Winnipeg Blue Bombers #5 Willie Jefferson during practice at IG Field September 24, 2019
There are no easy answers or quick fixes here for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
If it were that simple, Mike O’Shea & Co. would wave a magic wand and the current three-game win streak would be vaporized and everything would be right in Bomberland again.
Instead, the Bombers returned to the practice field Tuesday, rolled up their sleeves and got back to the work of trying to fix what ails them right now, from the mistakes in the red zone, to forcing more turnovers themselves, to getting the right pieces in the right places and simply executing.
That might sound extremely boring – especially on the eve of the Canadian Football League’s trade deadline, which goes Wednesday at 2:59 p.m. – but unless a last minute deal materializes, the Bombers are going to go into the final weeks of the regular season with the squad they have.
Asked if the trade deadline is a talking point in the locker room, Andrew Harris offered this:
“Not at all. No one’s really talking about the trade deadline. I haven’t really heard anything or talked about anything, but it will be interesting to see what kind of moves are made.”
The Bombers are being linked to all kinds of rumours, especially with the management change Tuesday with the Toronto Argonauts and the Boatmen said to be fielding calls on all their talent, including quarterbacks James Franklin, McLeod Bethel-Thompson and Zach Collaros.
Not surprisingly, Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea continues to support Chris Streveler, behind whom the team is now 2-4 this season in relief of Matt Nichols. O’Shea said his confidence level in the second-year QB was high, adding, “I see it every single day. He’s working his tail off. I mean, there are ebbs and flows to every season and every player has ups and downs in games. I have great confidence he’s going to work extremely hard.
“I’ve seen him be successful. I’ve seen him be on the field leading and having great success not that long ago… quarters ago. So, I see him in a game having great success. I feel good for him.”
Streveler was 26 of 40 for 254 yards with two interceptions in Saturday’s 21-6 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders and was also sacked and fumbled in the score zone. He spent a good 30 minutes after practice on Tuesday working with QB coach Buck Pierce and receivers Drew Wolitarsky and Rasheed Bailey.
The Bombers, after rocketing to a 34-17 halftime lead over the Alouettes in Montreal back on September 21st, have now gone 10 quarters scoring just one TD and have just 19 points in their last two games.
“We’re just not executing, we’re not playing clean football, we’re making mistakes at inopportune times,” said Streveler. “So, obviously, one touchdown in 10 quarters isn’t going to get it done. We’ve got to play cleaner football.
“We just have to work every single day and continue to believe in each other and come out here and trust the process and get better every single day. That’s what we’re doing this week. I don’t think we feel any pressure. We’ve got a great defence, we’ve got a great team. We know we’ve just got to continue to get better and learn from some of the mistakes we’ve made.”
That was a common refrain from the Bombers on Tuesday as they preached the ‘do-your-job’ mantra as the best route to end the three-game skid. Again, sleeves up, head down, nose to the grindstone.
“For myself personally it’s just come in and work my tail off and lead by example, do the right things in practice and translate it over to the game,” said Harris. “This business is one where you get into a rut sometimes and the only way to get out of it is working your butt off and just try to do all the right things in the week leading up to the game.”
More quotes and notes from the Bombers as they returned to work Tuesday in this week’s Need to Know…
The Bombers have done their video post-mortem on Saturday’s loss, and given a day away from the practice field, returned with some takes on what went right and what went wrong in Regina.
“We’re not playing to our standard right now,” said Harris. “We’re not playing to a certain physicality that we’re accustomed to playing at. It’s just little mistakes. Again, it’s how we respond and how we practised today was a step in the right direction. We’ve just got to keep building.
“I’m not sure what causes it, but it’s definitely unacceptable. There’s a sense of urgency and that’s key to fix it. We’re working our butts off to get it fixed.”
TURNOVERS ARE EVIL:
Critical in the loss was the discrepancy in the turnover margin, with Winnipeg losing that battle 4-0.
“They all understand the importance of the turnover margin and they also understand you can win games when you lose the turnover margin… it makes it that much more difficult, but it happens every year where teams win when they lose the turnover battle,” said O’Shea. “Limiting the turnovers is important but also on the other side is creating them. If it was 4-0, if it was 4-1 we’ve got a much better chance of winning. It’s not ever one side, it’s the entire team that controls that margin at the end of the game. But you can only control the side of the ball you’re on.
“It’s one of the factors. We show the pictures as to why you win or lose every game and I don’t think it will ever come down to those specific plays. It certainly factored into it, but there are other things we could have done better in other areas, too, that would have made a difference. We had some other mistakes that lead to those turnovers. I thought we could have blocked better, we can always tackle better. There’s always a whole list of things that you can look at.”
LB Adam Bighill, WR Darvin Adams, OL Jermarcus Hardrick, S Brandon Alexander, DE Jonathan Kongbo are all either given maintenance or vet days off on Tuesday. Meanwhile, WR Drew Wolitarsky was back working with the starting offence after missing Saturday’s game against the Riders.
The Bombers defence kept the squad in the game for most of Saturday’s game, as Winnipeg had surrendered just four field goals before a late score turned a 14-6 disadvantage into a 21-6 decision.
“We played real well,” said defensive back Marcus Sayles of the defensive effort. “When we looked at it on film that was probably one of our better defensive games. They didn’t score really until the fourth quarter and that’s when we had to start taking chances on things. Looking at that, we see how good our defence really can be. So, going forward we just have to keep that same energy, that same mentality and then we feel like we’ll be successful over these next couple of games.
“The mood hasn’t changed. Our defence is still strong, still positive and we feel like we can go in every single game and win. Our demeanour has never changed. We’ve just got to figure out a way on the field to not give up explosion plays and finish up the game strong in the fourth quarter and keep the morale up the whole game.”
KEEP YOUR FRIENDS CLOSE:
Here’s Harris on Tuesday when asked if there was any finger-pointing happening inside the Bombers huddle as a result of the three-game skid:
“Not at all. We’re a pretty tight family and after watching the film and having a day off to soak it all in, you’ve got to get back on the horse and get back to work. We’re excited to get another opportunity to play another great team. Looking forward to it.”
PAYBACK IS A…?
One more from Harris, when quizzed as to whether he felt the Bombers owed the Alouettes one after surrendering a 24-point lead in a loss last month – the biggest blown lead in club history.
“We owe everyone one right now,” he said. “I mean, we owe ourselves one. It’s not about them, it’s about us right now and getting back to Blue Bombers football.”
“Yeah, we feel like we owe them,” added Sayles. “That was probably one of the bigger comebacks in CFL history. That hurt us. So, when they come out on our field we’ve got to pay them back.”