The Bombers came out flat in the season opener, falling to the Montreal Alouettes by a score of 22-14. The loss displayed some concerning flaws within this football team that would prevent them from progressing. For a third consecutive season, the question remains the same: Can these flaws be fixed?
It’s that thought that is explored in the first regular season edition of the Bombers’ Stock Market Report.
Chris Randle: Not enough can be said about how good Randle has been in three games (two preseason) since returning to the corner from strong-side linebacker. Albeit in the preseason, he likely had the best half of football of his career in the Ottawa game, and he’s now also won both of his match-ups against Duron Carter in 2016. Randle only allowed one catch from Carter – a quick slant when he was giving a large cushion – and knocked down two go-routes despite being isolated in the boundary versus Carter, who was waggling to the line of scrimmage. Randle also knocked down a 10-yard out from SJ Green, and had an interception near the goal line while jumping Kevin Glenn’s slightly inaccurate throw behind Sam Giguere’s out-route. Given how good the 28-year-old has played in 2016, I almost hope that he remains posted at short-side corner-back when Johnny Adams, one of the league’s top defensive backs in 2015, returns to the lineup. (It’s an entirely new position, but Adams could excel at strong-side linebacker or halfback).
Darvin Adams: I can’t help but notice that Adams’ route-running looks far more refined in his second-season in the Blue & Gold. It’s also clear that’s developed a very strong rapport with Drew Willy, and his role in the offense won’t diminish despite the additions of Weston Dressler, Ryan Smith and Jace Davis. The Auburn product had a terrible second-down drop in the third quarter when his team needed the 1st-down the most, but he still managed to finish with five catches for 105 yards and a touchdown on the night. Adams virtually exposed rookie corner Ethan Davis with countless 12-yard curls that turned the defender around, setting him up for a beautiful, 63-yard touchdown reception inside the three-minute warning. With Adams appearing to be taking the next steps in his progression, the Bombers’ receiving corps is looking extremely promising – it’s just a matter of Drew Willy getting them the ball.
Andrew Harris: Harris proved to be worth every penny in his debut, averaging 6.2 yards-per-carry on 13 carries for 80 yards. Harris’ vision was outstanding, and he also contributed as a receiver, adding six receptions for 40 yards on the night. It’s very clear that Harris is undoubtedly the X-Factor of the offense, as the offense only gained one first-down in the first half (the rest were via penalties) on three carries for Harris. In the second half, however, Harris received 10 carries and the offense got moving, gaining 13 first-downs and scoring 14 points. Harris could be the best running back in the CFL; if he’s productive, the offense will be successful.
Patrick Neufeld: Whether it’s John Bowman or Gabriel Knapton lining up in front of them, offensive tackles will have a tough match-up every snap against the Alouettes. But the Bombers’ offensive line had a solid game against a fearsome front-seven, and Neufeld really did hold his own. This was, however, a good match-up for Neufeld, as Bowman and Knapton are both power-rushing technicians, and Neufeld has the technique and the punch to contain the dynamic duo. The real test for Neufeld will come against Saskatchewan, who boast two of best speed-rushers in the league with Justin Capicciotti and Shawn Lemon.
Jace Davis: After a no-catch preseason game in Ottawa, the rookie pass-catcher came as advertised in his first regular season game. While Davis’ five catches for 82 yards in his debut was impressive, he also appeared to do a lot of the little things right. He seemed to recognize the blitz very well, and offensive coordinator Paul Lapolice also had him come into the backfield and pass protect on a couple occasions. Davis’ 36-yard catch on a deep corner route in the fourth quarter was a phenomenal play by the rookie, giving the Bombers’ the late-game spark that they desperately needed.
Quincy McDuffie: Averaging 12.2 yards per punt return, McDuffie certainly did his job on special-teams. Although he wasn’t flawless catching the ball in the air, McDuffie continues to run north-south, keeping his legs moving through contact. The former Ti-Cat broke a 29-yard return in the second quarter that, had it not been for a shoe-string tackle, McDuffie would have brought to the end-zone for six points. That return, coupled with his others on the night, showed the Bombers that they have a legit returner back there in McDuffie.
Drew Willy: Despite a porous defensive showing, this game would have easily been won if Willy was even mediocre – Montreal did everything in their power to keep Winnipeg in the game. Instead Willy was, simply put, garbage. The third-year starting passer had no poise in the pocket, playing with happy feet and not stepping into his throws despite solid pass protection against a stout Montreal front-four. Willy seemed to panic once he caught the snap, staring down his receivers and causing holding penalties for dancing outside of the pocket. Willy was at fault for three or four sacks allowed, and missed big throws to wide open receivers on four occasions as a result of his lack of comfort in the pocket, including a wide open Darvin Adams down the sidelines in the second quarter, which would have went for a touchdown. He’d panic if his first read wasn’t there, checking the ball down in desperation to Andrew Harris. While I do think the Bombers should force-feed Harris the ball in the passing game, it shouldn’t be because Willy won’t go through his progression. The Bomber pivot started to move the offense in the fourth quarter, but many of the same issues were still present down the stretch. Regardless, the Bombers must hope that whatever confidence he gained in the fourth quarter carries over to the Calgary game.
Bruce Johnson: The additions of defensive backs Travis Hawkins and Terrence Frederick speaks volumes to the play the Bombers have received out of their American halfbacks – and it starts with Johnson. Moved to boundary halfback as a result of the departure of Demond Washington, Johnson couldn’t cover air on Friday night. The third-year defensive back struggled mightily against Montreal in the preseason, and those struggles carried over to week one. Kenny Stafford beat Johnson across the middle twice on deep in-routes, while SJ Green beat him twice on fade-routes in the third quarter, with one coming in the end-zone for Kevin Glenn’s lone passing touchdown on the day. Johnson appeared to be the cause of at least one blown coverage, too. Although it’s a tough task for any defensive back to cover against the league’s best receiving corps, Johnson needs to get his game back on track and avoid being 2016’s Demond Washington.
Shayon Green: Green was once again exposed as a run-defender against the Alouettes. He allowed the Alouettes’ ball-carriers to get outside countless times, while also failing to get any pressure as a one-dimensional, athletic pass-rusher. Although Jamaal Westerman also failed to record a sack, he still won his match-ups and disrupted the passer. It was the result of Kevin Glenn getting rid of the ball extremely fast that prevented Westerman from actually sacking Glenn, but his presence was still felt. Green, meanwhile, was too often washed out on his speed rushes. The Bombers, evidently, still have a hole at defensive end; Adrian Hubbard, who’s currently on the practice roster, will get his shot soon.
BUY: The offensive line is coming along. The Bombers’ young offensive line seems to have taken steps forward in their first season together. Stanley Bryant Jr. continues to be quietly solid – costing the team some real estate on a holding and an illegal procedure wasn’t good, though – while Patrick Neufeld seems serviceable at right tackle. Third-year Canadian center Mathias Goossen appears to be the weakest link on the offensive line – he looked at lot like Dominic Picard in pass protection against Montreal – but it’s only his first season as a full-time starter, and his run blocking is certainly developing. The Alouettes have one of the best front-sevens in the league, however the Bombers’ offensive line was still only at fault for two sacks. They could also be one of few teams to have success running the ball against the Birds of Prey.
SELL: Paul Lapolice is a poor offensive coordinator. His game-management needs work – Andrew Harris only received three carries in the first half – but, after a closer look, I really liked what I saw from Lapo’s system in week one. While, as a result of Willy’s disastrous play, it’s hard to criticize Lapolice for the offense mostly failing to attack the Als’ two rookie defensive backs and their veteran, Jovon Johnson, playing out of position at halfback, he called a lot of plays that should’ve helped Willy. Lapolice moved the pocket twice for Willy on half-rolls, and also called back-to-back hitch screens to Dressler and Smith on the second drive of the game. It’s also clear that he understands how to diversify the rushing attack for Andrew Harris to be successful. Lapolice included a healthy balance of the read-option, inside zone, inside split zone, counter and toss plays to give Harris the ball in space. Lapolice must continue to prove himself as a game-planner and a game-manager, but don’t be surprised if he becomes a praised man once Willy gets going.
BUY: The Alouettes are a lethal offense. The Als’ won the game despite throwing a red-zone interception, fumbling near the goal-line and having a touchdown pass to Duron Carter called back. Kevin Glenn and Co. operated like a well-oiled machine in week one, torching the Bombers’ D for 431 yards of offense. While the Bombers’ defense certainly deserves their share of criticism, the Alouettes are going to do that to a lot of other teams this season.
SELL: Drew Willy has permanently regressed. Willy had the worst game of his career. There’s no denying that. But his issues in that game – a lack of poise in the pocket, slow reads and poor accuracy – can be attributed to a lack of confidence. He’s always had some other, deepened flaws, but it’s been proven in the past that those flaws can be compensated for by offensive game-planning and surrounding talent. Some of the issues shown in the Montreal game aren’t permanent, though, as he’s excelled in those areas before. However, I’m not convinced he’s a fit in Paul Lapolice’s system, and it’s hard not to think that the Bombers are over-stressing the idea of hitting his check-downs to avoid hits. Willy must be permitted to be himself.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: RB Andrew Harris
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: CB Chris Randle
The Bombers are back in action on Friday, July 1st at McMahon Stadium against the Calgary Stampeders.