September 24, 2012
Can Bombers get it together down the stretch?This is a young team that should only improve ... so it's time to see improvement
By KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency
The Bombers will kick off their practice week Tuesday morning, buoyed by their 34-12 thumping of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats last Friday night.
The victory has created a little bit of buzz among Bomber fans. Most realize it was just Hamilton, the only team in the CFL that is struggling more than the Bombers.
Another win this weekend against the Argos, even if it comes against Jarious Jackson and not Ricky Ray, who injured his knee on Sunday, would be something upon which to build. The playoffs are a long shot, but the Bombers have plenty of time to build towards 2013. This is a young team that should only improve, so it’s time to see some improvement.
If the Blue and Gold can play well down the stretch — and not necessarily make the playoffs — GM Joe Mack won’t hear so many people calling for his job and Tim Burke might have the interim tag removed from his head coaching title.
Here’s what we need to see from the Bombers over the final third of the season:
There has been none of it on Maroons Road in more than a year, as the Bombers haven’t won back-to-back games since last August. One week they look like an actual CFL team, and the next they would have trouble competing in the CIS. The last five weeks have been a perfect example of this team’s roller-coaster ways. Close loss, blowout loss, close loss, blowout loss, win. That trend doesn’t bode well for Saturday, but if they can get the victory it would be their first winning streak in 13 months and three days. Yikes.
There is absolutely no reason why a five-year veteran like Brandon Stewart should be punching Sam Giguere in the face well after a play has ended, especially when it’s late in the third quarter and the Bombers are leading 16-9. It’s inexcusable. Part of the reason why Paul LaPolice was fired was because his teams were undisciplined. It doesn’t look like Burke’s presence is helping, because the Bombers still have gone from fourth to third in most penalty yards since LaPolice was canned. If this team is going to grow and mature down the stretch, the plethora of penalties has to stop.
3. Early capitalization
It’s no secret that the Bombers are terrible starters; going back to last season they haven’t scored a first quarter offensive touchdown in 16 games. The real scary part, however, is they have been in the red zone just twice in the first quarter all season. There is hope, though, because those two trips inside the opponent’s 20-yard line have occurred in the last three games. The defence played well last week against Hamilton, but it’s not good enough to keep the team in games like it did for the first half of the 2011 season. It’s time for the Bombers to take a step and score in the first quarter.
4. Hot Buck
Here’s a stat that should give Bomber fans some hope down the stretch, during which the Bombers play five of their final six games against the East Division. Buck Pierce is an impressive 16-6 against those teams in his career. He is 8-4 against Hamilton, 5-1 versus Toronto and 3-1 when facing the Alouettes. All he has to do is keep that hot streak going. No pressure.
5. Better backups
If Pierce can stay healthy the Bombers are just fine at quarterback for a couple of years to come. It’s tough to rely on him, though, when he’s finished only 16 of 25 starts in Blue and Gold. Joey Elliott and Alex Brink didn’t show much when Pierce missed eight games earlier this season, so if they get in there again they need to make some magic happen. Otherwise, Mack’s proclamation that signing all three quarterbacks last off-season was his best move doesn’t look so good.
6. Find a SAM linebacker not named Jovon Johnson
In other words, move Jovon Johnson back to his cornerback position. I realize he’s struggled at times out there, but it’s his natural position. His talents are being wasted at SAM. Why not Johnny Sears? He’s a hard hitter and can cover, too. The Bombers have six games to find Clint Kent’s replacement.
7. Bring back the swag
The Bomber defence has shown more signs of life in recent outings (Saskatchewan and Calgary road games excluded), and it is slowly but surely climbing out of the basement of several statistical categories. The Bombers are tied for the league lead in sacks, but they’re giving up the third-most rushing yards. They’ve intercepted only eight balls, but they’re no longer allowing the most yards through the air. Let’s see more signs of last season’s suffocating play.
8. Win one on the road
It’s the surefire statistic of a young team: Winnipeg hasn’t won away from Canad Inns Stadium since last Oct. 7. Considering its next road game isn’t until Oct. 8 in Montreal, it means it will have gone more than a year between road wins. The Blue and Gold also didn’t win a road game in 2010. They have three chances left: Montreal, Toronto and Hamilton. You’d think they could win at least one of those, right? Right?