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June 30, 2016

Tait’s Take: WPG at CGY

Drew Willy (5) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the game against the Montreal Alouettes at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, MB. on Friday, June 24, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

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Anderson's Hitch N Post

CALGARY – A quick lesson in geography: Death Valley, located in Eastern California, is the driest, lowest, and hottest region in all of North America.

And a quick lesson in Winnipeg Blue Bombers history: their Death Valley, located at McMahon Stadium here in Calgary, is the nastiest, thorniest, most difficult stadium for them to win in the entire Canadian Football League.

Now, it would be wrong to say they never win at McMahon – they did eke out an 18-13 victory back on Nov. 1, 2014, after all. But Bomber victories in Calgary are seemingly as rare as spying a leprechaun on the back of a unicorn under a sky filled with shooting stars.

Consider that in their last 13 visits to southern Alberta dating back to 2003, the Bombers are a putrid 1-12. Taking that even further, Winnipeg is just 3-21 in Calgary since 1992.

Hello.

Mind you, all of this means both diddly-squat to someone like Jamaal Westerman.

Jamaal Westerman

“I just got here last year, man,” Westerman said Thursday at McMahon. “As a team and as an organization, I don’t think anyone is focused on what happened in the past. We’re focused on this year. We lost the first game to Montreal and now everybody’s focus is on Calgary.

“That’s the way you have to handle it during the season. You can’t think about ‘hey what happened here 20 years ago’, or ‘how about the last time you played Calgary in ’85 when it was raining on a Sunday…’ you can have all these stats and different things, all that matters is this game on Canada Day and coming out with a W.”

Still all ‘these stats and different things’ do provide some context as to how mammoth the hill is to climb here. And, countering that, how mammoth it would be for the Bombers to come out of here at 1-1.

Some more gruesome numbers, just to hammer home the point:

  • In those 13 games dating back to 2003, the Bombers’ point differential is an astonishing -182, courtesy some horrific losses (38-11 in 2013; 44-3 in 2012 and 43-9 in 2006). Last year’s 26-25 setback, a game in which the Bombers could have – check that, probably should have – won, was the closest of all the 12 defeats.
  • In those 13 games, Bomber QBs have a 66.6 rating, having thrown 12 touchdowns against 16 interceptions. Calgary QBs, by comparison, have 30 TDs against seven interceptions for a passer rating of 119.9.

But it’s not just the pivots and the offence that have let the Bombers down over the years, there have been some across-the-board meltdowns.

“When you’re a good team you take care of home field advantage and they’ve done that throughout the league, not just with us,” said Bombers QB Drew Willy. “You need to go in there and play a clean game and make sure you’re ready to go with all your different checks, all your different progressions. We’ve just got to go out there and let ‘er rip.”

Drew Willy (5) and Andrew Harris (33) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the game against the Montreal Alouettes at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, MB. on Friday, June 24, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

The Bombers did that in two of their three meetings against the Stamps last year: the 26-25 loss in Calgary last July in which they out-gained the Stamps 329-288, and a 25-23 defeat in September at Investors Group Field that featured a blown call by the officials – the league admitted as much afterward – that pushed back a late drive that had the Bombers marching into potential game-winning field goal range.

As for the other meeting last year – a 36-8 loss in Winnipeg – let’s just say the details are simply like so many others in Calgary.

“We know they’re a good football team. But we know we can compete with them.”

Drew Willy

The Bombers will make one lineup change from last week’s season-opening loss to Montreal, with Thomas Mayo stepping in at receiver to replace Weston Dressler. The Bombers had 11 new starters last week; make that an even dozen now.

But every team has undergone change over the winter and will continue to do so weekly through November.

“You have to play through that,” said Willy. “Nobody cares about who’s out there and who’s not. At the end of the day, it’s whether you win or you lose. That’s just how professional sports go. In the end, no one’s going to remember the stats, they’re just going to remember the wins and losses.”

 

3 STORYLINES

SOME OFFENSIVE PUNCH, PLEASE

The Bombers weren’t just shut out in the first half of last week’s loss to Montreal, they were positively anemic offensively in the opening 30 minutes. Winnipeg’s attack had five first downs, but four came by penalty, and just 77 net yards. Of their eight first
Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice during the game against the Montreal Alouettes at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, MB. on Friday, June 24, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)half possessions, five ended in punt, one saw them concede a safety, another saw Drew Willy throw an interception, while the eighth saw Justin Medlock bonk a field goal attempt off the upright.

All told, Winnipeg’s time of possession in the opening 30 minutes was just 10:23. And while they were better in the second half (their total possession improved in the second half) their overall 26:41 TOP was the lowest of any CFL club in Week 1.

“We hurt ourselves where we had a couple of second-and-shorts where we didn’t execute,” said Bombers offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice this week. “When you do that and you’re getting off the field, all of a sudden the first quarter is over. In the second quarter we took some shots and missed one or two of those and you get behind it. We got a rhythm going later in the football game, but we just didn’t capitalize with enough points.”

BE WARY, SPECIAL TEAMS

Calgary’s punt return unit was deadly in their season-opening loss in

B.C., blocking one kick and deflecting two others. But their coverage unit was also burned for a 72-yard touchdown by the Lions’ Chris Rainey. A year ago, the Stamps surrendered four punt return touchdowns, but still won all four games.

The Bombers, meanwhile, were close to busting a couple of returns of their own in the Montreal game, as Quincy McDuffie flashed some of the skillset that has the coaching staff drooling. McDuffie returned three kickoffs for 88 yards and five punts for 61 yards.

A RETURN TO WILLYPEG?

Drew Willy was the first to take the slings and arrows in the wake of the Montreal loss and must be better, especially early in the Drew Willy (5) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the game against the Montreal Alouettes at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, MB. on Friday, June 24, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)season, for a Bomber offence that features a new left guard in Jermarcus Hardrick, new receivers in Ryan Smith, Jace Davis and Thomas Mayo, and a new tailback in Andrew Harris.

Willy’s numbers in Week 1 were solid – 25 of 34 for 303 yards with one TD and one interception – but also a bit deceiving. He missed some throws, particularly in the second half, and needs to find a rhythm early.

“We need to find overall consistency on offence, get off to a faster start, put points on the board in the first quarter and really go out and make sure we don’t have any mental mistakes in the first half,” said Willy. “(Calgary) has always been a good defence since I’ve been in the league. They’re very good at making you be patient and when we do have our opportunities we need to hit on them.”

 

3 BOMBERS TO WATCH

  • #19 Thomas Mayo, SB: Makes his CFL debut in place of Weston Dressler. The Bombers like his hands and his route running, plus he’s been a quick study with the offence and likes to be physical with and without the ball. Preseason is one thing, now it’s for real.
  • #74 Keith Shologan, DT: The Bombers need push from their interior lineman – Shologan, Jake Thomas and Euclid Cummings – not only to make Stamps’ QB Bo Levi Mitchell nervous in the pocket, but to limit the effectiveness of RB Jerome Messam, who is a beast running between offensive tackles.
  • #33 Andrew Harris, RB: He was busy last week, particularly in the second half, in racking up 120 yards from scrimmage. Harris is exactly the kind of workhorse who can take pressure off a struggling QB by being productive on first down and effective as a receiver. He had 19 touches last week and that number could go even higher against the Stamps.

 

X FACTOR

#1 Jace Davis, SB: Had a quiet but effective CFL debut last week with five catches for 82 yards. Darvin Adams continues to showcase his ability to be a deep threat while Ryan Smith is Mr. Reliable. But Davis is a bit of an unknown still to the league and with his size and strength could be a match-up nightmare.

 

QUOTABLE

“We had 11 new starters last week. They don’t know our history with Calgary. Preparation is far more important than emotion.” – Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea, when asked about the club’s poor record in Calgary over the years and whether that could be used as motivation.

 

FYI

  • The Stamps, 0-1 after falling in Vancouver last week, haven’t opened a season 0-2 since 2009 when they finished 10-7-1.
  • Calgary QB Bo Levi Mitchell has never lost back-to-back starts in his career. His record now stands at 28-7, including 5-1 vs. the Bombers. His first career start was against Winnipeg on July 26, 2013 and all he did was complete 29 of 33 passes for 376 yards and three TDs.
  • For as bad as the Bombers were in the first half against Montreal, their second half offensive totals are encouraging: zero two-and-outs, 305 yards, 14 first downs and 16:18 in time of possession.
  • All 15 of Winnipeg’s possessions began in their own end last week, with an average starting point of their own 27-yard line.