1. TO SERVE AND PROTECT
It's common to stroll through any locker-room after a game and see ice bags wrapped around shoulders and elbows, knees and ankles. But it still has to be more than a little disconcerting for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to see Drew Willy with an ice bag on his ankle again, as was the case after last week's loss to Saskatchewan. Willy was sacked five times by the Riders and the Bombers have now surrendered 23 sacks through seven games -- tied for second-most in the CFL. A lot of factors lead into that -- the QB has to make quicker reads, the receivers have to get open, the offence has to be able to run the ball -- but the fingers of blame always get pointed at the offensive line when the sacks-surrendered total is that gaudy. Just to put that 23 total in perspective -- Calgary, which has played one fewer game -- has surrendered just six all season.
2. IF IT’S TUESDAY, THIS MUST BE TORONTO...
Awful turnaround for the Bombers, who played Thursday at home in an emotionally-charged matchup with their Prairie rivals and then had to travel to Toronto to go at it again after just one full practice. Healing the bumps and bruises is one thing, but getting cranked up again mentally is just as important.
"It usually takes me about two or three days until I'm feeling back to normal and the head feels better and your body's not as achy," said Bomber centre Steve Morley. "But coach O'Shea took care of us... he gave us a walk-through and then a short practice (Sunday). Some years, some coaches, they'd have you out here wearing full pads every day and by game time you're exhausted. But we got a lot of mental stuff (instead of practising). I think we'll be fresh for the game."
Stating the obvious here, but wins in August means just as much as those in October and that's why the next two weeks are important for the Blue and Gold. The Bombers face a banged-up Argo side tonight, host the circus-like Montreal Alouettes next Friday and then have their annual back-to-back with the Riders. The final eight weeks of the Bombers schedule features two byes and games against Ottawa and Hamilton, but finishes with four straight against West Division opponents.
3. THE TURNOVER MACHINE KEEPS SPITTING OUT GAFFES
CFL teams are a combined 5-23 this season in games in which they finish with more turnovers than they force. The Bombers are 3-2 in those situations, but are still soothing the wounds from last week's mistake-filled loss to the Riders. Winnipeg is minus-7 in turnovers, worst in the CFL. That's a shocking number for a team that is 5-2, but so is the fact they have lost that usually decisive indictor in five of their seven games.
Forgotten in all the moaning and groaning in the Rider setback was this: The Bombers didn't force any turnovers of their own, and a drop of a sure interception by linebacker E.J. Kuale -- with Winnipeg holding a 17-16 lead and just 3:12 remaining -- might have sealed the game if he had returned it for a score or, at least, into Saskatchewan territory.
"We want to create more turnovers," said cornerback Chris Randle this week. "That's our mindset, create turnovers and be aggressive from the get-go."
The Bombers defence was superb against the pass last week, limiting Darian Durant to just 115 yards. But their work against the run was awful, as the Riders rumbled off 186 yards. Argo QB Ricky Ray likes to dink and dunk against defences -- only occasionally going over the top -- and that might be even more so today with his receiving corps riddled by injuries. That opens the door for some potentially second-and-long situations that are prime for turnovers (see: Bombers, last week).
"There's no stopping him," said Randle of Ray. "You want to limit the damage he can do. Take away the big plays and be sure tacklers. That's what we've been harping on and we've got to stay on that."
4. GROUND GAME REVIVAL — PART DEUX
A fact Bomber head coach Mike O'Shea pointed out repeatedly in the wake of the loss to Saskatchewan: Winnipeg held a 17-16 lead with 2:32 left in the game before Willy's ill-advised toss to the flat was intercepted by Terrell Maze and returned for a TD in the game's decisive play. His emphasis was this: For all their flaws and warts, the Bombers were still in a position to win their sixth game in seven starts. In fact, the team still had two more possessions before the final gun sounded.
But what had to alarm the Bombers brass was how one-dimensional they became offensively because of their inability to run the football -- a malady that has been well documented on these pages since last Thursday.
Getting Pat Neufeld back at right guard will help, but until the Bombers prove they can consistently run the football, expect more of the same from opposition defences. In fact, the Riders' game plan -- which included a healthy dose of run blitzes on first down -- is now the blueprint on how to stop Winnipeg's attack until the Bombers counter.
"That's something that has been our focus for the past couple of weeks and it's something we're frustrated with at this point," said veteran tackle Glenn January of the run game on Sunday. "We just have to make sure we're sound in our technique and our assignments and continue to push. Once you get a hole there for Nic (Grigsby), he hits it and it's off to the races."
5. AN UNDERSTUDY AND A CLONE
One of the intriguing storylines to last week's game was Willy facing his old team, and his old teammate in Durant -- a quarterback who helped him so much with his game.
This week's QB matchup might be just as compelling, because more than one CFL observer has drawn comparisons in Willy's game to that of Ray. Both are underrated runners on those few occasions when they do take off with the ball. Both have shown a knack for not getting rattled when the bullets are flying late in a game.
The one noticeable difference? Ray has thrown for 49,153 yards, has won three Grey Cups and is headed for the hall of fame. Willy has thrown for 3,147 yards, won a Grey Cup as Durant's backup last November and has a whole pile of work to do over the next few games -- let alone next decade or so -- before anybody starts talking about setting aside space for his bust at the Hall of Fame.
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