TORONTO -- The Winnipeg Blue Bombers seem to have the passing game figured out both on offence and defence. So far, however, they've been absolutely clueless where the run game is concerned.
The Bombers can't run the ball and their defence can't stop it. The book on beating the Bombers right now is simple: Run the ball on offence and take the ground game away on defence.
With just two losses so far this season, beating Winnipeg hasn't been an easy trick to turn. But the trends have been forming for some time. Last week, the Saskatchewan Roughriders used a power run game and completely shut the tap off on Winnipeg's ground game, allowing Bombers running backs to collect just eight yards.
'As a quarterback you love the idea of throwing it 40 times, but you have to realize the percentages of you winning that game go down'
The Bombers have rushed for 480 yards this season, second last in the league and only ahead of the lowly Ottawa Redblacks by five yards. In the air, however, the Bombers have been excellent, passing for a league leading 1,984 yards.
The Bombers defence has also been excellent against the pass, allowing teams to average 224 yards per game, third best in the league. On the ground the defence wilts a bit and has allowed the opposition 108 rushing yards per game, fifth in the league.
Bombers quarterback Drew Willy says he likes the idea of passing 40 times or more per game, but understands it won't lead to sustainable success.
"As a quarterback you love the idea of throwing it 40 times, but you have to realize the percentages of you winning that game go down," said Willy. "Last year in Saskatchewan when (Kory) Sheets went down, they threw the ball over 40 times per games and we went 0-3," said Willy. "You really want to have the run game going to give you that balance. We want to get (Nic) Grigsby and (Paris) Cotton going. You could see it in those early games when we were able to run the ball, teams couldn't play us for one or the other."
On the defensive side of the ball, co-ordinator Gary Etcheverry is known for being a bit of a mad genius. He likes to employ a lot of speed and a variety of personnel packages. One never knows what's coming next from an Etcheverry defence. The knock, however, on such a system is the players are often a tad undersized and if the opposition elects to take the game to the ground there can be an imbalance. Exotic defensive packages aren't a lot of good when the offence is the equivalent of a meat grinder.
Argos coach Scott Milanovich says he's spent a lot of time preparing for this game, looking at film and becoming familiar with what Etcheverry has been employing to this point.
"I always feel more comfortable with having seen multiple games of film. For instance, yesterday we were looking at one aspect and you get a list of coverages. Usually you maybe get six coverages. Etch had, like, 20. That's what you get," said Milanovich. "That's the beauty of his defence, you can't ever really get comfortable you know what's coming, so you have to build your scheme to where it has answers, for if not all of those things, most of those things."
The answer for the Argos might be running back Steve Slaton. The former Houston Texan had his best game in the CFL with the Argos last game, with a combined 100 yards from scrimmage. Slaton rushed 12 times for 52 yards while catching six passes for 48 yards.
The Argos have an offence built around future Hall of Fame quarterback Ricky Ray and they like to throw the ball. But if Slaton can find traction on the ground it will make Ray and the entire Argos' offence more dangerous.
The schedule for the Bombers sees them face a pair of Eastern teams in Toronto tonight and Montreal at home next week. Then it's a back-to-back with the suddenly impressive Saskatchewan Roughriders.
The playoff race in the West Division is tight and at least one good football team will miss the playoffs. Getting wins against teams in the East is key for the Bombers.
Figuring out the run game is a big part of that equation.
"Every team wants to be able to run the ball and have balance on offence," said Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea. "We have the right character to get it fixed. We have the people that want to work to get things fixed."
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