Return of the Dark Side

Bombers D dominant again, but Demski could be sidelined

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There was a time when people around these parts would be completely satisfied with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers starting a season 2-0 – regardless of how they won those games.

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There was a time when people around these parts would be completely satisfied with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers starting a season 2-0 – regardless of how they won those games.

When you win back-to-back Grey Cups and rule your home turf (the Bombers are 21-1 at IG Field since 2019), expectations are going to be higher.

After two uninspiring showings against the Ottawa Redblacks to open the 2022 campaign, the Bombers responded with a much better performance Friday night in a 26-12 victory over the visiting Hamilton Tiger-Cats in front of an announced crowd of 23,600.

THE CANADIAN PRESS Nic Demski had five catches for 30 yards in the Ottawa series — nowhere near enough action. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

It wasn’t perfect by any means, but the Blue and Gold are trending in the right direction and a shiny 3-0 record buys them more time to return to championship form. Hamilton, on the other hand, is 0-3 and has a laundry list of problems to sort through if they’re going to represent the East Division in the big game for a third straight season.

Next up for Winnipeg is a trip to Toronto to take on the Argonauts and a familiar face in Andrew Harris on July 4. Before we dive into that storyline, let’s look back at Week 3’s contest with five takeaways.

 

DEMSKI LIMPS OFF FIELD

One of my storylines heading into Friday was receiver Nic Demski and how the Bombers needed to do a better job at getting the ball in his hands. The former Manitoba Bisons star had five catches for 30 yards in the Ottawa series — nowhere near enough action.

It was a much different story against the Ticats as Demski was the focal point of the offence. He caught six of seven targets, one of them a highlight-reel grab at the goal line, for a game-high 96 yards. He likely would’ve finished with 100-plus if he didn’t leave in the third quarter with an injury. It was a scary looking play as Demski’s ankle/leg got trapped under a Ticats defender as he got tackled. Demski immediately took his helmet off and slammed the ground with his fist in frustration, not exactly a positive sign.

He limped off the field and got checked out on the sideline before heading into the locker room for the rest of the contest.

The Bombers don’t practice till Wednesday so there won’t be an update on Demski for at least the new few days.

If he ends up missing significant time, that will be a massive blow to an offence still trying to find their footing without Harris and wide receiver Kenny Lawler (Edmonton Elks).

It was a big win for Winnipeg, but Demski’s injury overshadows the two points.

 

LEGS HAS A LEG

It’s only Week 3 but there’s already been a ton of ink devoted to Marc Liegghio and whether he has the chops to be the team’s kicker.

He went 4/4 against Ottawa, but his longest make was only 30 yards. It’s the extra points where Liegghio looked shaky as he only made one of three in the first two games.

Liegghio’s stock went up Friday with a superb performance. He drilled three field goals (45, 30, and 41 yards) and punted the ball well. It’s encouraging and a much-needed confidence booster, but don’t tab him as the second coming of Justin Medlock just yet.

Let’s not forget Week 4 at home against Calgary last season when Liegghio had a heroic night by hitting the game-winner and going 4/4. The wheels fell off immediately after as he followed up by hitting one of four attempts in the following two weeks while also missing a pair of converts. It led to the Canadian losing his job.

We’ll see if history repeats itself again or if Liegghio really is the answer.

 

BOMBERS OWN EVANS

The last time the Bombers lost at home was Sept. 27, 2019 against Hamilton. Dane Evans was at quarterback for the Ticats and he shone in a convincing 33-13 victory, going 25-of-32 for 359 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Drew Wolitarsky gets tackled by Hamilton Tiger-Cats' Jovan Santos-Knox and Simoni Lawrence. The Bombers responded with a much better performance Friday night. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

It appears the Bombers have never forgiven Evans, as they’ve been beating up on him ever since. The Bombers sacked Evans six times in the 2019 Grey Cup and forced him into two interceptions and a fumble. Evans had a shot at revenge in the 2021 title game, but he ended up leaving in the second quarter with a neck injury.

Friday wasn’t any better for him. The 28-year-old from Oklahoma struggled all night to move the ball and ended up with some disappointing numbers: 25-0f-42 for 237 yards and a pair of picks.

Evans leads the CFL with nine turnovers this season.

At this point, the fine folks in Steeltown have to wonder if they made the right call to keep Evans over Jeremiah Masoli. So far, it doesn’t look like it.

 

THE DARK SIDE HAS RETURNED

The Bombers have given up one touchdown in three weeks.

One.

That’s it.

Ticats QB Dane Evans never stood a chance Friday. The Bombers D was all over him all night. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

No one was singing their praises after the Ottawa games as they gave up a boatload of yards, especially through the air. Friday saw the Bombers’ defence resemble the one from a year ago.

Willie Jefferson, who had a sack and a pick-six, and Jackson Jeffcoat were in the backfield all night. They disrupted the passing attack and the run game as Hamilton finished with a paltry 32 yards rushing.

Cornerback Winston Rose, who missed the game with a foot injury, wasn’t missed as Demerio Houston filled in admirably. Houston almost gave up a touchdown in the first quarter to Steven Dunbar Jr., but the wideout failed to hold on. Outside that one play, Houston looked solid and the secondary was on point.

Houston’s effort will allow the Bombers to give Rose all the time he needs to fully heal. Rose, once one of the top corners in the league, didn’t look right in the first two games and that’s putting it nicely.

If Rose can return to his old ways and safety Brandon Alexander, who tore his ACL in the Grey Cup in December, can get back into the lineup at some point this season, this defence will only get better.

 

RUN GAME

One of the things that’s made the Bombers so successful in recent years is their ability to run the ball down team’s throats.

I mean, they’re 3-0, there’s no need to hit the panic button here, but it does feel like the team is having a bit of an identity crisis on offence as the 2022 Bombers aren’t scaring anyone with this rushing attack.

Bombers defensive end Willie Jefferson runs in his interception for a touchdown against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats Friday at IG Field. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

Starting running back Brady Oliveira scored a goal-line touchdown on Friday, his first of the season, and finished with 15 carries for 56 yards for a 3.6 yards per carry average. I sound like a broken record here as I’ve pointed out Oliveira’s lacklustre numbers twice in the last week or so, but here’s the Winnipegger’s stats in his last six games: 72 handoffs for 250 yards and a 3.5 average. If you focus just on Oliveira’s numbers, they’re even worse. He’s averaging 3.1 yards per attempt and hasn’t taken a carry for more than 10 yards.

As I’ve said before, it’s not all on Oliveira as this year’s offensive line hasn’t been dominating the line of scrimmage. Regardless of who you want to point the finger at, Johnny Augustine deserves more of a look here.

taylor.allen@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @TaylorAllen31

THE CANADIAN PRESS Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros hands off to Brady Oliveira who finished with 15 carries for 56 yards for a 3.6 yards per carry average. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)
Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen
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Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of...

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Updated on Monday, June 27, 2022 8:09 AM CDT: Corrects verb form

Updated on Monday, June 27, 2022 9:21 AM CDT: Corrects typo

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