November 18, 2017

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Record: 12–6–0

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Blue Bomber Report (12–6–0)

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Playoff loss exposed major flaws

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods</p><p>Edmonton Eskimos' Adarius Bowman celebrates as Brandon Zylstra leaps, untouched, across the goal line for a touchdown against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during second half CFL western semifinal action in Winnipeg on Sunday.</p>

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Edmonton Eskimos' Adarius Bowman celebrates as Brandon Zylstra leaps, untouched, across the goal line for a touchdown against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during second half CFL western semifinal action in Winnipeg on Sunday.

Playoff games have a way of cutting through the fat and window dressing of a regular season, exposing the raw underbelly of what a football team really is.

After 18 regular-season games and one home playoff loss, there is no more glossing over the fact this Winnipeg Blue Bombers franchise is not going to the Western final for most any reason other than the play of its defence.

While there were tiny glimmers of hope along the way, such as the moments against the Edmonton Eskimos in Week 15, against the Calgary Stampeders in Week 20, against the Ottawa Redblacks at home in Week 14 and against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Week 8, these performances were packaged together with an exciting and dynamic offence that was so compelling we could convince ourselves the defence was still one-third of a 12-win football team.

All of those wins make everybody look and feel better than what they really are — and gives credit where it is not necessarily deserved. Yet if you look closely enough at even these sporadic bright spots, you can tell they are a combination of advantageous circumstances — such as backup quarterbacks and zero-win teams — sandwiched together with extreme injury vulnerabilities.

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Playoff games have a way of cutting through the fat and window dressing of a regular season, exposing the raw underbelly of what a football team really is.

After 18 regular-season games and one home playoff loss, there is no more glossing over the fact this Winnipeg Blue Bombers franchise is not going to the Western final for most any reason other than the play of its defence.

While there were tiny glimmers of hope along the way, such as the moments against the Edmonton Eskimos in Week 15, against the Calgary Stampeders in Week 20, against the Ottawa Redblacks at home in Week 14 and against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Week 8, these performances were packaged together with an exciting and dynamic offence that was so compelling we could convince ourselves the defence was still one-third of a 12-win football team.

All of those wins make everybody look and feel better than what they really are — and gives credit where it is not necessarily deserved. Yet if you look closely enough at even these sporadic bright spots, you can tell they are a combination of advantageous circumstances — such as backup quarterbacks and zero-win teams — sandwiched together with extreme injury vulnerabilities.

While no position grouping on defence covered themselves in glory in this Western semifinal playoff game — especially once you watch the replay of C.J. Gable running around, over and through no fewer than 10 Winnipeg defenders for a 15-yard touchdown romp — the defensive line does appear to have some keepers on it, and to be a serviceable position grouping going forward.

The one ailment this defence could never move past was the coverage busts in the secondary that led to them giving up explosive plays and quick, easy scores like Halloween candy.

For those unfamiliar with the term, a coverage bust is when the opposing quarterback throws the football to a receiver who is more alone than the person who sits in an unmarked photo-radar vehicle, but I digress.

While every coverage devised by mankind in football has a vulnerability and weakness to it, the odds of having the perfect play called three times in a single game, to exploit it, are astronomical.

This leads us to only three possible conclusions:

1. The cover linebackers and secondary on this team do not understand what their responsibilities are in the back end, no matter what is called. Or they may know what to do against only some formations — but as soon as you throw a wrinkle at them, or something they haven’t seen before, they are incapable of adjusting.

This is a coaching and player deficiency, and by Week 21 of the schedule it is inexcusable.

2. They do know what their responsibilities are, no matter what coverage is called, but they often ignore them and freelance.

This is mainly a player problem, but still a coaching issue because instructions are being ignored.

3. The players understand the coverage and understand their responsibilities, but simply aren’t good enough to execute. For instance, you could tell me to play press man coverage, or bump and run, on the corner against Derel Walker all game long, but I would not be able to perform my duties.

This is mainly a player problem, but a coaching problem in the sense that you weren’t sharp enough not to put me out there in the first place.

So which is it?

What explanation accounts for Adarius Bowman standing alone in the back of the end zone, twiddling his thumbs as he waits for his touchdown toss?

Or Brandon Zylstra setting up a campsite on the 14-yard line and putting marshmallows in his hot chocolate as the football floated toward him?

Or Bowman, yet again, behind coverage and changing his socks on the seven-yard line because his toes were getting cold?

It’s most likely a combination of explanations one and two, but no matter the reason, the fact that it continued to plague this team the entire season long is the biggest damnation of all.

Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears weekly in the Free Press.

Twitter: @DougBrown97

Read more by Doug Brown.

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History

Updated on Tuesday, November 14, 2017 at 7:21 AM CST: Edited

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