The Bombers landed in Winnipeg Sunday morning, first in the CFL's East Division but also last, faces still hanging low from Saturday's stumbling loss.
It might have been different, but the numbers look so strange: on Saturday, the Bombers sacked Hamilton Tiger-Cats quarterback Henry Burris seven times and still lost 25-20 -- though, to be fair, their own pivot Buck Pierce was put down six times, too. They might be starting to lag behind, if it wasn't for the curious fact every team in the east is also sporting a record of 1-2.
So head coach Tim Burke's to-do list grows. It's the offence again, though not just that: the Bombers' passing plays couldn't shake the Ticats' coverage. The Bombers tried to get receiver Chris Matthews -- who has been cold for the first three weeks of the season -- more involved, but those attempts fizzled out. The offensive line got beat in different ways -- by the Ticats' backs, by the blitz.
On the other hand, the Bombers' run game sparked: Chad Simpson turned in two touchdowns and 116 yards in 11 carries, more than he netted in the first two tilts combined. So there's hope for the offence yet. "It's kind of like the guy who has the big biceps, and the big chest, but still has a big boiler," mused offensive lineman Glenn January, first off the tarmac. "Sure, you've got some impressive parts, but you're not looking fit. We've got to put it all together."
At heart, that starts with shoring up Pierce's protection. Seven sacks should go a long way towards winning a football game, if there aren't six coming back the other way, and January described "certain wrinkles" in protection schemes that his line is working to absorb. "We didn't necessarily reinvent the wheel, but there's certain things we've changed that make the thought process a bit different," he said. "We are creatures of habit... End of the day though, there are no excuses. We shouldn't have made the mistakes we did (Saturday) night."
Not that everything falls on the O-line's shoulders, of course, because there's men running behind and in front of and through them too, and too many of them are staying caged. Matthews only managed two catches for 35 yards, and has started this season quieter than one would expect from the CFL's 2012 top rookie. But the Bombers did try to put the ball in his hands early, and he ended up on his back, then stifled by coverage.
"We just got to get him going a little bit earlier in the game," offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton said, and talked about moving Matthews around the field until they find a spot that sparks him up. "If Buck and Chris can hook up a few times and gain confidence, then they'll take off. A good receiver like that, sometimes if they don't get the ball early, they feel a little anxious. We tried, it just didn't work out."
When it doesn't, the Bombers' robust defence wears down, and on Saturday Burke thought the defence lost steam in the third quarter as they kept returning to the field after Pierce and the gang put up quick two-and-outs. So the defence needs less time, and the offence needs more space. "We're going to have to create more ways to get open," Burke said. "Right now, our receivers are not beating their defensive backs -- or if they do, we're not getting them the ball. We've got to do a better job in that respect."
Burke also touched on the decision to give backup quarterback Justin Goltz more time on the field -- he wrapped with three carries for 17 yards and a touchdown. "We're trying not to run the ball with Buck to keep him healthy," Burke said. If that means the Bombers telegraph their plans when Goltz is behind centre, "we're going to have to break our tendencies," the coach added.