Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bombers don't seem in much of a rush

Run game falls off after stunning start

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REMEMBER Nic Grigsby?

C'mon, sure you do -- he plays for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, wears No. 32 and is the starting tailback.

Still nothing? Okay, how about this for a memory jog -- he had 122 yards rushing in a Week 1 win over Toronto and three rushing TD's in a Week 2 win over Ottawa.

Coming back to you now?

That's better. All of which prompts the next obvious question -- Will the Bombers running game also be coming back any time soon?

Lost amidst all the hand-wringing this week over Winnipeg's Week 4 26-3 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos has been the fact it came in a game in which Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly ran for more yards -- a lot more yards -- than the entire Winnipeg Blue Bombers team combined.

Indeed, Reilly's 96 rushing yards against the Bombers led the CFL last week, while the Bombers' 61 team rushing yards was the lowest total by any CFL team last week.

The vanishing Bombers running game didn't start last week, either. While Winnipeg won in Week 3 -- 34-33 over the Alouettes in Montreal -- they rushed for just 50 yards as a team in that game, again the lowest in the CFL that week.

So the Bombers have rushed for fewer yards as a team in the last two weeks combined -- 111 -- than Grigsby did all by himself in just that Week 1 win over Toronto.

Now, there are a couple of things at play here. For starters, Winnipeg had to come from behind to beat Montreal and they trailed Edmonton midway through the first quarter -- and in three-down football, a deficit on the scoreboard almost always means more passing and less running.

Indeed, a deeper look inside the numbers suggests the drop-off in the Bombers running game the last two weeks hasn't been because the holes haven't been there for Grigsby, but rather because he simply hasn't been given as much of a chance to exploit them.

Against Montreal, the Winnipeg tailback had an impressive 5.7 yards per carry average -- but he rushed only 6 times. Last week, he averaged 4.5 yards per carry, but again only got the ball 11 times.

All of which leads to the old chicken-and-egg argument in the CFL -- Do you need an effective passing game -- something Winnipeg didn't have last week -- to loosen up the defence for the run? Or does a good ground game take pressure off the quarterback so that he has time to establish that passing game?

In other words, would all the problems the Bombers have had protecting QB Drew Willy -- the 15 sacks they've surrendered this season is second most in the CFL -- be much less of a problem if they could get Grigsby more involved in the game, like he was during the first two weeks of the season?

"The running game is very important. Anytime you can get the running game going, you're able to take pressure off the passing game and it keeps the defence from being one-dimensional," says Bombers left tackle Glenn January, defending his unit's efforts on the run last week against Edmonton.

"When you look at the numbers, 4.5 yards per carry actually isn't a bad day at the office. You want it to be at least 5, but still -- not terrible. But we got away from the running game and just haven't been running the ball as much as we did the first couple weeks."

So, will there be more running from the Bombers this Friday night in Vancouver against the B.C. Lions, particularly against a BC defence that allowed the Montreal Alouettes just 62 yards passing last week -- the stingiest single game pass defence for a Lions team since 1975?

Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea was noncommittal Wednesday. "Does a running game help alleviate some pressure? Possibly it does," said O'Shea. "But then again, if you're a team that tips off what you're doing -- passing or running -- it doesn't really matter, either.

"I think pass protection is something you should evaluate separately sometimes."

And what does Grigsby think about the lesser role he's played in the Bombers offence the past couple weeks? All the right things, to hear him tell it.

"You have different schemes for different defences," said Grigsby. "And I've got to do my job better -- be better at creating space for myself....

"It's just patience. Everything is not going to be big plays. The first few games, there were big holes and we took them. Last two games, it's been tougher defences and taking the shorter runs as they come.

"It will come." Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 24, 2014 D1

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