Sometimes the biggest problems have the simplest solutions.
To say that many of us are perplexed about the erratic play of this year's Bomber defence, is like saying Wade Miller has some work to do as the football club's new president and CEO.
While putting together an offence that can seriously threaten an opponent continues to be the biggest weakness of this team, the defence is a more perplexing and troublesome an enigma because of the flashes of dominance they have shown.
The offence teases us with no more than a stanza or two of competitive football. If anything, they are consistent in the fact they haven't done enough to win multiple games this season. Conversely, the 2013 defence has shown glimmers of superior play. They single-handedly orchestrated the team's only win of the season against Montreal, and in the first half of the Labour Day Classic against the best team in the CFL, they treated the league's leading rusher like a kick ball, and allowed only two major scores.
So what happened to this group in the second half that allowed the Riders to score 34 points? Sure, inopportune turnovers and field position had something to do with it, but what is the major reason this group transitioned from a bunch of swarming marauders into a collection of porous Pop Tarts?
Rider QB Darian Durant mentioned after the game something along the lines that with the way the Bomber defenders were attacking the run, they had to tire them out with some quick passing before they could establish the ground game. And there you have the answer to the million-dollar question of why the Bomber defence cannot spell "consistency" even if the 11th edition of the Merriam Webster Collegiate dictionary were in hand.
They are tired.
How else do you explain the discrepancy in coverage, pass rush, and vigilance against the run game from one half to the next? Did they suddenly become lesser athletes in the third and fourth quarters than they were in the first? Does the Rider offence have a mysterious extra gear that they are able to shift to? No, the single most reasonable explanation for the difference in their performance from one half to the next is fatigue. Hell, Tim Burke and Casey Creehan have essentially admitted this by acknowledging that when the defence is on the field too long, they struggle to be fundamentally sound and mentally on point.
One solution to this problem, then, is to ask the offence to put more and longer drives together. But even though under Marcel Bellefeuille and Justin Goltz they have begun to point the ship in the right direction, they are still a ways from dictating the tempo of a football game.
With the season halfway finished and this squad only four points out of a playoff spot, the only way this team can even contemplate figuring into the mix is if their defence is a rock, game in and game out, for the entire second half of the year. And if no relief is necessarily in sight from their offensive counterparts, they have to be able to perform all game at the highest levels.
The reason defensive co-ordinator Casey Creehan keeps track of "loafing" when he grades film, is because defence is 25 per cent talent, 25 per cent scheme, and 50 per cent effort. Hustling to the football, flying around, and having more energy and urgency than your opponent, can overcome any talent or schematic inequality. But few and far between are the teams, coaches, and players that recognize the importance of aerobic conditioning versus anaerobic training.
Milt Stegall understood that these are complementary processes, and those who trained with him learned this from him. In fact, one of the fundamentals of my training regimen came from a quote Milt offered up along time ago when he was asked how he was able to run away from players, game in and game out, that were faster than him. Milt said that there were defenders on every team that could beat him in a 40-yard dash. Yet there was no defender that could beat him in that same 40, the fifth time, the 10th time, or the 15th time they ran that same distance over the course of the game. Milt understood that so much of football is simply about who gets tired first.
Doing additional stanzas of conditioning, before, during, or after practice, is not easy and probably the hardest thing a player can do on his own volition. Yet in my estimation, the absence of an elite level of aerobic conditioning may be the only thing that is preventing this defence from imposing its will throughout four quarters of every game, instead of just two.
Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays and the days following game days in the Free Press.