Saturday, 6 December 2014

Bombers Should Take a Page Out of Hamilton's Playbook

Well, here I am: a diehard Bomber fan writing on a diehard Tiger-Cat fan's blog. I am excited to be here, and I would like to give a quick "Thank You" to Josh for giving me this opportunity to take on the role of West Division writer on the blog. It seems only fitting that my first piece will look at both the Bombers and the Ti-Cats.

There is no denying that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' offence was more than bad after Labour Day; however, the same cannot be said about the Tiger-Cats. Both teams have nearly equal amounts of talent on offence, yet one team succeeded and one team basically failed. The reason for that is because Winnipeg's offence doesn't suit their strengths, and the team would benefit greatly by taking a page (or 50) out of Hamilton's playbook.

Most fans, including myself, are quick to blame the offensive line for the Bombers' disastrous finish. Whether we like to admit it or not, Winnipeg's hogs aren't that much worse than Hamilton's or even Edmonton's. Their respective receiving corps are both talented (Winnipeg's might even be more talented) and their backfields were/still are similar, since they both employed Nic Grigsby during the season. More importantly, both Winnipeg and Hamilton had first-time starting quarterbacks who are both talented and find themselves in similar situations based on the talent around them.

Despite that, Winnipeg allowed significantly more sacks and had 609 fewer yards of total offence. Hamilton averaged more points per game and total touchdowns, despite the fact that the TiCats were missing their starting quarterback, Zach Collaros, for a large chunk of the season, while Winnipeg' anointed started, Drew Willy, started all but one game this season. As Bomber fans, we cannot use talent as an excuse, so there is only one place to put the blame: Bombers offensive coordinator, and former Tiger-Cats head coach, Marcel Bellefeuille.

It is not Bellefeuille's playcalling or coaching that was the cause of Winnipeg's consistent offensive woes, it was his system. Bellefeuille likes to employ a vertical deep passing offence with lots of post and corner routes. A deep pass offence does not suit Winnipeg's strengths. The offensive line cannot hold their blocks on five-step drops, and Drew Willy has not yet developed a reliable deep ball. The Bombers were better at the start of the season when they threw more curls, drags, and flat routes, but as the season went on and the run game struggled, Bellefeuile went to the long pass, leaving Willy beat up both physically and mentally. Imagine trying to keep your eyes downfield as a quarterback when you can't trust your offensive line to keep you off the ground. Willy endured this every game as a rookie, especially as the season progressed. Either Bellefeuille has to change his schemes or he has to be relieved of his duties.

One province east in Ontario, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats put together a great second half to the season, which included a second trip to the Grey Cup in as many years, once their starters returned from injury. Offensive coordinator Tommy Condell runs a system that is perfect for developing a young quarterback with a mediocre O-line. His offence is pass first, but it is centered around short passes with quick throws. They were not as effective when they did pass deep, as there were many times when Collaros had to run for his life, so they stuck to the short throws to raise their young quarterback's confidence and improves how fast he makes his reads. There's no telling how the season would have played out for the Bombers if they used a similar offense to Condell's.

Winnipeg has all the tools in place to use a system similar to Hamilton's. Clarence Denmark is great after the catch; Aaron Kelly is good across the middle; Nick Moore is a good deep threat; and Paris Cotton, a talented running back who got his shot after the acrimonious split with Grigsby, to convert in 2nd-and-short situations. Kyle Walters has assembled the right players for a Condell-like offence, but maybe not the right coordinator.

The sky very well could be the limit for both the Ti-Cats and Bombers once their offensive line's improve. Winnipeg has a lot of talent to build around, but a system that doesn't maximize that talent. If Bellefeuille does return, and employs a Hamilton-like short passing system, Winnipeg could be contenders in 2015. If he does not, it could be another long season in the Manitoba capital. For now, the Bombers are still the Bombers, but that could all change with one minor tweak.


  1. One thing I noticed with the Bombers..and with the Ticats under seemed that every time they found something that worked, they moved away from it. Not just moved away from it but often times abandoned it completely. Always frustrating as a fan to watch. But you are right...the Bombers are very close. Scary close.

    1. Yes, it's very frustrated as a fan. I found the turning point of the season was the Labor Day Classic, when Bellefeuille had Willy throw deep the entire second quarter, stalling our offences confidence for the rest of the game. From that game on, Bellefeuille went with the deep ball. Bad coaching and playcalling.

  2. I remember that game vividly. They were moving the ball well. Why they moved to nothing but the deep ball was mind boggling.