December 7, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
There's a scene in Friday Night Lights where an enraged father fuming over his son's repeated fumbles jams a football into the kid's gut and then wraps duct tape around his arms.
And he hammers home his not-so subtle point with this not-so subtle quote: "Hang on to the (expletive) football!"
Now, there's no truth to the rumour that Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Tim Burke had boxes of duct tape shipped to Montreal for Thursday's contest against the Alouettes, but he must have been tempted.
The Bombers turned the ball over five times -- three picks, one fumble, once on downs -- in their season-opening 38-33 loss to the Als and were minus-4 in the turnover ratio. And you don't have to be Bud Grant to understand that's a number that inevitably leads to complete and utter disaster on the football field.
Here are the numbers from CFL stats guru Steve Daniel to back this up in black and white:
-- Since 1996, teams with zero turnovers have gone 171-23 for an .881 winning percentage.
-- Dating back to 2010, teams that have lost in the turnover ratio have won just 26 of the last 220 games.
-- The Bombers are 2-10 in their last dozen games in which they had more turnovers than their opponent.
Said Burke last week in the wake of the Als loss: "Until we stop turning the ball over, we're not going to win any games. That's just the way it is.
"But if we can stop turning the ball over, we're a good enough team to beat anybody."
Updating a storyline from last week that has been repeated at least twice a year dating back lo, these 15 years:
Anthony Calvillo, after the win in the season opener, is now 28-12 against the Bombers with a TD-to-interception ratio of 84:30. Hello.
What has to be frightening for Bomber defenders and their faithful is this: the club's defence held Calvillo to 'only' 264 yards passing, sacked him four times and picked him off once. And lost.
So, the same gameplan remains in place for Thursday: make the 40-year-old gunslinger squirm in the pocket, jam his receivers and then pray to the football heavens for some sort of divine assistance.
Buck Pierce had his first and last passes intercepted last week en route to a three-pick evening. His QB-efficiency rating was 63.1, ninth among the 10 players who threw at least one pass (only Edmonton's Mike Reilly was worst, at 47.2).
Now, there were some moments when Pierce was sharp but, for the most part, he looked exactly like a man who had gone 0-for-5 in the preseason and was all-geeked up to make believers out of everybody again. But the veteran pivot is most effective when the Bombers establish a ground game -- nine carries for Chad Simpson does not scream out "establish a ground game" -- and he is at the helm of an efficient ball-control attack.
These numbers MUST improve if the Bombers wish to have a sniff this season. And if they don't, the QB debate will only be further stoked.
It was a look of horror, shock and anger all in one telling gaze. Early in last week's loss to Montreal -- just seconds after Tyron Carrier had returned a Mike Renaud punt 78 yards for a touchdown -- we scanned the Bomber sideline looking for a reaction from new special-teams co-ordinator Craig Dickenson.
He didn't yell. He didn't point fingers. He looked exactly like a man who had been kicked squarely in the private parts. Little wonder: only twice in his seven years as a CFL coach has his punt-cover team been scorched for a score.
The small consolation? Early in the third quarter Dickenson's punt-return unit did the exact same to the Als as Demond Washington lit them up for an 80-yard touchdown. Washington was superb last week and, along with Jovon Johnson and Will Ford, the Bombers have some real threats in the return game.
Old football story No. 3,567:
A struggling quarterback, standing at attention during the national anthem, leans close to one of his offensive linemen and whispers: "I don't know what it is, but every time they play that song, I have a bad game..."
So there were the Bombers a week ago at the official unveiling of Investors Group Field... The crowd was whipped into a lather by legends like Milt Stegall, Matt Dunigan, Ken Ploen and Chris Walby, a rabid defence forces Anthony Calvillo & Co. into a quick two-and-out...
... And then Buck Pierce throws a pick on the first play from scrimmage in 2013.
Three minutes later, down 7-0 and after the offence sputters again, the special teams unit surrenders a 78-yard punt return and the home side is down 14-zilch.
This is a scene that repeats often in Bomber games dating back to last year when the club was out-scored 145-45 in first quarters. That ugly trend bled into the opener last week when the Bombers were down 14-10 after the first 15 minutes of play.
Asked Wednesday in Montreal if he had any new ideas to helping get his team off to a faster start, Burke said:
"Not really. We just have to go out and execute. That's the No. 1 thing and if we do, we'll get off to a faster start. I think the No. 1 thing for us is being focused on the task at hand and playing it one play at a time and all those clich©s."
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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 4, 2013 ??65534