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Blue Bomber Report (12–6–0)

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Short game falls short

Boos make it clear fans think small-ball strategy isn't cutting it

I guess it’s possible the fans were yelling "Drew!"

But who’s kidding who — let history record that with two minutes left in the third quarter of the fourth game of the 2016 CFL season, Winnipeg Blue Bombers starting quarterback Drew Willy was booed off the field.

And with that, the patience of Blue Bombers Nation has finally run out.

The Bombers dropped to 1-3 with a 20-16 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos at Investors Group Field Thursday night, but I’d argue — and more than a few fans seem to agree with me — Willy and the Bombers offence are still 0-fer.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/7/2016 (497 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

I guess it’s possible the fans were yelling "Drew!"

But who’s kidding who — let history record that with two minutes left in the third quarter of the fourth game of the 2016 CFL season, Winnipeg Blue Bombers starting quarterback Drew Willy was booed off the field.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS </p><p>Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Drew Willy (5) hands off to Andrew Harris (33) during the first half of Thursday's game.</p>

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Drew Willy (5) hands off to Andrew Harris (33) during the first half of Thursday's game.

And with that, the patience of Blue Bombers Nation has finally run out.

The Bombers dropped to 1-3 with a 20-16 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos at Investors Group Field Thursday night, but I’d argue — and more than a few fans seem to agree with me — Willy and the Bombers offence are still 0-fer.

The early results are undeniable: the Bombers’ ill-advised experiment this season — can a team win in the CFL with almost nothing but short passes and effectively no downfield threat? — is failing.

Consider: the Bombers had not had a single pass go for more than 20 yards in the first half of their first three games of the season and had just one play go for over 20 yards in the entire 60 minutes of their win over Hamilton last week.

And then there was Willy’s strange numbers in that win over the Ticats — a cool 32-42 but for just 279 yards.

So how rare is it for a CFL QB to complete over 30 passes but for under 300 yards?

Turns out it’s almost unprecedented. I checked with CFL statistician Steve Daniels this week, and he said Willy’s performance in Hamilton marked just the 11th time since 1950 a CFL quarterback had thrown at least 30 completions for under 300 yards.

What the Bombers are attempting this season, in other words, simply isn’t done in the CFL. And for good reason — it’s not winning football.

Yeah, the Bombers got that win in Hamilton, but it was despite their offence, not because of it, on a night the Winnipeg defence forced six turnovers. Anything short of that Herculean effort by the Bombers’ defence in Hamilton and Winnipeg would still be winless through four games.

Now, there’s a legitimate question to be asked whether the problem with Paul LaPolice’s offence is the scheme or the quarterback or both. While the Bombers have lacked a deep threat, it’s also true Willy has looked shaky early this season, very much resembling a man who missed over half the season with injury in 2015.

On the few occasions Willy did have a deep threat open through the first four games, he more often than not missed him, most memorably missing a wide-open Ryan Smith in the Hamilton end zone by at least five yards.

Whoever is to blame for the early struggles, give credit where it’s due — the Bombers at least tried to do something about it Thursday night, taking just two plays into the game before Willy hooked up with Darvin Adams for 24 yards, stretching the field early in the game in a way they hadn’t all season long.

But it simply wasn’t good enough or often enough — again — and a fan base that’s been incredibly patient for much too long made it loud and clear Thursday night they think Willy deserves a good portion of the blame for this season’s poor start

It was both serendipitous and especially painful that all this was playing out on a night Bombers fans were remembering two of this franchise’s greatest quarterbacks and watching — in an Edmonton uniform — another great quarterback who got away.

Of all the things Joe Mack did in his disastrous reign as Bombers GM, you could argue the worst of all is the move he didn’t make, waiting for Mike Reilly to become available in free agency in 2013 only to get caught flat-footed when Edmonton traded with B.C. for Reilly before he ever hit free agency.

The price for Edmonton? A second-rounder.

The price for the Bombers? They’ve been paying it ever since, with Reilly winning his sixth straight game over the Bombers Thursday night.

It was hard not to wonder what might have been for Winnipeg if they’d landed Reilly, especially on a night the club inducted the greatest Bomber of them all — QB Ken Ploen — into the team’s Ring of Honour at halftime on what was also the 22nd anniversary of Matt Dunigan’s record setting 713-yard passing performance for the Bombers.

That Dunigan record has all the makings of Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak — one of those unbreakable records that was set in a very different place and at a very different time. And Ploen’s four Grey Cup wins for the Bombers in five seasons? Folks in these parts are still  looking for their first in 26 years.

It’s impossible to compete with the past, much less that kind of past. But the Bombers invested big money in a contract extension for Willy last year in the belief he is this franchise’s quarterback of the future.

Bomber fans made it loud and clear Thursday night that the future is now. But at the moment, it’s looking a whole lot like the recent past.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Read more by Paul Wiecek .

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History

Updated on Thursday, July 14, 2016 at 11:39 PM CDT: Adds photo

12:03 AM: Corrects typo

12:26 AM: Adds video

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