Coming off a season with a 4-14 record and a last place finish in the East, even those who bleed Blue and Gold could not have imagined the success the Winnipeg Blue Bombers would have in Paul LaPolice’s second season as head coach.
Instead of gutting the roster after the woeful product of the 2010 season, the organization and coach LaPolice chose to keep their core players intact. The results speak for themselves as the Bombers finished first in the East for the first time since 2001.
Several storylines highlighting the 2011 Bomber regular season: Winnipeg boasted the CFL’s most statistically dominant defence for most of the season, found their potential running back of the future after losing their starting running back to injury in September, and gave quarterback Buck Pierce an opportunity to redeem himself after a disappointing first season in Blue and Gold.
There is little doubt that when the Blue Bombers play well they are as dominant as any team currently in the CFL. That dominance can be attributed in large part to the defensive persona that has been created in Winnipeg. The Bombers were already near the top of the league statistically in years past, but have jumped off the stat sheets since the reigns were turned over to defensive coordinator Tim Burke. After spending the past two seasons as defensive coordinator for the back-to-back Grey Cup champions, the Montreal Alouettes, Burke has created an opportunistic defence that feasts on the poor decisions forced by the Bombers ferocious pass rush.
The stellar defensive play and the emergence of Chris Garrett at starting running back has helped to take some of the pressure off quarterback Buck Pierce. Due to injury Pierce has been replaced by Alex Brink several times during this season, and the understudy QB’s play has been respectable.
Pierce’s injury history might preemptively spark traumatic flashbacks for the Bomber faithful of Kevin Glenn holding his broken left arm as he walked off the field of the Eastern Final in 2007. Luckily, Brink has more promise and in-game experience than Ryan Dinwiddie did back in 2007, which gives the Bombers some crucial depth at the pivot position during their push for a Grey Cup championship.
When either the Hamilton Ti-Cats or Montreal Alouettes come into Canad Inns Stadium on Nov. 20 for what will likely be a very cold game, not only will they have to deal with a motivated Bomber team but also with an emotional crowd bidding farewell to their stadium. This being the last CFL game to ever be played at the old Winnipeg stadium, not even the potential for subzero temperatures will stop Bomber fans from bringing the deafening noise they’ve become notorious for.
Having the home crowd at their side, the Bombers should be able to set the pace against any team that takes the field across from them as they sit just one victory away from a berth in the Grey Cup game in Vancouver, B.C. on Nov. 27.