to the practice roster after Adrian Hubbard’s performance in Hamilton, and now given his unacceptable illegal block penalty on Kevin Fogg’s punt return touchdown, he should be given one-way plane ticket to the United States.

2. Patrick Neufeld: He didn’t give up a sack, but Neufeld struggled mightily in the loss to Edmonton. He gave up a team-high five pressures, and while speed-rushes, at last, were not the issue, Eskimos’ rushers Markus Howard and Odell Willis excel with power and finesse moves, which Neufeld could not defend. Neufeld has been serviceable this season at right tackle, and as was the case for the entire offensive line as a unit against Edmonton, he certainly had a poor game.

3. Julian Posey: In fairness, covering perennial All-Star slot-back Adarius Bowman is no easy task, but when a player is responsible for five of his catches alone for 67 yards, they belong in this section. The ability Posey displayed in man-coverage was promising – 18 of Bowman’s yards came on a beautifully run out-route, which Posey covered perfectly, but the ball-placement was better – however it appears as though he’s still lacking instincts in zone-coverage.

4. Drew Willy: Slow reads, poor decisions and missed throws; Willy’s downward spiral towards an irreparable regression continued against the Eskimos. His lack of comfort and confidence in Paul Lapolice’s offense is still evident about 10 weeks into the campaign. Willy inexcusably missed seven throws to open receivers that was clearly the quarterback’s fault, and evidently made questionable-to-poor decisions on 10 occasions, with two of them resulting in interceptions in triple coverage. And yet despite all this, the Bombers would have came away with the win if only Willy hadn’t under-thrown a streaking Weston Dressler down the sidelines behind coverage with 26 seconds left in the game. Regardless, I fully believe that, as well as with head coach Mike O’Shea, the Bombers must have Willy go down with his ship. He gives the Bombers the best chance to win, and as long as the Bombers aren’t officially eliminated from the playoffs, he must be the one taking the first snap of the game.

5. Sukh Chungh: In one of the worst games of Chungh’s career, the 2015 second-overall pick gave up two sacks and missed countless blocks in the run-game. There’s been clear improvement in his game in 2016, but the Edmonton game was a small step back.


BUY: The run game must be more effective on first-down. The encouraging progression of this young offensive line is undeniable, but they’ve been incredibly inconsistent on the ground. Often following up a fantastic block with a disastrous one, the Bombers are the worst offense on first-down and much can be contributed for their rushing attack on 1st-down. Andrew Harris has been great at running back, but he needs holes to hit more consistently.

SELL: Dominique Davis and Brian Bennett are not upgrades over Willy. While both young quarterbacks caught the attention of Bombers’ fans when the Blue & Gold scored a mass amount of second-half points in the first preseason game, both had very underwhelming performances against Montreal’s second and third-strings, especially if they were held to the standards of a starting quarterback. Bennett’s accuracy was surprisingly poor, while Davis appeared to work through his progressions slowly. Neither of these youngsters are currently upgrades over Willy, and at this point, I’m not interested in seeing either behind center until either a game is a blow-out, or the Bombers are eliminated from playoff contention.


OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: WR Weston Dressler
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: LB Maurice Leggett

Blue Review: Bombers Finally Overcome Adversity in Win over Hamilton

Following consecutive blow-outs in weeks 1 and 2, the Bombers entered Tim Hortons Field in a must-win situation. Hamilton has dominated the Bombers in the Kent Austin regime, and another loss to open the season would result in a small, angry crowd at Investors Group Field for merely a week four contest.

But the Bombers, against all odds, prevailed, beating the Tiger-Cats by a score of 28-24 and silencing Mike O’Shea’s critics. The game was a roller-coaster ride from start to finish, which made the Bombers’ victory all the more impressive – and surprising. Mike O’Shea’s ball club proved something tonight.

1. Adversity (ad-vur-si-tee), noun: An adverse or unfavorable event or fortune; a condition marked by misfortune, calamity or distress. The Bombers faced major adversity several times throughout this game, and overcome it they did – on the road and in Tim Hortons Field, no less. Whether it’s a slow start to the game or a big play against – i.e. missed field goal, pick-six, etc. – this team has consistently succumbed to pressure ever since the 2014 Banjo Bowl. This was emphasized in week 7 last season – in Hamilton, no less – which, as a result of the team folding following a Drew Willy pick-6, saw the Bombers on the wrong end of an insurmountable lead merely 8 minutes into the game. So when a 10-point swing occurred as a result of a missed field goal being returned 120 yards for a touchdown by Brandon Banks, this game was supposedly headed for another drubbing at the hands of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. But then the Bombers’ offense did something no one expected: they responded. Collectively, the offense remained level-headed, methodically driving the ball into the red-zone for three points. And then they did it again – responding to adversity – again and again and again. From the Ti-Cats cashing in with a touchdown after Quincy McDuffie fumbled the opening kickoff of the second half, to Chad Owens’ huge touchdown catch that shouldn’t have counted, the Bombers continuously fought off momentum swings, never hanging their heads once in the process. For a team that has already been booed at home and been blown-out twice, that is tremendously impressive. Good for Mike O’Shea.

2. The Bombers battled another opponent in the game: the officials. The league introduced a supposedly revolutionary video review official in the off-season, which was suppose to quickly reverse evident mistakes made on the field. It’s for this reason that it’s absolutely absurd that not one Hamilton receiver was penalized for being off-side on Chad Owens’ 36-yard touchdown, as both Owens and Andy Fantuz were clearly off-side – especially Fantuz – and the replay official made no changes to the on-field call. Chad Owens had another grab late in the game that featured at least one infraction that should’ve been called either on the field or from the command center in Toronto. While I understand that Owens was behind the line of scrimmage when he caught the pass on a drag route, and the huge block on Maurice Leggett was legal because the play was deemed a screen, there was a clear clipping penalty during Owens’ run after the catch that, despite being initially flagged during the play, somehow wasn’t applied once everything was sorted out. Video review on scoring plays was a huge talking point last year, and the league’s ineptitude regarding video replay hasn’t improved at all this season.

3. Forcing six turnovers, the Bombers’ defense had a dominant performance against a struggling Jeremiah Masoli. The ‘Cats have one of the league’s best pass-blocking offensive lines in the CFL, but the Bombers’ front-four managed to make them look rather pedestrian. With the exception of one 26-yard rumble, Hamilton running back CJ Gable picked up four rushing yards on six carries against a front-seven that surrendered over 200 rushing yards to the Stampeders last week. Led by Jamaal Westerman and Euclid Cummings, Winnipeg’s pass-rush was fearsome after being limited in weeks 1 and 2 as a result of some porous pass-coverage from both the linebackers and defensive backs. Masoli was never comfortable in the pocket, and it costed his team with multiple interceptions and fumbles. Seeing as they only won by four points despite recording six turnovers and a take-away on special-teams, the Bombers defense clearly carried the team tonight. It was only fitting that the win was sealed by the defense, as rookie defensive end Adrian Hubbard bursted through the A-Gap for a monster, game-winning strip-sack in the final minute of the contest.

4. Adrian Hubbard’s game-sealing sack should’ve secured him a starting spot in the lineup next week against Edmonton. Miami product Shayon Green has been a huge liability for the defense as an edge-defender against the run, while his pass-rushing repertoire is limited to a speed-rush that usually sees him being washed out of the play. Coincidentally, run defense is the strong suit of Hubbard’s game, and if the University of Alabama product continues to make plays going forward similar to what we saw on Hamilton’s last snap of the game, Green could be given a plan ticket home rather soon.

5. Maurice Leggett played his best game in the Blue & Gold since 2014, intercepting two passes, recording five tackles and one sack. Fooling Masoli into thinking it was man-coverage, Leggett’s pick-6 in front of Chad Owens’ curl-route was a special play that gave the Bombers their first lead of the game (aside from a rouge on the opening kickoff, that is). Leggett was finally a menace in the run-game on the very few carries Gable received, as well, while his sack just happened to come on a 1st-and-goal from Winnipeg’s four yard-line. That’s a rare, huge play. The 3rd-year Bomber deserved every bit of the praise he received from Coach O’Shea in the post-game.

6. CFL teams don’t usually win games with mediocre quarterback play, but with Hamilton turning the ball over seven times, the Bombers managed to come away with a crucial victory despite Drew Willy playing a terrible game – albeit with no interceptions. He continues to miss throws down-field – his over-throw to Ryan Smith in the end-zone was unacceptable – and plays with absolutely no anticipation. I can’t emphasize enough how fortunate Willy was to be surrounded with a tremendous amount of talent in this game. He’s late delivering throws, shies away from making plays down-field to open receivers and continues to struggle throwing with pressure in his face. These are crucial flaws that have been more than pressing issues in three games this season. Willy is currently the ninth best starting quarterback in the CFL after showing so much promise in his first two years. He’s regressing, and it’s looking less likely every week that these current issues are reversible.

7. Paul Lapolice’s red-zone play-calling was rather poor in Hamilton, especially inside the five-yard line. The Ti-Cats gave many cover-0 press-coverage looks in the end-zone, and Lapo failed to take advantage. The play-action pass inside the five that resulted in an ugly fumble was one of the more head-scratching calls on the night.

8. You would’ve never been able to tell in a million years that Willy and Ryan Smith have struggled to develop a rapport by watching the incredible, no-look touchdown catch from Smith on a quick-slant in the second quarter. It was an unbelievably lucky catch that we might never see again aside from in Madden. But my question remains: why wasn’t Smith looking for the ball on the play? Hamilton was bringing a heavy blitz, and Smith needs to be looking for that ball immediately. On a night where we saw several receivers fear catching passes across the middle – watch Chad Owens on the play that he drew a pass interference call – this was likely another example.

9. The Bombers’ special-teams were badly missing Canadians Sam Hurl and Teague Sherman on the cover teams. Hurl and Sherman are easily the club’s two best Canadian special-teamers, and it wasn’t surprising to see premiere returner Brandon Banks have a huge game, returning a missed field 120-yards for a touchdown, while also averaging 30.5 yards per return on kickoffs. Second-year Canadian linebacker Garrett Waggoner, fortunately, stepped up in their absence, notching a crucial tackle for an 8-yard loss on a late fourth quarter punt return.

10. The Bombers’ offensive line has improved tremendously this season, but they absolutely need to learn how to run-block against blitzes and, in particular, linebackers. While the feat of allowing only one legitimate sack against a fearsome, complex Hamilton pass-rush is a very, very impressive accomplishment, Bob Wylie’s group continued to catch blocks in the run game instead of delivering them. You can’t run block when you’re pass blocking. This offensive line has been one of the club’s best position groups this season, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

11. Former Toronto Argonauts defensive back Travis Hawkins made his debut in the Blue & Gold in replacement of the injured Bruce Johnson, and he had a rough debut. Signed before the Bombers’ week one contest against Montreal, Hawkins was the victim of an Andy Fantuz touchdown on a fade-route early in the third quarter – the coverage on the play was impressively bad, if that makes sense. It’ll be awhile before Hawkins is comfortable in Richie Hall’s defense, but based on his struggles with Toronto last year, he’s not an upgrade over Bruce Johnson, who finds himself on the six-game injured list.

12. Thursday’s win will silence Mike O’Shea’s critics for awhile – and good riddance. Fans have every right to doubt the third-year head coach, but it’s in no ones best interest for the club to fire their head coach mid-season – nothing good ever comes from that. The Bombers also have no possible interim coach on the roster, as Paul Lapolice is still brand new here, while Richie Hall had a poor stint as a head coach in the past. O’Shea should – and deserves to – receive every opportunity in the 18-game schedule of his third year before the club should event think about his future with the club.

13. The win in Hamilton was awesome and unexpected, but I won’t be sold on this team until Willy shows some life as a passer. I’m not sure if he can reverse his current regression, return to the player he was last season and continue his development from there. Without a legitimate quarterback, this team won’t go very far.

14. The West Division is still wide open, with the Bombers’ win and the Lions’ loss making things interesting. The Bombers are back in action next week at home against the Eskimos, who’ll likely visit Winnipeg with a 1-1 record after beating Saskatchewan.

harris vs tabbies
PHOTO CREDIT TO ADAM GAGNON OF CFL.CA

Stock Market Report: Bombers vs. Stampeders

The Bombers couldn’t possibly repeat the same recipe for disaster they displayed in week one against the Alouettes, with the defense continuously surrounding long drives and with QB Drew Willy looking out of place and uncomfortable in Paul Lapolice’s system until the fourth quarter, when the offense couldn’t be stopped, right?

But they did. And that’s exactly what happened in week two against Calgary, as the Bombers fell at the hands of the Stampeders 36-22.

Seeing as it was another huge loss, I put together some detailed game notes that can be found here for you to come away with your own conclusions on another Blue Bomber drubbing at the hands of a West Division opponent.

Here’s mine.

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Quincy Mcduffie (14) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the game against the Calgary Stampeders at McMahon stadium in Calgary, AB. Friday, July 1, 2016.  (Photo: Johany Jutras)
Quincy Mcduffie (14) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the game against the Calgary Stampeders at McMahon stadium in Calgary, AB. Friday, July 1, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

1. NT Jake Thomas: I don’t have his official snap count, but Thomas produced with impressive efficiency when he got on the field. I only graded Thomas negative on one play – an inside split zone hand-off to Tory Harrison – where, despite arguably taking away the ball-carriers first read, it was almost by default as LG Shane Bergman sealed him outside with a strong punch. It was only up from there for the fifth-year Canadian, as he beat Bergman with a clean rip move to penetrate into the backfield on the very next play. But it was primarily in run defense where Thomas made his impact, though. He continuously did a great job getting inside leverage on his blocker to scrape his way towards the ball-carrier. On the field for all five plays, Thomas was the difference-maker for the Bombers on Calgary’s final drive of the third quarter. He took advantage of RT Dan Federkeil’s down-block on a 2nd-&-1 play to make the stop, and then worked off two blocks to force Harrison to cut back on the 1st-&-10 play following Calgary’s 3rd-down conversion. The Bombers began to rotate Thomas in more and more as the Stampeders chewed up more and yards on the ground as the game wore on, and the 25-year-old proved to be an effective substitution.

2. LT Stanley Bryant: While the entire offensive line had a solid game, Bryant Jr. managed to play mistake-free with the exception of one miscommunication with LG Jamarcus Hardrick near the end of the third quarter – a mistake that had no impact on the play. Bryant won his match-ups on the edge all game – Willy was not pressured once all game from Bryant’s man – but it was most impressive to see his gap discipline and ability to pick up stunts and blitzes from the Calgary defense. Whereas Pat Neufeld was beat twice on speed-rushes – one of which resulted in a sack – Bryant’s smooth feet were on display against two speed-rushers in Frank Beltre and Charleston Hughes.

SOLID INVESTMENTS

Calgary Stampeders' Rob Cote is tackled by Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Bruce Johnson, bottom, and Julian Posey during first quarter CFL football action in Calgary, Friday, July 1, 2016.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Calgary Stampeders’ Rob Cote is tackled by Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Bruce Johnson, bottom, and Julian Posey during first quarter CFL football action in Calgary, Friday, July 1, 2016.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

1. HB Julian Posey: After a rough preseason and a mediocre performance in week one, the second-year defensive back rebounded in a big way against a potent Calgary offense. Posey gave up merely two catches for 26 yards – second best behind Chris Randle’s two for 15 yards – with only one of the those receptions being for first-down yardage. 19 of those yards came in cover-1 defense on a post-corner to Marquay McDaniel, with Posey in man-coverage against the veteran receiver. After two catches allowed in the first quarter, the Ohio University product pitched a shut-out, while also recording a beautiful knock-down on a 2-point covert against McDaniel, who ran a nice juke-route with no linebacker help across the middle, in the second quarter. Posey also only missed one tackle, providing decent run support for most of the game. (Although not one Blue & Gold defensive back to the field-side was effective at coming up and stopping Calgary’s off-tackle toss plays).

2. FS Macho Harris: Rather unexpectedly, the first-year Bomber offered a much-needed spark to his team on two occasions in the ball game. Had it not been for Harris’ exceptional blocked field goal – the leap over the long snapper was a live highlight-reel – that was returned all the way inside Calgary’s five-yard line, this game’s ugliness could have been unimaginably worse. Harris also came from depth to deliver a huge hit on Marquay McDaniel in the third-quarter after a reception in the flats – a big play that should’ve woken up the defense. While Harris was great as the center-fielder in pass coverage with the exception of the one big play – he got caught up in field-side SB Kamar Jorden’s seam route and didn’t see McDaniel head to the boundary on a post-route in front of him, picking up 41 yards – he wasn’t much of a presence as a run defender. On a night where the Bombers, who surrendered 207 rushing yards, could’ve used some big-time safety play, Harris was indifferent. Whether he was instructed from defensive coordinator Richie Hall to play very conservatively against the run or not, it’d have been nice to see Harris make a few more plays in the box.

JUNK BONDS

Kevin Fogg (23) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Joe West (85) of the Calgary Stampeders during the game at McMahon stadium in Calgary, AB. Friday, July 1, 2016.  (Photo: Johany Jutras)
Kevin Fogg (23) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Joe West (85) of the Calgary Stampeders during the game at McMahon stadium in Calgary, AB. Friday, July 1, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

1. LB Ian Wild: After a rough game in pass coverage against the Alouettes, Wild played perhaps the worst game I’ve seen him play against the Stamps. He had trouble shedding off blocks from a very mediocre center, Cam Thorn, and was otherwise bullied by Jerome Messam, a 263-pound bruiser. Wild led all Bombers with four missed tackles – excluding a play on punt-coverage where Roy Finch shook him out of his shoes – with most coming in one-on-one tackling situations in the hole with Messam. Often positioning his head on the wrong side of the ball-carrier, Wild tried too many times to arm-tackle the biggest running back he’s encountered in his career. An issue that was also present with Khalil Bass, Wild took bad angles to the ball-carrier, particularly when the Stamps ran toss plays with Messam – which were extremely effective – or sweep plays with Tory Harrison. He, simply put, didn’t make the plays that Bass made last year in the weak-side linebacker role.

2. CB Kevin Fogg: The Stamps evidently went into this game with the intention of testing the rookie field-side corner, and it payed off in dividends for Dave Dickenson. Fogg gave up a whopping five catches for 67 yards, including a 37-yard catch from Joe West against press cover-1 man-coverage. He could’ve also been the victim on another near touchdown to Simon Charbonneau-Campeau in the 1st-quarter had it not been for an over-throw, as the Liberty product had deep zone responsibilities and was late reacting to the out-n-up move. Several of the completions that Fogg gave up were in man-coverage, and with field corners typically in solo coverage in cover-7 or cover-3 defenses, that is quite concerning.

4. Maurice Leggett: Leggett’s run support was non-existent, as he terribly missed two tackles, and was also beat on a 27-yard touchdown to Simon Charbonneau-Campeau’s corner-route. While Leggett maintained tight coverage in a cover-1 situation, he absolutely needs to make a play on that ball in the air. Calgary ran toss plays to the wide-side of the field several times, sacrificing a receiver to crack block the defensive end, and Leggett was unable to come up and limit the damage.

5. QB Drew Willy: Willy’s struggles both with completing passes downfield and with accuracy were once again on display against the Stampeders. His longest completion in the first three quarters was a quickly thrown dig-route to a well-covered Darvin Adams, which picked up 12 yards. Willy missed on quite a few first half throws, too, including an open, quick-slant to Adams, a seam route to Ryan Smith and a deep curl to Adams once again. He also hesitated before completing to Smith on a 10-yard out, which prevented the diminutive pass-catcher from being able to turn up field and get the first-down before his momentum took him out of bounds. The Stamps’ defensive play-calls were significantly less aggressive in the fourth quarter when the game was out of hand, and that’s when Willy padded his stats. While he made some nice throws, such as a 15-yard dig-route to Davis; a well-placed quick-slant to Adams for a touchdown; a 10-yard dig-route to Davis for a touchdown; a seam-route on a rope between quarters defense to Thomas Mayo; and a 15-yard dig to Ryan Smith, a big chunk of his yardage still came from hitch screens (2 for 22 yards), RB screens (2 for 31 yards) and dump-offs (6 for 46 yards). Otherwise, Willy was forced to hit his underneath receivers with Calgary playing a soft cover-4 defense. It really wasn’t all that impressive. Willy needs to start trusting his pre-snap reads in the next few games to start seeing some results in Paul Lapolice’s West Coast offense.


BUY/SELL

Buy: Richie Hall’s system is an issue. It’s a huge issue. Hall’s belief in using the Cowboy front – where the middle-linebacker aligns in a gap and eats blocks to free up the weak-side linebacker – is a huge reason why Jerome Messam rumbled for 137 yards on the ground. It’s easily exploited by offensive coordinators, and it restricts a tremendous play-maker in Khalil Bass to one gap instead of granting him the freedom to flow to the ball-carrier and make plays. Hall also continues to put his secondary in disadvantageous positions by blitzing his linebackers from depth in cover-1 situations. Having Wild and Bass vacate the middle to rush the passer – and get no where near the quarterback since their coming from depth – is a large reason for opposing offense’s success with underneath passes against the Blue & Gold. The Bombers have a plethora of talent on the defensive side of the football, but the scheme they’re restricted to is evidently holding them back.

Sell: Willy needs more time in the pocket. The offensive line has been the Bombers’ best unit so far in the 2016 season. While Lapolice’s offense reduces the pressure to maintain blocks, it’s clear that the Bombers are communicating stunts, twists and blitzes better than they have in awhile. Stanley Bryant Jr. is playing at an All-Star level, while Jamarcus Hardrick is proving to be the real deal at left guard. The game is also appearing to be slowing down for young Canadians Mathias Goossen and Sukh Chungh, as they’re mental mistakes are noticeably being reduced in their third and second seasons, respectively.


OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: LT Stanley Bryant Jr.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: HB Julian Posey