Unbeaten Bombers expect 0-3 Argonauts to bring high-level game on Friday
It seems everyone across the CFL has taken notice of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Look up any power rankings and you’ll find the Bombers at the top.
Their defence has only allowed one touchdown, their offence has put up four touchdowns in each of the team’s three games so far and their special teams — save for a couple of errant field goal tries by Justin Medlock — have been making things happen.
They are the only undefeated team in the CFL at 3-0 and are currently the odds-on favourite (9/4) to win the Grey Cup.
They’ll be two-touchdown favourites to win on Friday night when the Toronto Argonauts come to town.
The Argos are the exact opposite of the Bombers, sitting at 0-3, with the longest odds of winning the Grey Cup (50/1) and languishing at the bottom of almost everyone’s power rankings.
So, does this Bombers team need to guard against complacency?
“There’s no such thing as an 0-3 team or a 3-0 team,” Bombers veteran receiver Darvin Adams said Wednesday after a closed practice at IG Field.
“We’re both 0-0 this week and that’s how we look at every game. We’ve got a lot of veteran guys around and we all know what we’ve got to do.”
Regardless, these types of things do happen.
Teams with superior records do play down to their competition or they ease up in their preparation because they think it’s going to be an easier game.
As much as players and coaches talk about not letting the notion that they “should win” get into their heads, you’ll sometimes hear after a surprise loss about how that very thing crept in.
There’s a reason the term “trap game” exists. It’s not easy to keep mental focus for a full season and that makes games like this one dangerous for the team with the better record.
“I think teams sometimes do get lackadaisical in their preparation,” Bombers safety Jeff Hecht said.
“Some teams have the habit of playing down to an opponent rather than forcing an opponent to play up to them. I don’t think anyone in our locker room is taking them lightly enough to convince ourselves that we need to bring them up to our level.
“If they’re not on our level, they’re right on our heels and we need to prepare for that going forward.”
The way Hecht sees it, it’s far too early in the season to even be talking about such things.
“We’re not talking about an 18-0 team against an 0-18 team,” Hecht said. “We’re three losses away from having a tied record with them. It’s not that big of a gap.
From a fan base viewpoint it’s first place against last place, but it’s still only a three-game difference.
“We’re taking them seriously. They are professionals and they’re getting paid and we need to not let them get any momentum.”
The Argos have had all kinds of problems early in the season.
They are last in the league in points scored (12.7 per game) and allowed (38 per game). They’re last in touchdowns scored (4), net offence (308 yards per game), first downs (51), sacks made (2) and turnovers made (9).
They’ve had trouble getting the ball to star receivers Derel Walker (7 catches, no touchdowns) and S.J. Green (11 catches, no TDs) and have already changed starting quarterbacks from James Franklin to McLeod Bethel-Thompson.
While Winnipeg has been a well-oiled machine so far this season, Toronto has been a dumpster fire.
And yet …
“Hamilton was undefeated against winless Montreal last week and Montreal beat them pretty handily,” Hecht said. “So we can be in that situation ourselves.
“We understand that they’re having difficulty getting the ball to certain guys but once they figure that out they can be extremely dangerous on offence so we have to jump on them early and prevent them from getting there.”
Bombers receiver Drew Wolitarsky has only been in pro football for a couple of years, but he’s seen enough to know bad things can happen when you start looking at the records of opponents.
“You see that all year long where teams you think should win don’t because they take someone lightly,” Wolitarsky said.
“That’s just not who we are. We’ve kept the same process this whole week, we’ve executed our plays how we should and, at the end of the day, it’s really about what we do and not really what they’re gonna do.”
Wolitarsky also remembers well that the Bombers were 5-3 last year before they went on a four-game losing streak that nearly derailed their playoff aspirations.
“You can’t even really be thinking about being 3-0,” he said. “There’s swings in football and we had one last year. A lot of teams do.
“We’ve just got to stay consistent every week.”
Bombers preparing for challenge from Argos QB Bethel-Thompson
In his first start of the season, McLeod Bethel-Thompson did a lot of good things as the quarterback of the Toronto Argonauts.
He completed 75% of his passes for 303 yards, a touchdown and an interception in an 18-17 loss to the B.C. Lions.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who will host the Argos Friday night at IG Field, certainly took notice.
“People are using the term journeyman and a lot of people see that as a negative connotation,” Bombers safety Jeff Hecht said. “But I’m a journeyman and I’m playing at a high level, I think, too. He has the ability to win football games. He won some for them last year.
“He doesn’t have a lot of reps in the CFL but he’s got a lot of experience. He sees the entire field and it makes it difficult to try to cheat off of him, which you can do with less experienced quarterbacks. He just needs some time to build a rapport with some of his newer guys, like (receiver) Derel Walker. Once he gets that confidence with them, he can be dangerous.
“We’ve got to get on them early and we’ve got to shut those windows and not let them get rolling.”