There is having the ability to create success, and then there is having that ability to sustain success.
There is no argument that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were the best team after the first eight games of the 2011 season, with a 7-1 record. But they finished the season at 10-8, which means over the last 10 games they went 3-7.
That is Bomber football reality. So, can you be critical of a team that made it to the Grey Cup and did have an opportunity to win? Not really. But you can say with conviction that if the Bombers are to make it back they will have to improve in key areas.
And here is the most significant. Last year the Bombers were dead last in the CFL on offence in two-and-outs. No team took the field on offence, ran two plays, and punted more than Winnipeg. It gives opposition punter returners extra opportunities to make a great return, and frustrates a defence as they have little time to discuss, regroup, and catch their breath.
An amazing 43 per cent of the time, the Bombers went two-and-out over the season. That's 116 times, averaging almost seven times per game. In all aspects of football that is the No. 1 improvement point of priority.
That is the negative, now here is the positive: the best defence in the CFL. Winnipeg without the ball was at their best in 2011.
They were first overall in: fewest yards allowed, fewest pass yards allowed, quarterback sacks, fewest second-to-first downs for the opposition, takeaways, and interceptions. They were also third in fewest points allowed and in rushing yards allowed.
And - this is the best part - they have the same defensive coordinator back in Tim Burke. They really don't have to fix much, just maintain the engine which
revolves around youth and speed.
For the Bombers to represent the East, there are some key battles and individuals to watch. First, Gary Crowton as the new offensive coordinator, with no CFL experience but a resume of coaching experience second to nobody. How he adapts to CFL football, and how his players adapt to him will be interesting to watch.
At middle linebacker, will it be Henoc Muamba or Pierre-Luc Labbe? Both were excellent CIS players that have to effectively play in a high profile position. Saskatchewan is trying to play a Canadian middle linebacker with three to choose from: Shomari Williams, Sam Hurl from the University of Calgary, or Mike McCullough, the incumbent. The best Canadian middle linebacker I ever played against was Mike O'Shea in Toronto. Winnipeg needs to find their Mike O'Shea to win a Grey Cup.
And a third issue will be Buck Pierce. Not so much his playing ability, but his protection. Buck took about five hits last year, in which any of the five could have ended a career. Some were his fault, others had nothing to do with him, but there is an immense difference between being tackled and taking a shot of the violent intensity that Pierce experienced. That has to change.
The Blue Bombers are a good team, but they are not a great team...yet. They have to play better in the first quarter and in some cases the first half, because last year it seemed they were constantly playing "catch-up" football. But with excellent attendance each and every game and a really "good looking" stadium in the future, it is fun to be a Bomber fan right now.
The truth is the East is a better division this year than last. Both Toronto and in some ways Hamilton have improved and Montreal will not be as injury-devastated in the secondary again for two years in a row. Tough division with the other three quarterbacks in the prime of experience and proven results with Calvillo, Ray and Burris. All have won relatively recent Grey Cups. Winnipeg hasn't for over 10 years and counting.
The Bombers must improve to repeat as the East representative at the Grey Cup - that's reality.