Sun Jul 24 06:30am EDT
Heading into this weekend's CFL games, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers had a 2-1 record, but their quarterback play wasn't the main reason why. Instead, their success was mostly due to the play of a terrific defence that only conceded 32 points in their two victories over Hamilton and Toronto, allowing them to overcome Buck Pierce throwing for just 151 and 165 yards respectively in those games. That kind of passing offence isn't going to win you a ton of games, though, and although Pierce alleviated some of his past injury concerns by shrugging off a massive Week One hit from Jamall Johnson, his performance through the early part of the season was less than stellar. That all changed Saturday, though, as Pierce put up one of the year's best quarterbacking performances on the road in Toronto and led his team to a 33-24 win in the process.
Pierce (seen above attempting a pass Saturday) completed 22 of his 27 passing attempts on the day, a ridiculously efficient 81.5 per cent. Considering that he completed less than half his passes in Week One against Hamilton and wasn't much better in Weeks Two or Three, that's an incredible leap forward. It's not that Pierce was throwing high-percentage short checkdowns all day, either; the Bombers went deep early and often, and Pierce finished with 361 passing yards (16.4 yards per completion, 13.4 yards per attempt) and three aerial touchdowns. That's one of this year's great performances from a pivot, up there with Anthony Calvillo's five-touchdown demolition of Saskatchewan and Ricky Ray's evisceration of Hamilton. If Pierce can continue to perform like that rather than the less-than-efficient quarterback he was in the season's first three weeks, this could turn out to be a very good year for the Blue Bombers.
Of course, it's far too soon to say that Winnipeg's quarterback problems are dealt with. Taking too much from any one game is problematic, and it's worth noting that Pierce has thrown for less than 200 yards in every one of this year's contests but Saturday's. That's not going to get the job done terribly often. The question is if those earlier performances accurately reflect where Pierce is at, making the Toronto game just an anomaly, or if Pierce and the Winnipeg offence have finally turned a corner.
Even if Saturday's 361-yard showing is more reflective of what Pierce can do, there's still the question of if he can stay healthy. Pierce has displayed promising talent throughout his CFL career, but he also has a long history of injuries. That includes everything from concussions to knee problems to shoulder problems, and that's a well-known fact around the CFL (which has lead to allegations that teams are trying to take him out). Moreover, the Winnipeg depth chart behind him isn't exactly firm, given backup quarterback Joey Elliott's season-ending surgery.
The Bombers are likely going to need a healthy and effective Pierce if they want to find success this year; their defence is good, but they're still going to need to score points. Pierce was both healthy and effective Saturday, though, and if he keeps that up, this could be a great year for Winnipeg. However, there's a chance he'll be able to maintain that for the rest of the season, but that's far from a sure thing.