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July 6, 2016

Tait’s Take: WPG at HAM

Justin Medlock (9) and Matt Nichols (15) 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)

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Anderson's Hitch N Post

 

HAMILTON – They’ve spent absolutely zero seconds – and by that we mean nada, zilch-o, zip – crafting excuses.

Sure, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers know full well the vice is tightening on everyone in the organization after an 0-2 start. And they are also fully aware the only way to keep the squeeze from becoming even more painful is to start stringing some W’s together.

That leaves little room for error, of course, and hardly makes for a sunny work environment. But as the Bombers enter the third week of their Canadian Football League season, they also understand that is their reality, whether they’ve been part of the losing over the last couple of years or just arrived in the offseason.

“We have no excuses,” defensive tackle Keith Shologan told bluebombers.com this week. “We’ve had all training camp and the first two weeks to gel together.”

Drew Willy (5) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the game at McMahon stadium in Calgary, AB. Friday, July 1, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

“This business is about winning each week, regardless of who you play with, whether it’s a newer team or you’re bringing back a bunch of the same guys. Everybody just needs to step up, be the kind of football players we all know we can be and just do our jobs.”

That’s been a common sentiment in Bomberland over the last few days in the wake of the Canada Day loss to the Calgary Stampeders. There’s disbelief and disappointment as to what has unfolded in the first two weeks of the schedule, but what is also steadfast is the sense this team is just too good on paper to keep losing.

“We’ve seen some good things on film that we need to get more consistent at producing,” said receiver Weston Dressler Wednesday at Tim Hortons Field. “Eliminate the mistakes we are making, the shooting ourselves in the foot. You’re not going to win games if you’re taking plays away from yourselves. Defences are good in this league; they’re going to make stops. We can’t stop ourselves, that’s the biggest issue right now for us.

“The confidence level and the ability level is all there in the room, within this team, within this offence. We need to show that on the field now on game day. For sure.”

Weston Dressler

There isn’t one phase that is particularly to blame, although it could be said the special teams are hardly under the microscope. The offence has to be far more productive, particularly early in the game, and the defence hasn’t helped itself by staying on the field for long stretches.

Couple those things together and it’s a big part of why the team is winless out of the starting gate.

“There’s no excuses,” said quarterback Drew Willy. “I’m never going to be one of those guys to give excuses. We need to go out there and start faster, play better and try to get a win and do everything we can to make sure we get off to a good start.

“Just winning the game would be what we want to do. At the end of the day that’s how you’re judged: wins and losses. So, we just want to get a win.”

Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice during the game against the Calgary Stampeders at McMahon stadium in Calgary, AB. Friday, July 1, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

That’d be a heckuva start to turning things. Plus, it might keep the hounds barking for change at bay, at least for a week. And as much as they try to keep the chatter out of their locker room, it’s only going to get louder if the results don’t change soon.

“But you don’t really listen to the outside,” Shologan explained. “It’s all about what’s inside and we’re just focusing on winning every day. We’ve just got to focus on this week, not the two games before, not the one after this and everything else should take care of itself.

“You look at our game film… in the Calgary game we did stupid things, but correctable things. We didn’t play like a polished football team and we need to get together and play like a football team on the same page.

“We’ve got good players. We’ve got good coaches. We just need to become polished.”

 


 

3 STORYLINES

PUNCH/COUNTER-PUNCH

A subject that has been pulverized into a pulp through the first two weeks of the season – the Bombers’ offence has been struggling, particularly early. Consider this stat: the Bomber defence was on the field for 31 minutes and 13 seconds of the first 45 minutes in last week’s loss to Calgary. That speaks of both Winnipeg’s inability to extend drives and of the defence to force the Stamps off the field quickly.

And the Ticats defence, led by defensive coordinator Orlondo Steinauer, is one of the most creative in the CFL at disguising schemes and coverages.

“They like to pressure you from a bunch of different ways,” said Bombers offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice. “They’ll play match one play… they’ll play coverage one play and then all of a sudden be blitzing you with more guys than you have to protect. You’ve just got to have a hat on a hat and really work through it and try to see what they’re doing to you. They do the same blitzes, but they move people all over the field doing it.

“We’ve got to be ready to handle the blitz and pick it up. They do a nice job of coming from all different spots and that’s what we’ve got to prepare for.

“They got Ricky Ray six times a couple of weeks ago, so we’ve got to be ready to go.”

The Bombers did have some success working in an up-tempo/hurry-up offence last week, but it’s uncertain if they will use that more against the Ticats.

“It doesn’t matter what tempo you’re in, you’ve got to execute and do it well,” said LaPolice. “We certainly have tempo and have built it in in a number of ways. We’ll always try to mix in temp as we go and try and help us keep them off balance.”

THE SWIRLING SPECULATION

Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea during the game against the Calgary Stampeders at McMahon stadium in Calgary, AB. Friday, July 1, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)Chatter about head coach Mike O’Shea’s future after an 0-2 start is almost impossible to escape these days. He’s got the immense respect of the men in the dressing room and they could do a whole lot to make things easier by winning a few games to change the narrative.

But for now, it hovers over the coach like an enormous black cloud.

“There’s so much to focus on every single day that you don’t even think about it,” said O’Shea Wednesday.

Asked if it was tough on his team, O’Shea added: “No. And the reason I know it’s not tough is I played a few years and you never once thought about that when you were trying to prepare for a game.”

THE DRESSLER EFFECT?

Paul LaPolice and Weston Dressler (7) before the game between the Montreal Alouettes and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Investors Group Field on Wednesday June 8, 2016 in Winnipeg, MB. (Photo: Johany Jutras)Weston Dressler likely couldn’t have imagined a better start to his days as a Bomber than what unfolded early in the season opener against Montreal. The Bombers’ attack had been on the field for all of eight plays and already the veteran receiver had three catches. And then he put his head down to get extra yardage, got clobbered by an Alouette defender, and has been essentially out for the seven-plus quarters since.

His return against the Ticats gives Drew Willy another reliable target, but also a veteran voice in the huddle and on the sideline.

“I would have liked to have been out there more than I have been,” said Dressler, “but I’m happy now to get back on the field.”

QB COMPARISON

  • Winnipeg’s Drew Willy is 11-19 as a starter and has sparkling numbers through the first two games this season, even if they are deceiving in an 0-2 start. Willy has completed 73.1 per cent of his passes for 661 yards with three TDs against one interception. His QB rating of 105.8 ranks fourth in the CFL.
  • Hamilton’s Jeremiah Masoli is 1-2 as a starter in the CFL – 1-1 this year filling in for the injured Zach Collaros – and has completed 69.7 per cent of his passes for 566 yards with three TDs and one pick. His QB rating is 93.4.

3 BOMBERS TO WATCH

  • Justin Medlock (9) and Matt Nichols (15) 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)#30 Travis Hawkins, DB: Veteran Bruce Johnson is out with a hand injury and the Bombers will introduce Hawkins, the former Toronto Argonaut who started 16 games last year, to their air defence. Hawkins was let go by the Boatmen after training camp.
  • #91 Adrian Hubbard, DE: The former Alabama defender will make his first start, presumably in a rotation with Shayon Green. Showed some flashes during the preseason, but needs to bring the heat on every down now.
  • #9 Justin Medlock, K: The Bombers new kicker has attempted just two field goals this year – the first clanged off the upright, the second from 58 yards away tied a club record set in 1975 by Bernie Ruoff. Medlock’s two attempts are the lowest in the CFL. But a big part of why he is the most accurate kicker in league history is his attention to detail and how well he adjusted to the wind conditions during his days as a Ticat.

X FACTOR

#33 Andrew Harris: It seems ridiculous to suggest Harris could be an ‘X Factor’, as his skillset is hardly a surprise to anyone in the CFL. He’s had 36 touches through two games – 15 receptions, 21 carries – but the club needs to make him more effective along the ground to find some offensive balance. Harris is averaging just 4.4 yards per carry.

QUOTABLE

“There’s a great group of guys here that are willing to work. The wins will come. I see a bright future if we all work hard and we all work together. I’ll say it again: the wins will come.” – new Bombers defensive back Travis Hawkins.

NOTABLE

The Bombers have made seven changes to their 46-man roster, adding WR Weston Dressler, DE Adrian Hubbard, DB Travis Hawkins, FB Tim Cronk, SB SJ Haidara, FB James Tuck and K Sergio Castillo while moving DB Bruce Johnson, LB/DB Teague Sherman and LB Shayne Gauthier to the six-game injured list, DE Trent Corney and LB Sam Hurl to the one-game injured list and RB Timothy Flanders and WR Thomas Mayo to the practice roster. Castillo and OL Travis Bond will be the two reserve players not on the active roster.

FYI

  • The Tiger-Cats christened Tim Hortons Field on September 1, 2014 and won their first nine games there. Since then, and including last week’s loss to B.C. at home, they are just 2-5.
  • Drew Willy threw for 358 yards last week, with 254 coming in the fourth quarter, which opened with the Stamps protecting a 36-7 lead.
  • Ticats head coach Kent Austin sports a career won-lost record of 42-32, including 8-2 vs. Winnipeg and two lopsided wins a year ago: 52-26 in Winnipeg last July 2 and 38-8 in Hamilton on August 9.
  • Since the start of 2014 the Ticats are 16-9 (.640 winning percentage) with Zach Collaros as their starting quarterback, but just 4-9 (.308) without him.