Blue, gold and very defensive


TORONTO — There was plenty of reasons for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to celebrate following their 20-7 win over the Toronto Argonauts last Friday.

The victory was the second straight for the Bombers following a Week 1 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, improving the team’s overall record to a perfect 2-0. Winnipeg surrendered only seven points against the Argonauts and found their scoring touch when they needed it down the stretch.

And yet, there wasn’t a lot of back slapping going around, particularly among the coaching staff. Word is, after the game head coach Mike O’Shea spoke candidly about the missteps on the night and the importance of correcting those issues ahead of Saturday’s rematch against the Argonauts, this time in enemy territory at BMO Field.

“Winning and being able to make some tough corrections and watch some film that you’re not pleased with, with two points in the bank is better than the other way around, that’s for sure,” O’Shea said after practice earlier this week.

“But I’ll say the majority of our vets would like to have some plays back. The coaching staff would like to have some plays back. That’s what the practice week is for and that’s what the film or the review section is for. Then you quickly move on and you look to get back to doing good work.”

How well all that preparation on the field and in the meeting rooms this week will transfer to the field, only time will tell. Until then, here are five storylines to keep an eye on heading into Week 3 and the second of back-to-back games against Toronto.

STANDINGS WATCH SO SOON?

We’re just two weeks into the season but already the Bombers find themselves in a situation to create some notable breathing room in what many predicted to be a tight race in the West Division. Remember, it’s a 14-game regular season this year, down from the usual 18.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are the only teams in the CFL's west division that are undefeated this season.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/KAYLE NEIS

The Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are the only teams in the CFL’s west division that are undefeated this season.

Only the Saskatchewan Roughriders have matched the Bombers 2-0 record in the West, with the Lions (1-2) splitting their first two games before falling to Edmonton (1-2) at home Thursday night. Calgary (0-2) was still looking for its first win on Friday night against a very talented Montreal Alouettes club.

Another win over Toronto would likely only further the gap at the top, and with the Bombers set to play their next eight games against teams in the West, that’s only a good thing.

THE MAIN ATTRACTION

Arguably the biggest story of the season so far in the CFL has been the stellar play of the Bombers defence. Through two weeks, Winnipeg has allowed just six and seven points, respectively, for a grand total of 13. That’s an incredible feat, even if defences often have the upper hand early into a season.

Toronto Argonauts running back John White IV scored his team's only touchdown against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers last week.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Toronto Argonauts running back John White IV scored his team’s only touchdown against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers last week.

The fact the Bombers didn’t miss a beat from one week to the next after losing a few starters due to injury has made the strong start look even better. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few areas still in need of some improvement, and with Toronto back on the docket, they should be an easier fix.

The defence looked lost on a couple of occasions last week, including what would have been a sure touchdown for DaVaris Daniels if only the deep pass was on target. Another focus will be limiting the run game, as veteran John White rushed for 111 yards on 12 carries — for an eye-popping average of 9.3 yards per run — including a 30-yard touchdown.

When you can establish the run you’re no longer one-dimensional and that forces the defence to respect the ground game on every play. With how strong the Bombers defensive line is, there’s also some ego attached to stuffing the runner, and you can bet that’ll be top of mind early into this one.

THE GROUND(ED) GAME

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Brady Oliveira will get the start at running back again this week when they face the Toronto Argonauts.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/JOHN WOODS

Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Brady Oliveira will get the start at running back again this week when they face the Toronto Argonauts.

Zach Collaros threw for 292 yards against the Argonauts last week, the most total yards through the air we’ve seen from the Bombers quarterback since he’s been in Winnipeg. Still, there seems to be some concern over the lack of yards in the ground game — or, should I say, grounded game.

All jokes aside, the Bombers did muster only 51 rushing yards in Week 2. That was a drop of more than 100 yards from the season-opener, where the Bombers racked up 159 rushing yards, 126 of which came from rookie running back Brady Oliveira.

While the yards through the air certainly made up for the lack of production on the ground, having a dominating run game has been a point of pride for the Bombers offensive line and will be a focus this week. Andrew Harris returned to practice in Week 3, but will remain sidelined with a sore calf, leaving it up once again to Oliveira to get things back on track.

ADAMS IN, DEMSKI OUT

Collaros will be missing one of his favourite targets this season, while welcoming one of his most consistent catch grabbers from 2019.

Bombers receiver Darvin Adams will make his first start of the season Saturday against the Argos.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Bombers receiver Darvin Adams will make his first start of the season Saturday against the Argos.

Nic Demski has been ruled out of action with a hip injury that either kept him out of practice this week or left him extremely limited in what he could do. That’s a big loss, as Demski was second among all Bombers receivers in receptions (13) and yards (138), behind only Kenny Lawler, who has 14 catches for 168 yards.

The good news is Darvin Adams is back in the mix, set to make his 2021 debut after missing both games with a shoulder injury. Adams and Collaros developed a significant amount on chemistry during the 2019 Grey Cup run; in four games with Collaros at the helm, Adams had 12 catches for 229 yards and two touchdowns.

Drew Wolitarsky (thorax) missed the entire week of practice but is still expected to play. Rasheed Bailey and Kelvin McKnight round out the starting receivers.

ARBUCKLE GETS THE CALL

Toronto Argonauts quarterback Nick Arbuckle will make his first start of the season Saturday against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/JOHN WOODS

Toronto Argonauts quarterback Nick Arbuckle will make his first start of the season Saturday against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

The Argonauts have named Nick Arbuckle the team’s starting quarterback this week, after McLeod Bethel-Thompson got the first two weeks under centre.

Arbuckle was relegated to backup in Week 1 while nursing a hamstring injury suffered during training camp, and then remained there after Bethel-Thompson earned another start with a 354-yard passing effort in a win over Calgary. But he would come back to earth against the Bombers last week, with Bethel-Thompson completing half of his 20 pass attempts for a measly 71 yards.

Arbuckle eventually took over late in the third quarter and promptly led the Argonauts to a touchdown on his first drive. He would eventually stall down the stretch, but showed enough to head coach Ryan Dinwiddie that he earned his first start.

Arbuckle and Dinwiddie worked closely together in Calgary, so the comfort with the playbook should make up for the lack of first-team reps in recent weeks. He was brought in over the offseason to be the leader of a remodelled Argonauts club, and he finally gets his chance this week.

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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