Stock Market Report: Alouettes at Bombers

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.

BLUE-CHIP STOCKS

Photo via Johany Jutras (I DO NOT OWN THIS PHOTO)
Photo via Johany Jutras (I DO NOT OWN THIS PHOTO)

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.

SOLID INVESTMENTS:

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.

JUNK BONDS

Photo via Johany Jutras (I DO NOT OWN THIS PHOTO)
Photo via Johany Jutras (I DO NOT OWN THIS PHOTO)

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.

 

Blue Review: Bombers Dust Als in Preseason Opener with Dominant Second Half

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers scored 33 unanswered points on route to a convincing 36-11 victory over the Montreal Alouettes in the 2016 CFL season’s inaugural preseason game.

This game isn’t all that indicative of either team, as the Bombers pulled away in the second half when the majority of the players on the field will be out of work in a few weeks. But regardless, this was a big win for a Winnipeg football club that needs as much momentum from the city behind them as possible heading into the regular season.

Here are my initial thoughts on the Bombers first victory of 2016. I’ll have a more detailed and conclusive piece out tomorrow after I’ve re-watched the game.

1. QB battle heats upDominique Davis and Brian Bennett, two pivots battling to win the third-string quarterback job, both delivered solid, if unspectacular performances. As a result of the Bombers switching between Davis and Bennett each drive, neither performed against a stronger or weaker defensive unit than the other – and frankly, their performances against Montreal’s third defensive unit should be taken with a grain of salt. But they each showed some positive signs, as Davis maintained poise in the pocket and threw into tight windows – something he has shied away from in practice, but shouldn’t given his rocket-like arm. He also showed some touch on a tear-drop corner route to Quincy Mcduffie in the third quarter. Bennett, meanwhile, was slightly slower in his decision-making, but showed off his athleticism on several scrambles before throwing a beautiful, 28-yard back-shoulder TD toss to Fred Williams in the fourth quarter. While both quarterbacks shone at times – neither were necessarily great – I think Davis still has the upper-hand over Bennett.

2. Bombers dominate the trenches: Not enough can be said about the Bombers’ offensive line play in the run game, as both Tim Flanders and Carlos Anderson had huge days on the ground. Travis Bond, in particular, seemed discipline and quick – especially for a 230-pounder – while displacing bodies in the run game. But give credit to Flanders and Anderson, as both hit the hole hard and made tacklers miss in the open field. I don’t believe Pascal Lochard’s passport has his backup duties secure, as the Bombers will have a hard time keeping a backup American running back off of the roster if Anderson and Flanders continue to impress. Which runner, however, will have to be decided on Monday against Ottawa.

3. Receivers struggling to get separation: I was disappointed overall in the play of Winnipeg’s receivers, particularly within the first team. With Drew Willy at quarterback, the Blue receivers got little-to-no seperation from Montreal’s defensive backs, who were mostly in press cover-1 or vanilla man-zone concepts. The Alouettes have a talented secondary, but that shouldn’t overshadow the struggles of Darvin Adams and Ryan Smith. It went far beyond two of Winnipeg’s top pass-catchers, however, as even later in the game, with Bennett and Davis in the game, the balls had to be thrown into very tight coverage. I’m not at all worried about Smith and Adams, but it was still disappointing to not see them come out firing in week one of the preseason.

4. Not all doom & gloom: Although the level of competition that they faced must be taken into account, there are three exceptions in particular to that last thought: Addison Richards, Quincy McDuffie and Thomas Mayo. McDuffie, who was also Winnipeg’s best returner, would have assembled a blue-chip performance had he not dropped a sure touchdown on a 15-yard dig across the middle. He made a few plays downfield, which was a nice surprise, but made his money when given the ball on designed plays in space – as he should. Winnipeg’s second round pick in 2015, Addison Richards must’ve got the monkey off of his back with a couple of catches in the second half. An injury-plagued rookie season saw the game seemingly go 1,000-mph too fast for the Regina product to handle, but it’s slowing down in year two. Richards played really, really fast and made some tough grabs, although it’s clear his route-running needs work before he’s ready to be a key contributor. Regardless, Wednesday night showed that Richards isn’t a player who shrivels when the lights are on.

5. Willy no need to worry: The Bombers pass-attack was no threat when Drew Willy was at quarterback, but that’s nothing to worry about from the standpoint of the franchise’s signal-caller. Sure, his accuracy was off on two deep tosses, and he also forced a near-interception in the direction of Ryan Smith, but Willy received no help from his receivers, with nowhere to throw on most of his drop-backs. Montreal’s first-team defense also looked very good in coverage, while the Bombers’ offense was still quite vanilla being not even two weeks into training camp.

6. Hubbard makes money: Rookie defensive end Adrian Hubbard, along with competitor Shayon Green, received significant playing time against Montreal’s starting offense, and the Alabama star made the most of it. Hubbard made two significant plays in the opening couple drives, setting the edge on a sweep play for Maurice Leggett to make the tackle, and recording a sack on a nice speed-rush on Kevin Glenn’s third drive. That sack, however, was aided by Bruce Johnson’s nice hip-turn to stay in SJ Green’s hip-pocket on a shallow post, taking away Glenn’s read. He was a SEC sack-machine with Alabama, but it was mostly Hubbard’s run defense throughout the night really made him some money in the battle for the opening defensive end spot opposite Jamaal Westerman.

7. Castillo comes through: Sergio Castillo, who has virtually no chance of making this team as long as Justin Medlock is here, booted in four field goals and added two extra point converts. After he is inevitably cut by the Bombers, Castillo now has a good sample of his play assembled that he can show other teams who’ll be needing kickers in the next month or so. Good for him.

8. Randle’s spot is locked in: Chris Randle is one of this team’s top defenders, and there’s no doubt that the club will find a way to start six Americans in the secondary in order for the Utah product to have a spot. It’s quite remarkable how different of a player is Randle, who played boundary corner in Johnny Adams’ absence, when he doesn’t have a receiver running full-blast towards him before the ball is even snapped. Randle seemed comfortable at corner, and with defensive coordinator Richie Hall calling straight man-coverage for the first three plays, he won his match-up against perennial All-Star pass-catcher Duron Carter.

9. Fogg nowhere to be seen: Rookie defensive back Kevin Fogg has had an excellent training camp, but he seemed to struggle in the opening preseason game. A victim of a handful of completions, I haven’t yet seen the Liberty product cover well in zone duties. Whether that’s an issue with his ability to pick up receivers with his peripheral vision while watching the quarterback, or a struggle with zone hip turns – I couldn’t tell you. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he bounced back in a big way against Ottawa; otherwise it will be Julian Posey starting for the Bombers at weak-side halfback in week one.

10. Blue draft class shows well: The Bombers had arguably the best Canadian draft of any team in 2016, and the youngsters played surprisingly well in their first taste of professional football. Trent Corney’s first game was a roller-coaster – recorded a coverage-sack, a tackle for loss, and a couple of decent pass-rushes, but he also made some mistakes. The athletic freak was washed out on a handful of pass-rushes and ran himself out of the play on a couple of snaps in run defense. It was the Virginia product who allowed the Alouettes to get out of their end-zone in one rush in the fourth quarter, getting sealed with a down-block. Michael Couture, albeit against some weak competition, was the most surprising contributor in this win. Winnipeg’s 10th overall selection, Couture was exceptionally consistent in the third and fourth quarter while at centre – his raw-strength was not at question. Taylor Loffler, meanwhile, showed better range than he has in practice, making an exceptional break on the football on Vernon Adams’ final pass of the game. Frank Renaud made a couple huge tackles on special-teams, while Zach Intzandt, who’s still new to the offensive side of the football, did not have a disastrous performance by any means. Nose guard Rupert Butcher deflected an Adams Jr. pass attempt for an interception by Garrett Waggoner. Although Shayne Gauthier and Alex Vitt were nursing injuries and did not play, it was a very good night for Winnipeg’s 2016 draft picks by the standards of it being their first live action in the CFL.

11. Keeping’s importance: I’m happy to hear that Jeff Keeping’s injury might not be as serious as first thought. He’s the most important depth player on this team aside from Matt Nichols, and the Bombers would have to toy with the ratio to make room for another American starter on the offensive line if one of Mathias Goossen, Sukh Chungh or Pat Neufeld are hurt. Although Michael Couture impressed me today, the SFU product still needs a year of seasoning before he is ready to be the sixth man.

12. Harris hits home: Andrew Harris did exactly what we all wanted him to do in his debut in the Blue & Gold: deliver a highlight-reel catch-and-run on one of his first few touches of the game. Harris’ 39-yard touchdown scamper on a screen pass was called back on an illegal block, but it gave Bomber fans a glimpse of what the former Oak Park Raider brings to this offense.

13. Sherman shows off his versatility: Teague Sherman is the Bombers most valuable depth defensive player, and he did it all on Wednesday night (including, for the first time, handling holding duties on the field goal unit). A proven stud on special-teams, Sherman was all over the field on defense from the strong-side linebacker position.

14. Bombers made the right call with Tajh BoydWe saw on Wednesday night why the Bombers, who had Boyd’s rights for a few weeks in 2015, never offered the former Clemson star a contract. In an almost laughable situation, the Alouettes chose to give multiple series’ to two CIS quarterbacks – one of whom has been Andrew Buckley’s backup at Calgary – instead of seeing what Boyd could do. Seeing as even the best CIS quarterbacks in generations usually can’t crack CFL rosters, Drew Burko and Jimmy Underdahl, as expected, struggled – and struggled mightily. On a side-note, Vernon Adams Jr. likely got a wake-up call in his first CFL game. He wasn’t helped out by any of his offensive mates, but the Oregon star still had a very rough outing.

15. Questions about Leggett island: Maurice Leggett could be the Bombers’ weak-link in man-coverage this year – every secondary has one. Leggett, who’s an elite safety, is a really good player, but it’s clear that he does not match up well against the better receivers in one-on-one coverage. Leggett was beat on a couple Kevin Glenn completions, including his touchdown pass to Nik Lewis on the 245-pounder’s infamous out-route. He’s such an excellent player to have in the box, but I’m still hoping that the Bombers find a suitable rookie to play SAM linebacker, and thus move Leggett back to safety. It’s not likely, however, and while Leggett will get beat in one-on-one coverage against better receivers, he also brings some great abilities to the table while at linebacker – including in pass-defense.

16. Officials win this game: I have absolutely no complaints about the officiating from the contest, and even completely forgot about the new “eye in the sky” replay official until after the game. The penalties were limited and justified, and it really seemed like the defensive backs were granted more freedom in coverage. Last year, defensive backs were penalized for breathing on receivers. This year, not so much.

17. Slick new duds… for one team: Adidas’ new royal blue uniforms were eye-candy for spectators and Bomber fans. But they dropped on the ball on Montreal’s duds, making zero changes to Angry Birds’ uniforms – except one, and it’s terrible. The names on the back of the jersey’s are so small that they’re nearly impossible to read. Not a fan, Adidas.

The Bombers save most of their cuts until after Monday’s contest in Ottawa, when they’re due. That game will also be televised on TSN.

PHIL HOSSACK - Winnipeg Blue Bomber starting quarterback Drew Willy scrambles Wednesday evening at Investor's Field. June 8, 2016
PHIL HOSSACK – Winnipeg Blue Bomber starting quarterback Drew Willy scrambles Wednesday evening at Investor’s Field. June 8, 2016 (I DO NOT OWN THIS PHOTO)