Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Blue killing selves with repeated slow starts

Outscored 47-7 in first quarters

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When you have one win in six tries, and 13 days to dwell on it until your next game, trying to determine which fingers to plug into which leaks is difficult.

When, a third of the way through the football season, every phase and facet of your team has taken its own turn not living up to expectations, it leaves a lot of room for improvement going forward.

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There have been injury problems, penalty problems, turnover issues, decision-making second guesses, identity crises, player malcontents and even coin toss quandaries. So when you approach the task of reloading and focusing in on the remaining 12 games of the schedule, what do you start fixing first, and where do you put the most emphasis?

In my mind, it's simple. You start where an improvement will pay the most dividends to a team of this character and makeup, where a change will have the most profound effect. You begin with the beginning. Coming out of the gates in any race is important, but even more so when your team is inexperienced, young and impressionable. Some teams have the experience, patience, and resolve to be able to come from behind and win games in consistent fashion. When you are the youngest team in the CFL, you need the confidence and momentum that comes from getting out in front in the early goings.

It has been widely disseminated that in the first 33 per cent of the season, the Bombers have been outscored 47 to 7 in the first quarter. In six games the Blue and Gold have not scored a single touchdown in the opening 15 minutes, just two field goals and a rouge. Every team they have faced has scored at least one touchdown in that initial stanza, except for Edmonton. The only game where the Bombers led, 1-0 at the end of the first quarter, is the only game they have won this year.

You could write a column about the importance of any particular quarter in a football game and have a large percentage of the football community subscribe to your theory. Coaches talk about the importance of the second and fourth quarters as they are longer than the first and third due to stop time. They talk about coming out and setting the tone in the second half, and they get so excited about finishing games and putting away teams in the fourth, they sometimes make their players put up four fingers in the air to signal the start of it, just in case we have forgotten that the game is well on its way to ending.

In my estimation, however, the most telling sign of a struggling football team is how they fare and how well they are prepared when they play offence, defence, and special teams for the first time at the start of a game. This is supposed to be an opportunity to attack and exploit, not to see how your opponents are planning on stopping you. The first time you get the football as an offence is one of the few times in a game when you get to surprise your opponent with any and all of the new wrinkles you have come up with, and your opportunity to take advantage of the few things you brought to the table that they haven't prepared for.

After the first quarter, so much of football is subject to adjustments, turnovers, injuries, and even fatigue, the emphasis of the game changes completely. Yet the first time you get the ball, and the first time you defend the ball, is when you get to let it all hang out. These are your moments to set the tone for the next 60 minutes, and execute your game plan without having to factor in other variables. This is the time during the contest you get to see creative chess moves and mismatches at their finest, without other situations taking precedence.

Yet, when was the last time you saw a Bomber offence that had an opposing defence chasing its own tail for the first couple of drives and wondering who flipped the script on them? Either the game planning and ingenuity isn't where it needs to be right now, or the players are not capable of executing the plays until later in the game when things soften up. Until one or the other of these scenarios improves, a young, immature football squad will continue to be forced to draw on veteran intangibles that they simply do not possess.

Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays and game days in the Free Press.

Twitter: @DougBrown97

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 7, 2012 D3

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