Blue Bomber Report Record: 3–15–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It's, it's an all-out blitz

Alouettes took dead aim at Pierce and others will, too

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MONTREAL -- So, what have we learned?

Well, the first and most obvious conclusion to be drawn from the 19-11 Winnipeg Blue Bombers victory over the Montreal Alouettes Thursday night is the 2013 Bombers are right now a deeply flawed -- but highly competitive -- young team with the makings of a spectacular defence.

And second, they play in an East Division in which every other team is also deeply flawed but highly competitive.

Game on.

The Bombers will head into Week 3 of this young CFL season in a tie for first place in the East at 1-1 with the Toronto Argonauts and Montreal Alouettes (and, in all likelihood, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who get the free space on the CFL bingo card on Sunday when they host the woeful Edmonton Eskimos.)

That's pretty good when you consider this is a Bombers team who were the bookmakers' underdogs in each of their first two games versus the Als and are nothing less than the longest shot on the board to win the 2013 Grey Cup.

A credible league would hand out a suspension this week -- or at least a fine -- to serve as a warning to the others that this is a professional football league, not UFC

Are they perfect? Not even close and you need only look at the turnovers line -- where the Bombers are a mind-numbing minus-6 on a total of 10 turnovers through just two games -- to see just how spectacularly flawed this bunch truly is.

While the offence has shown flashes at times -- last week's 20-point third quarter; Thursday night's 105-yard, 10-play drive -- they remain inconsistent and, at times, simply bewildering.

"We'll get better," Bombers offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton assured me in the airport Friday.

They'd better -- and soon. Because for all their inconsistency, the most urgent problem facing the Bombers offence right now is its unfortunate tendency to leave its starting quarterback facing up at the sky after every play.

Now, some of that is unavoidable as long as Winnipeg continues to play in a league that simply refuses to deal in a serious way with late hits on quarterbacks. After taking cheap shots at Bombers starter Buck Pierce all game last week, the Als took another two roughing-the-passer calls Thursday, including one by Ejiro Kuale -- the same guy who planted his helmet in Pierce's chin while a member of the Toronto Argos last season.

Now, a credible league would hand out a suspension this week -- or at least a fine -- to serve as a warning to the others that this is a professional football league, not UFC. But the CFL -- for all its new TV money and shiny new stadiums -- is not yet such a league.

And so the Bombers are going to have to solve their own problems. If teams are going to blitz Pierce on seemingly every down like the Als did, the Bombers need to make them pay over the top. And when opponents do take roughing penalties, the Bombers need to capitalize -- as they did the other night in parlaying that Kuale penalty into their first TD.

Of course, it also helps if your defence is handing their QB just as much a licking as your guy is getting, and the Bombers defence spent most of Thursday night pounding Anthony Calvillo into the turf.

No one in the CFL has Calvillo's number right now better than Bombers head coach Tim Burke, who used to be the defensive co-ordinator in Montreal and these days appears to have taken up full-time residence in Calvillo's head.

The Bombers' win was their third victory in their last four visits to Montreal, and Calvillo was absolutely livid after the game Thursday night after getting sacked seven times.

While Calvillo railed to reporters about the "disgusting" and "embarrassing" performance of the Als players, coaches and game plan, you could tell what he was really mad about was the insolence of an upstart Bombers squad that had the temerity to soil his usually unspoiled uniform. Over and over and over again.

The second-guessing of Als rookie head coach Dan Hawkins was already underway even before the wheels of the Bombers plane had left the ground at Trudeau International Friday morning.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country Thursday night, there were also a couple insights to be drawn from the B.C. Lions' 24-16 victory over a Toronto Argonauts squad that mustered just seven first downs through the first three quarters.

The Toronto loss snapped a six-game Argos win streak that went back to late last season and rendered Ricky Ray, Chad Owens and the rest of the 2012 Grey Cup champions suddenly very fallible.

What's more, the fact the same Argos offence that was so stifled by B.C. put up 39 points against Hamilton in Week 1 suggests a Ticats defence that was super lousy in 2012 is apparently still pretty bad.

Put it together and Thursday night brought back memories of the 2011 CFL season, when a stifling Bombers defence carried a so-so offence all the way to a division title in an East Division that was so flawed that year a measly 10-8 regular-season record was good enough for the Bombers to host the East Final.

It's very, very early and everything still depends, of course, on Buck Pierce staying healthy this year. But suddenly, there's hope for this Bombers team -- and that's already a big improvement on all of last season.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 6, 2013 C3

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