November 27, 2015


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Blue Bomber Report

Western wall a hurdle for Blue

Bombers are nearly winless in their new division

VANCOUVER -- The Winnipeg Blue Bombers will try to do something at BC Place tonight they haven't done since 2011 -- win a regular season CFL game in a stadium west of the Manitoba border.

Yes, you heard that right -- a Bombers team that this year moved back to the West Division has not actually won a game in the West since Aug. 13, 2011, when they beat the B.C. Lions 30-17 at Empire Field, where the Lions were playing temporarily while BC Place was being renovated.

Since that game, the Bombers have played in West Division stadiums 11 times in the regular season. And 11 times they have lost. Throw in a loss to the Lions in the 2011 Grey Cup game at BC Place and you can make it an even 0-for-a-dozen.

Just a bad run? Maybe -- but the Bombers had also lost five straight games in West Division stadiums even before that 2011 win in B.C., meaning they have now lost 16 of their last 17 regular-season games in the West going back to midway through the 2009 season.

And then there's this almost unbelievable statistic -- the last time the Bombers won in a West Division stadium other than in B.C. was in 2006. Yes, you read that right -- the Bombers are 0-for-Calgary, Edmonton and Regina combined since 2006 (although there was a tie in Edmonton during the opening week of 2007).

Hard to believe.

Now, it was bad enough in past seasons that the Bombers were unable to win in fully one-half of the stadiums in the Canadian Football League. But at least back then, the Bombers were in the East Division.

But what was once a nuisance and a curiosity has taken on a new sense of urgency now the Bombers are in the West and an unbalanced schedule is now working against them, instead of papering over their inability to win in the West as it did when they were still in the East.

What was once a small problem, in other words, has suddenly become a major problem that needs to be fixed immediately, preferably beginning tonight.

Because here's the other thing -- you can go ahead and dismiss this franchise's nasty West Division losing streak as ancient history that has nothing to do with a brand new Bombers regime that has made sweeping changes to how the organization does things, both on and off the field.

But before you dismiss the Bombers' past as irrelevant to the Bombers' present, just remember this -- the Bombers played three East Division opponents to start the 2014 season and beat all three. And then the first time they played a West Division opponent -- last week at home against the Edmonton Eskimos -- they got smoked, 26-3.

Yet another coincidence? Yeah, maybe. But just know this -- if you're watching a horror movie and the same guy keeps showing up every time another body turns up, that's usually a pretty good clue he's the culprit.

And so if the Bombers want to prove they really can compete with the Best in the West, well it'd be a simple enough thing to prove with a win here tonight.

"Obviously, our first priority is to figure out how we're going to win in the West now that we're in their division," Bombers tackle Glenn January reflected this week.

January said there should be no mystery as to why the Bombers have struggled in the West in recent years. "Honestly, if you look at the teams the last few years, the West has been dominant. It's not necessarily been true in Grey Cups, but certainly in the games leading up to it. Calgary, B.C., Saskatchewan, even Edmonton -- none of those has been an easy place to play.

"So yeah, it's hard to get wins in the West. But we have a lot of young guys and hopefully they're not aware of all that's gone on in the past and we can go out and get a win in B.C. like it's just another game."

The West dominance January speaks of in recent years has continued through the early parts of the 2014 season. All four East Division teams are below .500 heading into Week 5 and the Ottawa Redblacks actually lead the division with a 1-2 record.

Over in the West, meanwhile, only the Saskatchewan Roughriders are below .500. And the West has completely dominated the East in head-to-head matchups in 2014, boasting a 10-2 record in intra-division matchups this season.

"Everyone tells me the West is a stronger division," says Bombers offensive lineman Steve Morley. "And so the bottom line is we just need to play better if we're going to win in the West." Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 25, 2014 C1

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