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Winless Blue Bombers feel ‘super close’ as offence continues to struggle


The Winnipeg Blue Bombers lost their third-straight game on Friday, dropping a 26-24 decision to the BC Lions. It’s the first time since 2012 the Bombers have started 0-3, a far cry from the team that has reached the Grey Cup in three consecutive seasons with a combined regular season record of 40-10. Dating back to last year’s Grey Cup, Winnipeg has lost four straight games.

“It’s hard to wrap your head around it,” Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros said following Friday’s loss. “So it is what it is. We haven’t played good enough to win games.”

A two-time Most Outstanding Player, Collaros has yet to throw a touchdown pass this season while tossing three interceptions. He is the only starting quarterback in the league who has not thrown a touchdown and his three picks are tied for second most in the CFL. Collaros is currently averaging 247 passing yards per game, second-worst among starting quarterbacks this season, only ahead of Toronto Argonauts QB Cameron Dukes (234 yards/game). 

The Blue Bombers are averaging a league-worst 18.3 points per game this season, well behind the Ottawa Redblacks, who have the second-worst offence thus far at 22.0 points per game. The Blue Bombers averaged a league-best 33 points per game last season en route to a West Division title.

The return of running back Brady Oliveira from a knee injury has brought some life back to the Winnipeg offence as they scored a season-high 24 points in Friday’s loss. Still, the reigning Most Outstanding Canadian has been held out of the endzone through two games played this season.

“Not the result that we wanted. We’ve just got to come back in here, look at the film and stay together right now,” said Oliveira. “I have a lot of faith and belief in this group. I love every single person in this locker room and I know we can get it done. We’ve just got to find a way.

“It’s going to be different this year, obviously, but I’ve got a lot of faith in this group. We’re going to get it together. We’re right there. Super close.”

Oliveira gained 64 yards on just nine carries in the loss as the Bombers put up 102 yards on the ground, their best rushing effort this season. As the team works to regain their form, the star running back believes the good performance in the trenches was a step in the right direction.
“That’s our DNA — playing physical football from start to finish,” said Oliveira. “We’ve got the guys in this locker room to do that and get the job done. I think you saw it today — we were more like ourselves. “The guys up front did a great job. They were moving the downs and I was proud of them. They did a really good job.”

“Everything starts up front, so when we can dominate up front and establish the line of scrimmage that’s huge for any team,” added backup quarterback Chris Streveler, who rushed for all three of the Bombers' touchdowns on Friday. “We’ve got to find a way to get more production on first down in the first half. Just too many two-and-outs and it felt like our defence was on the field a lot. When we stay on the field and get a rhythm on offence and spread the ball around it’s effective. When we go two-and-out it just puts so much pressure on our defence.”

The defence struggled mightily in Friday’s game, allowing 500 net yards to the Lions. BC was able to hurt Winnipeg with the big play all night, racking 218 of their 398 passing yards on five plays, including 71 and 63-yard gains from Alexander Hollins. They are now allowing 25.3 points per game, tied for the third most in the CFL, behind the other two winless teams in the league, the Edmonton Elks and Hamilton Tiger-Cats. 

With numerous players on the six-game injured list, including defensive linemen Celestin Haba, Miles Fox, Cam Lawson and TyJuan Garbutt, defensive backs Jamal Parker, Jake Kelly and Noah Hallett, the Bombers’ defence will continue to feature CFL rookies Terrell Bonds and Marquise Bridges as well as first-year starter Tyrell Ford. 

Seven-year veteran Brandon Alexander says the defence needs to step up in key situations and work on their ability to make in-game adjustments.

“We couldn’t get off (the field) on second downs and we didn’t make the necessary plays we needed to or were fast enough on our reads to make the plays we needed to make,” said Alexander. “I had some of those myself. We’re just not detailed enough on the field right now to be able to win close football games. 

“Most of the things we need to adjust to were in-game, situational stuff — where they put people, how they line up people and what adjustments we make in that time. There’s nothing a coach can do in that moment, it’s something a player has to do in that moment because they’re on the field adjustments. When you see something, you’re supposed to be able to adjust on the fly. That’s what defences do — we react. And that didn’t happen today.”

The Bombers' injury list on offence also got bigger on Friday, as receivers Dalton Schoen and Keric Wheatfall were both hurt during the game. If they are unable to suit up for Saturday’s game against the Calgary Stampeders, the team will rely heavily on Canadian Nic Demski and Drew Wolitarsky to pick up the slack. 

“It definitely hits you a little harder now after the game’s done,” said Demski as the receiver injuries continue to mount. “You can’t let it bother you too much after the game but I guess they’ve got to evaluate (the injuries), see what happens, see what the diagnosis is, and we’ll go from that. Hopefully it’s nothing too crazy.

“Football is rough sport. It’s a ‘next-man-up’ type of game. We’ve got some depth here, some young depth, so they’d better get ready.”