Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

O-line a disaster area

Big Blue's foundation, and their 3-1 record, is built on popsicle sticks

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Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' running back Nic Grigsby bobbles a pass into the waiting hands of Edmonton Eskimos' #41 Odell Willis early in the game Thursday. Willis took it and ran to score the Eskimo's opening touch down.

The offensive line is the foundation every football team is built on and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers hogs simply aren't good enough.

The Canadians are poor and the Americans average, rather than the standouts they should be. All the good work GM Kyle Walters has managed to date is going to be undone by his offensive line.

Results such as Thursday night's 26-3 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos are predictable with the kind of work being done by the five men in the trench.

The offensive line is a tent pole on every team and usually the main support on a strong club. That can't be said in Winnipeg. They're holding the canvas up with a bent piece of aluminum that's ready to break in several spots. Check that. It's broken. That was the canvas hitting the ground Thursday, with little more than a whisper. And now the word is out: Winnipeg is weak on the line, can be controlled early and eventually forced to submit.

Winnipeg started a group comprising imports Glenn January, Dan Knapp and Cordaro Howard along with Canadians Steve Morley and Patrick Neufeld. They were awful. They accomplished next to nothing, and worse, allowed quarterback Drew Willy to be sacked four times and knocked around on several more occasions. He's the guy putting the bread on the table and letting him get battered is unacceptable. Walters has to be watching this unfold and fuming.

If the line can't protect the quarterback or open holes for the backs, it's two-and-out all night. The opposition wins the time-of-possession battle, the field-position match and ultimately, the scoreboard war.

Fixing this problem is near impossible mid-season. In fact, Walters will have to come to hard decisions and determine if it's time to begin a complete rebuild. Such a move comes with major repercussions.

Moving out veteran imports to test new U.S. talent may prove successful in the long run, but will cost the Bombers games right now. Playing rookie Matthias Goossen and allowing him to gain experience on the job will result in mistakes and growing pains on the field.

But if not now, when? Walters is under unique pressures. CEO Wade Miller needs wins to sell tickets. Head coach Mike O'Shea wants to win now. So does all of Winnipeg.

But sooner or later the price needs to be paid, because limping along with inferior line play will eventually undermine the entire franchise. You can't win with a bad offensive line. If you can't win, after years of putting an inept product on the field, fans won't buy in or buy tickets. A strong crowd of 30,976 trickled out of the stadium early in the fourth quarter and Miller had to be cringing at the sight. This franchise is far from out of the woods, and they need to entertain.

The offensive line is the foundation for everything. On and off the field. They set the tone and deliver the mail. Or not, in this case.

The Bombers trailed 13-3 at the half, but the score was flattering. They collected all of four first downs and were owned by the visiting Edmonton Eskimos in time of possession -- 20:14 to 9:46. The second quarter saw Edmonton hold the ball for 11:41 while Winnipeg's offence had their hands on it for just 3:19.

The Bombers had 29 yards rushing and 94 yards passing for a whopping 123 yards of offence. It all added up to three points, which came very late in the half.

The third quarter was a little better, as the Bombers earned five first downs. But no points. The final 15 minutes was more of the same as the Bombers mustered no points and two first downs. You read that correctly.

The final time of possession was 38:38 to 21:22 in Edmonton's favour.

Pitiful. Losing football. And it all starts on the line. No push and no protection equals no offence.

Fixing the line woes isn't as easy as saying Walters needs to turn his attention to the boys with beef. This has to be an organizational call. Miller needs to be onside, as does O'Shea. No one will be happy about tearing the Band Aid off and revealing this open wound, but it's going to have to happen. The Bombers and their 3-1 record are built on popsicle sticks. That barely gets it done in July.

It doesn't make it into November. Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 18, 2014 C3


Updated on Friday, July 18, 2014 at 8:39 AM CDT: Adds slideshow, adds video

8:44 AM: Adds sidebar

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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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