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Take a look at Bombers and feel much better

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Receiver Jade Etienne makes an acrobatic catch during first-half action on Saturday night. Other Blue Bomber highlights on offence were few and far between.

AARON LYNETT / THE CANADIAN PRESS Enlarge Image

Receiver Jade Etienne makes an acrobatic catch during first-half action on Saturday night. Other Blue Bomber highlights on offence were few and far between.

GUELPH, Ont. -- It is a monument both to everything that is right -- and to everything that is still maddeningly wrong -- with this Winnipeg Blue Bombers team the club's 1-2 regular-season record this morning could very easily be 3-0.

Consider: The Bombers had leads in both their losses this season -- nine points over Montreal heading into the fourth quarter in their home opener; four points over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats late in the second quarter Saturday -- and both times squandered them in the late-going.

If the measure of great football teams is the manner in which they rise to the occasion in the second half, then this Bombers team has failed that test two out of three occasions this season.

And they failed it the same way both times -- when the going has got tough this season, the offence quite simply failed to get going.

That was the script in the fourth quarter of the loss to the Alouettes at Investors Group Field on June 27, in which the Als outscored the Bombers 14-0 in the final frame to squeak out a five-point victory.

And that was the script again Saturday night as Buck Pierce and the Bombers offence mustered just 60 yards of net offence in the entire second half of a 25-20 loss to the Tiger-Cats, abandoning the Winnipeg defence time after time until finally it broke against Hamilton from sheer exhaustion in the fourth quarter.

If all this sounds like a familiar script -- good Bombers defence sold out by unimaginative and anemic Bombers offence -- it should.

That was the storyline in 2011, when a dominating Bombers defence dragged a so-so Bombers offence all the way to the Grey Cup game.

That was the storyline in 2012, when a so-so defence was still the better of a woeful offence in a 6-12 regular season.

And that's been the storyline again this year in a season in which the only Bombers victory -- a 19-11 win in Montreal two weeks ago -- came despite the Bombers offence and because of a defensive effort that was one for the ages.

Now, it's great that the 2013 Bombers defence has shown itself capable already this young season by authoring against Montreal what was among the Top 15 stingiest defensive performances since 1996 -- a run of 1,200-plus CFL games. But if that's what it's going to take for this team to win, well, let's just say that's perhaps not the most reliable path to victory.

If you're sick at this point of this conversation, let's just say you're not the only one. Bombers head coach Tim Burke pointedly said last week that it was long since past the time when the offence of this franchise started playing to the level of the defence.

 

And then when they failed to do that yet again Saturday night, Burke pointedly did nothing to defend his team's offence. On the contrary, Burke appeared to wash his hands of the whole sorry offensive effort.

Asked after the game why Bombers tailback Chad Simpson didn't get more than 11 carries on a night the former NFLer had 116 rushing yards and two TDs, Burke said he had no idea and would have to ask offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton. Indeed, Burke didn't even know how many carries Simpson had Saturday -- he had to ask reporters for the number.

Now, you can argue that not knowing those kinds of basics is a dereliction of Burke's duty to oversee the entire operation, not just his beloved defence. But that is also exactly what the Bombers signed up for last year when they hired a first-time head coach who had spent his entire career as a defensive guru.

All of which is to say that if you're looking for someone to figure out how to get this Bombers offence moving -- finally -- that person is not going to be the head coach.

No, this one is Crowton's baby. The offensive co-ordinator with the long and impeccable resume designed this Bombers offence from the ground-up during the off-season with two very specific -- and related -- goals in mind: Keeping Pierce upright and keeping the ball moving in a quick and uptempo game.

Both of those things have, to this point, failed. With six more sacks Saturday, Pierce has now been sacked 14 times in just three games and it seems just a matter of time until even Pierce 3.0 fails to get back up from yet another sack.

And if it's quick tempo Crowton is looking for this season, how then do you explain the "hurry-up" offence at the end of the first half that looked a lot more like the Bombers were trying to kill the clock than rally a late field goal.

Now, not all of this is on Crowton -- Pierce continues to take far too much time to get the ball in play and then holds on to it much too long once he does get it snapped. And then when Pierce does finally throw it, all too often -- and this was particularly evident Saturday -- his throws simply aren't accurate.

This is a big, complicated problem Crowton has on his hands. The degree to which he fixes it will determine whether this team continues to find ways to lose or finally -- mercifully -- starts finding ways to win.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 15, 2013 C1

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