October 17, 2012

Irving: Stars growing into their own in Winnipeg


Believe it or not, despite another loss over the weekend, a 32-21 defeat to Calgary in which they committed a mind-numbing total of eight turnovers, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have actually had some positive things develop in their favour in recent weeks.   

And when you have gone through a year like the Bombers were forced to endure, you embrace anything that represents a positive.
The Bomber offence has definitely been trending in the right direction. In the last four games, two of them victories, the Bombers have averaged 24 first downs and 400 yards of offence per game, a dramatic improvement from earlier this season.   

In the first 11 outings of the season those averages were 18 first downs and 330 yards.  It’s a definite sign that offensive coordinator Gary Crowton, in his first year in the CFL, is starting to master what works in the Canadian game. 

By the Numbers: Bombers On the Rise
» Chris Matthews: 71 REC, 1,090 YDS, 15.4 AVG, 7 TD

» Chad Simpson: 148 ATT, 867 YDS, 5.9 AVG, 4 TD | 32 REC, 269 YDS
» Henoc Muamba: 47 TKL, 16 STT, 2 SACKS,

The improvement of Winnipeg’s offensive line has played a pivotal role in the improved offensive production. Justin Sorenson, in his first year at center, Chris Greaves and Steve Morley at guard, and tackles Glen January and Shannon Boatman have developed some continuity and chemistry.  

Quarterbacks are better protected, which leads to better passing proficiency, and there have also been better running lanes, which has helped Chad Simpson inch closer to the 1,000-yard rushing mark. Simpson, who missed the first two games of the season due to injury, has 867 yards along the ground, averaging 5.9 yards per carry.   

The man who spent three years south of the border with Indianapolis and Washington has been one of the most impressive newcomers in the Bomber lineup. Simpson is not eligible for CFL rookie of the year honors, but wide receiver Chris Mathews is, and it says here, Mathews is a lock to win the Eastern nomination as top rookie. 
The six-foot-five, 220-pound specimen from Kentucky, who just turned 23, has been sensational from game one.  He is fourth in the CFL in catches with 71 and is third in yards receiving with 1,090.  Mathews has also scored seven touchdowns.  

Given the dysfunctional nature of Winnipeg’s offence earlier in the year, what Mathews has accomplished is remarkable. And he’s not exactly the only go-to receiver on the Winnipeg roster.  33-year old Terrence Edwards is on the verge of a fifth career 1000-yard season. Edwards has 66 catches for 989 yards.
Individual bright spots on the Winnipeg defence haven’t been quite as obvious.  But another first year CFLer, defensive end Alex Hall, was leading the league in sacks with nine until he suffered an injury that will force him out for the rest of the year.  

Linebacker Marcellus Bowman was a one-man wrecking crew in the loss to Calgary with 11 tackles.  Jason Vega has been rock steady rotating between defensive end and tackle, registering five sacks.   

And the Bomber coaches feel second-year Canadian middle-linebacker Henoc Muamba is on the verge of becoming the productive player they thought he would be when they made him the first overall pick in the 2011 CFL draft.  
The Bombers have plenty of individual talent. What they have lacked, however, is consistency, chemistry and leadership. Injuries haven’t helped either, especially to quarterback Buck Pierce.