It’s not often a CFL team sits atop their division come late September while having multiple blown 20-point leads on their resumé. It reeks of a team that finds a way to lose when it matters; a team that lacks focus in crunch time.
Regardless of their 9-4 record, how the Winnipeg Blue Bombers let Saturday’s game in Montreal slip away was embarrassing and unacceptable for a Grey Cup contending club.
The Bombers had a similar type of breakdown while in Toronto in Week 8. They also fell victim to an 87-yard game-losing drive in Regina in Week 12. These losses aren’t only diminishing Winnipeg’s chance of hosting a Division Final game for the first time in eight years, they’re ruining the team’s chance of winning a Grey Cup title.
No team should ever let a quarterback throw for 254 yards and three touchdowns in 15 minutes of football, but Vernon Adams Jr. did just that on 22 attempts. It all started to go downhill for Winnipeg after they let up on the field, literally.
Blue Bombers Collapse in Montreal
An odd sequence on a second-and-10 from the Bombers 32 sparked Montreal’s comeback.
Willie Jefferson thinks he’s gone offside but there’s no call. Jefferson letting up allows Adams Jr. to maneuver out of the pocket and deliver a strike to Felix Faubert-Lussier, who makes a nice grab in traffic. Can’t fault Chandler Fenner there.
Three plays later, the Als hit paydirt on a third-and-one gamble.
Marcus Rios (39 on left) gets caught cheating to the backfield. While Chris Matthews (12 on left) appears to be a blocker, he instead releases on a shallow corner route. Rios is supposed to cover him but goes forward into no man’s land, allowing Adams Jr. to float one in for six.
A Jeff Hecht interception deep in Winnipeg territory cut the Als’ next drive short. Adam Bighill forced the rushed throw to Adams Jr.’s chagrin. The Montreal pivot then lost his marbles for a second, ripping off Bighill’s helmet and throwing it back at him. The CFL has suspended Adams Jr. one game for the incident.
Just saw the Vernon Adams – Adam Bighill exchange. How is it that Adams didn’t get ejected? pic.twitter.com/UuP7EAVnrj
— DT on Sports Cage? (@DTonSC) September 22, 2019
Turning Point – Kyrie Wilson’s Drop
With 3:37 left, Winnipeg still held a 13-point lead. Montreal took the field 83 yards away from the Bombers’ end zone, and everything was still a-okay for the blue and gold. On the first play of the Als’ drive, Winnipeg should’ve put the game to bed.
Bombers’ linebacker Kyrie Wilson reads Adams Jr. all the way. Wilson makes a beeline to Jake Wieneke and beats him to first contact with the ball. His break is textbook, but Wilson looks at the gaping field in front of him before corralling the ball.
Instead of Wilson’s second defensive score of the afternoon, it’s a drop and the Als have life. They convert on the following play.
There’s not much room, but Adams Jr. goes back to Wieneke to move the chains. Safety Derek Jones is half-a-step behind and can’t break the pass up. The three-minute warning hits and Montreal keeps the chains moving.
Winston Rose would like a re-do on the above play. He hesitates on committing to Eugene Lewis’ slant, and Rose proceeds to get a bit greedy, hunting for an interception rather than making a play on Lewis who goes for a gain of 19. Lewis drops a target on the next play, and it sets up a crucial second-and-10.
With a clean pocket, Adams Jr. steps up and hits Wieneke for 19 yards. Bombers’ strong-side linebacker Anthony Gaitor can’t close on Wieneke in time and doesn’t get help from the safety, and the Als are officially threatening for six.
DeVier Posey makes good on the next play with the Bombers maintaining a man-coverage look.
Posey runs a generic corner route directly at the pilon and reels in Adams Jr.’s pass over Marcus Sayles to make it a one-score game. Sayles is well aware of the ball coming toward him but doesn’t have the power to jam-up Posey’s hands, who wins the contested battle.
Alouettes go 94 Yards in 56 Seconds
After a four-play, 36-second drive, Winnipeg is forced to punt. Justin Medlock launches a 54-yard bomb, good for 44 net yards. Montreal is on their own 16 with 62 seconds remaining, an ideal scenario for any competent defence.
It’s the one time in the quarter where coaching is under the microscope for Winnipeg in a defensive situation. The Alouettes were called for holding on an incomplete pass on first-and-10. Instead of accepting and taking a first-and-eighteen, Mike O’Shea declined the penalty, setting up a second-and-10 where the Als pick up seven yards.
Hecht does a superb job cutting off Posey’s route, but can’t reel in Adams Jr.’s dart. The ricochet bounces directly to Wieneke, and some tough luck for Winnipeg makes it a third-and-manageable for Montreal, although it’s a fabulous play by Wieneke.
Winnipeg blitzes Bighill to Adams Jr.’s left, but he has the presence of mind to roll out to open space. Technically Craig Roh has the contain here, but it’s a play that most defensive ends couldn’t realistically make. Adams Jr. uses his speed to get upfield, gets the first, and forces a missed tackle for some bonus yards.
It’s a play that a M.O.P-worthy quarterback will make, and the Bombers can’t do anything but regroup and tighten up on defence. They do the complete opposite seconds later.
The Nails in the Blue Bombers’ Coffin
Quan Bray’s 60-yard catch was the official uh-oh moment for Winnipeg. It’s quite obvious that it was a coverage breakdown, which Mike O’Shea has admitted, saying “It was a mix-up in communication. Some guys were playing one coverage and some guys were playing another, which can’t happen,” to CJOB’s Bob Irving on the Coach’s Show.
On the boundary, halfback Marcus Sayles departs for a deep-third zone, and cornerback Winston Rose plays straight man on a crossing Euegene Lewis, a task Rose was in quite frequently on Saturday.
The error takes place on the field-side.
Halfback Marcus Rios shows no desire to pick up a streaking Quan Bray down the strong-side hashmarks. Instead, Rios sits still in an apparent underneath zone, while cornerback Chandler Fenner takes his deep-third, as does safety Jeff Hecht in the middle. It looks like a cover-3 look, which breaks down when Fenner is too outside and can’t get to Bray on the seam — a cover-3 beater — which Adams Jr. instantly picks up.
When hearing O’Shea’s comments, it raises the question of why Rios didn’t pick up Bray on a vertical route. When the ball’s thrown, Rios and strong-side linebacker Anthony Gaitor are within steps on a single man, which indicates a breakdown in responsibilities.
On the following play, Rose executes a terrific pass breakup and sets up a second-and-10.
The play call is cover-2 man and the Bombers execute it so poorly. Winnipeg’s defensive line gets a good push, but it’s all for not for several reasons.
Anthony Gaitor (third in from the bottom) is tasked with covering Wieneke, but loses the battle and it results in a game-losing score. As Wieneke begins his waggle, Gaitor moves into an inside shade. This means Gaitor is anticipating help from Jeff Hecht on any outside route. Hecht instead goes over the top of Chris Matthews on a corner route, helping out Marcus Rios. Once Hecht breaks, Adams Jr. sees his opportunity and drops a beautiful pass into Wieneke’s hands.
It’s a veteran play by a rookie American in Wieneke. He uses the CFL’s goalpost as a pick, running a couple of inches to the right of it. This forces Gaitor to slightly redirect his path and he runs to the left of the post. It’s all the separation Wieneke needs to get open.
The other issue here is safety Derek Jones (top right of screen), whose responsibility is over the top help on any end zone route. Instead, Jones freezes and is stuck in the middle of two vertical routes. Jones’ inability to run over to either route actually gives Adams Jr. the option to choose his game-winning pass-catcher.
Marcus Sayles (second from the top) whiffs on jamming DeVier Posey and Adams Jr. could’ve hit Posey for six too if he wanted. The ball is already in the end zone before a flat-footed Jones makes a break on the route.
Vernon Adams Jr.’s Career-Best Quarter
In the final 15 minutes, Vernon Adams Jr. went 13 of 22 for 254 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Those are video game numbers.
The Alouettes scored 21 points on four fourth-quarter drives, going four for seven on second down — they got a first down on the following third down all three times too. It was another colossal breakdown, specifically on defence, by the Bombers which is becoming a massive problem. In fact, it’s the team’s biggest problem.
After re-watching this self-destruction, if you’re going to throw any blame on the Bombers’ defence, keep your finger pointed away from coordinator Richie Hall and instead toward the players who failed to properly do their job.
Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images