One and four is the not the end of a football season, and a win in B.C. next Monday against the Lions would put out a lot of fires that are close to forcing evacuations in Winnipeg. That being said, 1-4 IS the time to take a candid look at your football team and to decide what single change would result in the biggest improvement.
Having been on my fair share of good and bad teams, the hypothetical I always play out to determine the source of the problem is to imagine switching systems with a successful team. If your team's fortunes would change if the players had a different game plan, it is not a talent issue, it is a problem with the schemes and coaching. If the team would not benefit even if the players were being coached by Bill Belichick of the dynastic New England Patriots, then it is a talent issue. Since many of us got to witness first-hand the performance of a good team on Friday -- the Calgary Stampeders -- the comparison is there to be made. So would the 2013 edition of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers be 1-4 if they were coached by John Hufnagel and Co. in the systems the Stampeder players are using so effectively? Or would they continue to struggle and plod along, seemingly regressing as the season continues?
Fresh off a runner-up result in the 2012 Grey Cup, the Stampeders look deeper than the Marianas Trench at quarterback. They went to the Grey Cup on the back of their second-string QB. Their third-string pivot, making his first-ever start last week against the Bombers, missed on only four passes in 33 attempts, scored three touchdowns and threw for 376 yards. Is Bo Levi Mitchell, the Stampeders' third option, really that much better than Winnipeg's first two options? Or is he merely a byproduct of Huf and Dave Dickenson, the Stamps' offensive co-ordinator?
Before we get to that, looking at the rest of these two offences -- my primary area of concern when it comes to the Bombers -- they don't appear miles apart.
The Calgary offensive line that held the league-leading sack-getters to only one QB kill has a whopping total of one all-star on it and two CFL rookies. The Winnipeg offensive line also has a multiple all-star on it in Glenn January and no rookies, so you would think the lines would be somewhat comparable.
When you look at the receivers Calgary used Friday night, only Nik Lewis is of all-star calibre, with just one more all-CFL recognition than Terrence Edwards. Looking at their other starting receivers, Hawthorne is a CFL rookie, Sinopoli is playing receiver for the first time in his career, and the Bombers let backup Greg Carr walk and bounce around the league a long time ago before he resurfaced in Calgary and exacted some revenge.
At running back, Jon Cornish is a bona fide superstar in the CFL, but is he really that much more capable than Chad Simpson, who had three years of spot duty in the NFL before he arrived on our doorstep? Those who consider the NFL the holy grail of professional football talent would have to put Simpson on comparable terms with Cornish simply because of his resum©.
So a comparative analysis between the assets of these two offences tells us the only glaring disparity is at quarterback, but we couldn't have realized that until we saw both Bo Levi Mitchell and Justin Goltz start for the first time.
Even with this apparent critical difference in inherent talent at pivot, you have to look at how the Stampeders and Bombers differed in their game plans in accommodating the first starts of these QBs.
Calgary didn't ask much of Bo Levi Mitchell at the start. They began with a series of quick passes and a steady diet of Cornish so Bo Levi could gain confidence, get some momentum and get into a rhythm. On the Bombers' first possession, they swung for the fences on second-and-medium and trotted off the field for the first of what would be too many two-and-outs.
Running backs can take the pressure off new quarterbacks, and Jon Cornish had 22 total touches for the Stamps, while Chad Simpson had 16. Simpson actually had a higher per-carry average than Cornish on this night, but you wouldn't have noticed it because the Bombers held the ball for almost an entire quarter less.
It is true the defence has fallen off lately, and it is true they rarely, if ever, blitzed a QB during his first start -- an indictable offence under most football laws. Yet if there has been one consistent thing about the Bombers this year, it's that the offence has faltered and underachieved.
After a closer look at the offensive personnel Calgary has ridden to its 4-1 record, it is obvious the greatest inequality between these two teams is the system they find themselves in.
Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays and the days following game days in the Free Press.