Right now there is a lot of buzz going around in Winnipeg, and rightfully so.
The team has sold over 21,000 season tickets; they will have a new stadium next season; and they are playing some of the best football seen in a while.
Following the first two weeks of CFL play, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have done something that they have not accomplished since the 2003 season, and that is start 2-0.
Not since the days of Khari Jones was the team able to put up two straight wins to start the season. Now, led by quarterback Buck Pierce, Winnipeg will look to go 3-0.
To date, the team has put up wins against two division rivals, first taking out the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 25-16 in Week 1 before winning its final home opener in the current stadium against the Toronto Argonauts 22-16.
Both wins were grueling testaments of how the Blue Bombers defense would shape the 2011 season, as so far their offense has been unable to get any rhythm going.
Buck Pierce is averaging 158 yards, one touchdown, and one interception per game. Winnipeg's main go-to receiver, Terrence Edwards, was nicked up following Week 1 and saw limited action in Week 2, and sophomore receiver Greg Carr is also injured.
This has meant that other receivers—such as Aaron Hargreaves, Cory Watson and newcomer Clarence Denmark—must step up. At the same time, rookie receiver Jade Etienne—the fourth overall selection in this year’s draft—is just inches away from making his pro debut, should any more receivers drop in the coming weeks.
As for the defense, there is much to be elated about.
In two games under new defensive coordinator Tim Burke, the team has started strong and hot, making five interceptions—taking one to the house—and leading the league with nine sacks.
The front seven have been pressuring opposing quarterbacks thus far, allowing the defense to create turnovers; however, the offense has yet to take advantage of these opportunities, something that will need to be worked on in the coming weeks.
Following the battle down low with the Argonauts in Week 2, the Bombers have a few players on the sideline. However, unlike years past, their depth has been better and most players haven’t missed a step.
The team expects the majority of the injured players to be suited up against the Calgary Stampeders come Thursday night.
Looking at the special teams, Winnipeg has given up zero returns for touchdowns on punts or kick-offs, which is refreshing considering the first time the Bombers kicked-off in 2010, it resulted in seven points.
The return game, with Jovon Johnson currently taking most of the returns during, has been consistent and generally provides decent field position for the offense.
The team brought in Tim Brown, who was coveted as a returning specialist, but he has since retired.
Perry Floyd is another name that was thrown in the return conversation; however a few drops have led some to question whether he belongs there.
One thing for sure, however, is that is the team needs a player designated in the return game to prevent Johnson from any further possible injuries.
Meanwhile, Justin Palardy is playing some of his best football as a Blue Bomber, Mike Renaud is getting more zip on his ball, and overall there has been less worry when the special teams units heads to the field.
But as it stands, the team is relying too heavily on their defense to win out games, something that the Toronto Argonauts were known for last season.
The key difference between the two is the depth at receiver for Winnipeg.
Over the next few weeks, the Blue Bombers face a hungry Stampeder team, will head into a hostile environment at Toronto, and face a team that wants to prove themselves in B.C.and, depending on the next few weeks, a potentially hot team in Edmonton.
With injuries piling up as they are, Winnipeg will need to play smart football moving forward.
If there is to be any celebration right now, it should be over the fact that no touchdowns have been returned on the Big Blue so far, something that both Toronto and Hamilton did last season.
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