Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bombers lacking basics of football

Line of scrimmage most glaring hole

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Surely it was fun watching the Winnipeg Blue Bombers win games with Drew Willy flinging the ball again and again.

It was never sustainable, though, and if his team can't find a way to win with fundamentals, the early heat of July wins won't be able to keep fans warm when autumn arrives.

The basics of football, owning the line of scrimmage and limiting mistakes, have now eluded the Blue Bombers two weeks in a row. If it continues it's hard to imagine this team reaching the post-season in a very competitive Western Division.

Defensive co-ordinator Gary Etcheverry's defence has been exposed as weak against the run. Offensive co-ordinator Marcel Bellefeuille hasn't been able to establish a run game to support Willy.

Maybe it's the schemes, maybe it's the personnel. It's likely a bit of both. Can these issues be solved? The Bombers' season and how long it lasts will be determined by the club's ability to shore up the line of scrimmage.

Now 5-3 with 10 games to go, the Bombers likely need to go .500 or better the rest of the way to get a sniff at the playoffs. Will 10 wins do it?

Every team in the division has four wins or more and all have at least a game in hand on the Bombers prior to the rest of the week's action. A strong start to the season is a beginning but making the playoffs in the West this season is going to require a good push to the very end. Something very much in question with the way the Bombers have played the last two weeks.

While winning games and reaching the post-season should be the goal of all in the franchise, how the club goes about getting those needed victories might be just as important.

Hoping Willy can throw for 300 yards and four touchdowns every week is unrealistic, and if the last two games are an example of how teams are now going to play the Bombers the rest of the way, well, it ain't going to be easy.

No run game and the inability to stop the opposition's ground game has caught up to the Bombers in a big way. The fourth quarter, once the Bombers best friend and scene of dramatic Drew Willy moments, has become their enemy.

The offensive line finds itself on its heels in pass protection again and again with the opposition defence rearing back and swinging from the floor with no heed to the possibility of a run play.

The defensive line finds itself gassed late in games after having been on the field too long and forced to endure the punishment of grinding run attacks. The Bombers, on both sides of the ball, have become punching bags.

Going from a 3-15 loser to a playoff team is no easy feat. Willy's early magic heightened expectations, but it might have been unrealistic as the Bombers 5-1 record was never underpinned by sturdy fundamentals.

The biggest flaws with this team remain unchanged. Its Canadian players are of only average calibre and its offensive line has holes rather than the ability to open them.

GM Kyle Walters will need time to remedy these ailments. More time than one off-season. Trying to fix them in season is near impossible as the two are intertwined.

Good Canadian offensive lineman are a staple with most CFL contenders. Walters inherited a shallow talent pool along the offensive line and the club has no Canadian depth. Walters is on the record as saying the only way to remedy this is through the draft or by overpaying in the free agent market.

Last winter, the Bombers were radioactive to most free agents. Players with options put the Bombers second or worse when making choices.

This coming off-season, however, Walters will have a much better opportunity to attract free agent Canadians including offensive linemen that can eat up ratio spots and upgrade the Bombers offence.

Having a starting quarterback with upside and a management team with a solid reputation puts the Bombers back in the free agent game. Winnipeg will once again be a destination players consider strongly and not just be used as leverage against other teams.

Walters has begun the work but it's obvious there is lots more to do. Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 14, 2014 D1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.


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