BLUE REVIEW: Bombers show cracks in armour during humbling loss to Argonauts

Article content

TORONTO — It’s been a long time since fans of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers watched their team lose a game, let alone get thoroughly outplayed by an opponent, but it didn’t take long for the critics to emerge when the defending Grey Cup champions lost 30-23 to the Toronto Argonauts on Saturday.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

Judging from emails and social media posts, there was considerable dissatisfaction with the kicking game (understandably), the play-calling of offensive co-ordinator Buck Pierce and the overall game plan and execution against an Argos team that is vastly improved since 2019.

The score was simply not indicative of how the game went. The Argos pounded the Bombers in all phases. They were the more physical team, they had better execution and they held the ball for twice as long.

Toronto absolutely deserved to win.

From head coach Mike O’Shea, to a normally stifling defence that got destroyed, to previously unbeaten quarterback Zach Collaros, there was plenty of criticism to go around. People simply aren’t used to seeing this team get pushed around, but that’s exactly what happened on a sweltering afternoon at BMO Field.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

Amazingly, the Bombers were in the game until the final minutes of the fourth quarter but they couldn’t mask the problems that arose in their first road game of the season.

Of course, these are the defending champs, a team that has very close to the same coaching staff as it had in 2019 and most of its key personnel back. It’s a team with high expectations and rightly so.

It’s not a stretch to believe the Bombers will bounce back quickly, even though they took a pretty good punch in the mouth from the Argos.

Here’s a closer look at what went right (not much) and what went wrong (plenty) in Saturday’s loss before 9,866 fans at BMO Field.

THE POSITIVES

— Mike Miller had three special teams tackles and became the CFL’s all-time leader in that category with 192. He broke the record of 190, set by Jason Arakgi in 2016. Miller is 32 and seems to have plenty of football left in him in order to build on his impressive record.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

— The Bombers had four quarterback sacks and four forced fumbles. Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat had two strip sacks and one of the Nick Arbuckle fumbles was recovered by Canadian veteran linebacker Jesse Briggs and taken 83 yards for a touchdown. Jeffcoat is playing great football early in the season and has been a force in the pass rush. Defensive end Willie Jefferson had his first sack of the season and Brandon Alexander forced a fumble and recovered it himself on a well-executed safety blitz.

— Collaros connected with Darvin Adams on a 51-yard touchdown, which is a good sign that those two will continue to have the chemistry they established in 2019.

— It’s a pretty small list.

THE NEGATIVES

— There are many.

— The Bombers offence managed only 12 first downs and had only four heading into the fourth quarter. They didn’t get a single first down until midway through the second quarter. A big chunk of their 233 yards of offence came on an 83-yard drive late the game that wasn’t enough to change the outcome and the 51-yard pass to Adams.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

— The rushing game is in unfamiliar territory on both sides of the football. For the second straight week the Bombers were unable to get anything going on the ground with Brady Oliveira, and gave up a boatload of yards to the Boatmen. Toronto racked up 149 rushing yards to the Bombers’ 32. During their run to the Grey Cup in 2019, the Bombers led the CFL in both rushing and run defence. It’s a part of their identity and right now they look a little lost.

— Rookie DeAundre Alford had nine tackles to lead the team, which is not a good stat for a defensive back. The Argos targeted corners Alford and Josh Miller all night and were able to rack up 310 passing yards. Miller was badly beaten by DaVaris Daniels for a touchdown late in the second quarter and failed to make a one-on-one tackle on Ricky Collins late in the game when a stop could have given the Bombers a chance to tie the game. Alford had an interception negated when he was flagged for pass interference on Daniels.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

— Collaros had his worst game — and only loss — as a member of the Bombers, completing only 55% of his passes for 204 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He simply wasn’t able to move the sticks in the first three quarters and the Bombers defence was on the field far too often. The Argos had double the time of possession — 39:46 to 20:14. Collaros can’t take more than his fair share of blame for the poor passing numbers. His receivers had trouble catching balls and Adams, Kenny Lawler and Rasheed Bailey all had drops. The offence was simply out of sync.

— The Bombers took nine penalties for 80 yards, including a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on safety Brandon Alexander, who very well could be fined by the CFL later this week. His hit left Daniels at very least stunned, if not concussed. In recent year’s, O’Shea’s teams have prided themselves on being very disciplined, but the coach said there were five or six penalties that he thought were unnecessary on Saturday.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

— The kicking game is in tatters. Tyler Crapigna missed both of his field goal attempts, from 37 yards out and 47. One of his kicks was partially blocked and it looked like that was the result of a low trajectory. O’Shea is reluctant to even try a field goal with Crapigna from outside 45 yards and the Bombers are losing out on points. Marc Liegghio has been the busiest punter in the league, with 28 punts so far in three games, but his average of 43.5 yards leaves him ninth in the CFL. He was struggling so badly with kickoffs on Saturday that O’Shea replaced him with Crapigna later in the game. Liegghio’s average kickoff travels 57.3 yards, which puts him 11th in the CFL. By comparison, Toronto’s Boris Bede leads the league with an average of 72.7 yards per kickoff. This has not been an issue for the Bombers for years as they had the great and reliable Justin Medlock handling all three kicking roles. But Medlock does not want to play this year and the Bombers are going to have to consider bringing in new talent. It can’t go on like this, can it?

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

— O’Shea didn’t have a great game himself and it started right after the initial coin toss. Winnipeg won the toss and O’Shea elected to defer his choice to the second half, which meant Toronto received the opening kickoff and had the wind in the first quarter. They put up 13 points. In the second half, O’Shea chose to take the wind in the fourth quarter and Toronto received the kickoff again, essentially giving them an extra possession. Winnipeg did score a late touchdown, with the wind, in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t close to enough on a day when they were soundly beaten. The Bombers’ coaching staff had to wear the loss on the whole, as they were out game-planned by the Argos staff, led by former Bombers quarterback Ryan Dinwiddie.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

— The Bombers continued to have very little success in the return game, as has been the case all season, especially since Janarion Grant went down with an injury in Week 1. Charles Nelson has not looked at all explosive and he had trouble judging punts from the somewhat unpredictable Boris Bede on Saturday. Nelson wound up with 72 yards on three kickoff returns and 18 yards on four punt returns. The Bombers may want to give someone else a shot at returning kicks next week.

THE CONCLUSIONS

It was only one game and the Argos played very well so it’s not exactly time for the Bombers and their fans to panic. Yes, there were some cracks in the armour of a team that had been steel-coated since the 2019 playoffs, but unless any of the aforementioned problems become trends, it could just be a bump in the road for a team with designs on another championship.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

The Bombers will host the Calgary Stampeders (1-2) next Sunday night at IG Field and will look to get on track after suffering their first loss since Oct. 19, 2019.

Something needs to be done about the kicking game and the Bombers would certainly benefit from the return of star running back Andrew Harris after Brady Oliveira was shut down two weeks in a row by the Argos.

Harris returned to practice in limited fashion last week, after missing all of training camp with a calf injury, and he could conceivably get back into the lineup Sunday, in what will be an important game for the Bombers, their first against a West Division rival.

After Calgary, the Bombers have back-to-back games against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the only undefeated team in the CFL at 3-0. Then they take on the Edmonton Elks (1-2) three times and B.C. Lions twice over a stretch of six weeks and they’re going to need to be playing their best football in order to stay in the hunt for a home playoff game.

The Bombers are going to need to prove themselves all over again next week against Calgary and again when they go to Regina for the annual Labour Day Classic, never an easy game to win.

No one expected them to go 14-0 this year and many people thought the vastly improved Argos would give them difficulty on Saturday. They wound up giving them fits.

There are definitely things to clean up in all phases of the game before the next outing. And in a short season, there’s not a lot of leeway for any kind of losing streak.

Twyman@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/Ted_Wyman

Advertisement

Story continues below

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

View original article here Source