Mike O'Shea was forced to take a unique approach in preparing the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for Ottawa's return to the CFL.
The Bombers host Ottawa on Thursday night in the Redblacks' first-ever game as the CFL expansion team had an opening-week bye. That left Winnipeg with precious little current game film to evaluate as it prepared for the historic contest.
But that didn't deter O'Shea as the rookie head coach told his team this presented a glorious opportunity for the Bombers to concentrate on what they controlled — most notably fine-tuning their execution so they could adapt to any situation that arose.
Execution certainly wasn't a problem in Winnipeg's season opener. The Bombers were dominant in their 45-21 home victory over the Toronto Argonauts. Quarterback Drew Willy, signed as an off-season free agent, finished 19-of-27 passing for 308 yards and four TDs en route to being named league's offensive player of the week.
Willy hit Aaron Kelly five times for 100 yards and two scoring strikes. Running back Nic Grigsby added 122 yards rushing on 21 carries.
The Redblacks will be the first Ottawa team to play a CFL regular-season game since Nov. 5, 2005 when the former Renegades beat Toronto 27-17 at Lansdowne Park.
The Redblacks, who were 1-1 during the exhibition season, have plenty of CFL experience. Their roster features 30 players who saw action last season and the veterans have a combined 121 seasons of experience and played 1,675 career games.
That's over 400 more than Winnipeg has through last week's game. Ottawa also has 18 players with Grey Cup experience.
The Redblacks' most experienced player is quarterback Henry Burris. The 39-year-old is entering his 16th CFL season and has played in 228 career games. He'll make his 187th start Thursday for a fourth different club.
Burris has a 100-83-3 record as a starter and is ranked fourth in all-time passing yards with over 51,000.
But if the opening week of play proved anything, it's the importance of teams not beating themselves. The four winning teams held a commanding 19-6 edge over their opponents in sacks, forced 12 turnovers while committing just five and combined to average more than 33 minutes in time of possession.
Another major opening-week stat was penalties. There were 101 combined calls, making it the most penalized week of CFL play since August 2007. It was also the most penalized opening week since '04 when 112 flags were thrown.
Toronto led the way with 22 penalties for 163 yards versus Winnipeg, which is looking to start the season 2-0 like it did in '11 when it reached the Grey Cup final before losing to B.C.
Prediction — Winnipeg
B.C. LIONS at MONTREAL ALOUETTES (7 p.m. ET on Friday night).
Both teams are looking for their first win but this is already an important game for a Montreal team that struggled badly last week in Calgary. The Stampeders beat the Alouettes 29-8 as quarterback Troy Smith finished 18-of-41 passing for 154 yards and an interception.
Calgary also had four sacks and held former NFL star Chad Johnson to two catches for 20 yards in his CFL debut.
It was also an opener to forget for Lions' starter Kevin Glenn, who threw four interceptions in B.C.'s 27-20 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos. Glenn, under centre while incumbent Travis Lulay recovers from shoulder surgery, finished 18-of-28 passing for 251 yards and two TDs. Running back Andrew Harris was his favourite target with six catches for 102 yards and a touchdown although the Lions managed just 54 yards rushing on 16 carries.
Prediction — B.C.
HAMILTON TIGER-CATS at EDMONTON ESKIMOS (10 p.m. ET on Friday night)
Quarterback Mike Reilly helped make Chris Jones's Edmonton coaching debut a winning one. Reilly was 22-of-35 passing for 229 yards and three TDs as the Eskimos outscored the Lions 14-3 in the second half.
Reilly hit Adarius Bowman nine times for 105 yards and a touchdown and also found veteran slotback Fred Stamps on another scoring strike. Edmonton's defence contributed the four picks, four sacks and a forced fumble, which doesn't bode well for a Hamilton offence that surrendered 10 sacks in its season-opening 31-10 road loss to Saskatchewan.
It's been a rough two weeks for Hamilton's offensive line, which also allowed nine sacks in its final exhibition game, a loss to Toronto. Quarterback Zach Collaros never was allowed to get comfortable in his Ticats regular-season debut, completing 19-of-33 passes for 159 yards with a TD and interception.
Hamilton's defence also had its issues as Saskatchewan's Anthony Allen — given the difficult task of replacing Grey Cup MVP Kory Sheets — ran for 159 yards in a rainy Grey Cup rematch at Mosaic Stadium. By comparison, Hamilton's offence accumulated just 114 net yards.
Prediction — Edmonton
SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS at TORONTO ARGONAUTS (3 p.m. ET on Saturday)
Toronto has plenty to fix following its disastrous season debut, but discipline remains first and foremost. All too often the Argos shot themselves in the foot with penalties.
Quarterback Ricky Ray finished 27-of-38 passing for 283 yards and two TDs but Toronto's offence couldn't sustain consistent pressure, holding the ball for under 24 minutes. Losing two of four fumbles didn't help, either. The Argos' defence showed vulnerability against the run, not exactly reassuring with Saskatchewan up next.
So emphatic were Saskatchewan's defence and ground attack against Hamilton that starter Darian Durant only threw 22 passes — completing 15 for 136 yards and two TDs — before giving way to Tino Sunseri.
Prediction - Saskatchewan