Three storylines dominate the conversation when it comes to the 1-4 Winnipeg Blue Bombers as they head into the Lions Den — both figuratively and literally — on Monday night, and they all surround positions of apparent weakness for the struggling club.
Firstly, the quarterback play, with the team announcing the demotion of long-time starter Buck Pierce all the way down to No. 3 on the depth chart, bumping Max Hall into the primary backup role and handing Justin Goltz the game ball moving forward.
“I just feel like (Goltz) is performing right around the same level, maybe just slightly better than Buck is performing,” said head coach Tim Burke on Thursday. “I feel like he's got a lot of upside potential. We just feel he can keep getting better week after week, and we feel that is going to be the case with Max (Hall) as well.”
“Continuity” at the quarterback position is the word that has been used often by the team this week, and it sounds like Winnipeg is finally moving forward with the search for their signal caller of the future.
“He's hungry to prove himself and you've got to watch out for a guy like that,” said running back Chad Simpson of the new undisputed No. 1. “He's focused. He's getting a little irritated on some of the throws. I mean, he wants the ball, plain and simple. And I like that. Every game he plays he'll get better. We haven't seen the best Goltz yet, and it's going to come.”
Secondly, the underutilized running game, as Chad Simpson is averaging just over 11 carries per game this year after leading the league during his injury-shortened rookie season with 6.0 yards-per-carry in 2012. He finished fourth in total rushing with 1,039 yards in just 14 games.
“Ideal carries for a running back is 20 carries,” said Simpson. “Again, we've got to put ourselves in a better position to run the ball as a collective unit. It is me blocking like crazy when it's time to pass and helping extend drives. Once I do that, I should be able to get the ball more.”
A big reason for Simpson's lack of touches is the offence's lack of production on first down.
“We definitely are working hard to gain more yards on first down and have more success on first down,” said Burke. “We're going to be going to more high-percentage passes on first down. Without giving away the game plan, we've definitely stepped up our first down game strategy.”
Heavy doses of running the ball may help carry the load for an inexperienced Goltz in his second-career professional start on Monday. To put Winnipeg's running game into perspective, over the last three games Simpson has been handed the ball a total of 34 times for an average of nearly 80 yards-per-game. He has scored four rushing majors in that span.
Third, the defensive backfield, as Tim Burke says he wants to be more hands on with a secondary that has allowed the last three opposing quarterbacks they have faced — Henry Burris, Ricky Ray, and Bo Levi Mitchell — to throw at an 87 per cent clip for 1,024 yards, seven touchdowns, and no interceptions.
“The last two games we just made some terrible mistakes that were just basic mistakes,” said Burke, who has spent the last eight years as a defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach in the CFL, including two Grey Cups wins with Montreal. “Those were really egregious mistakes. Just totally blown mistakes by a couple of DBs, and we can't do that. I mean, we're talking veteran guys doing these things. Certainly there's a couple guys whose jobs are in jeopardy.”
“We're trying to emphasize some coverages that we haven't been playing as much just so we won't be so one-dimensional. I think we've become kind of one-dimensional on defence.”
Notes: When asked about Lions running back Andrew Harris' tweets this week about his team, Tim Burke served up out this beauty; “Twitter is the bane of the world — except in Egypt.”... Week 1 starter at Nickelback Desia Dunn returns this week from a hamstring injury that has kept him out the last two games, while 2012 starter Johnny Sears has been placed on the 9-game injured list and continues to sport a walking boot on his right foot ... Versatile defensive back Demond Washington is out this week with a suspected abdomen injury ... Receiver Chris Matthews will start this week after missing action since Week 3 with a nagging back injury ... Defensive tackle J.T. Gilmore (calf) returns this week but has lost his starting spot to Zach Anderson.