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.
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.
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.
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