Tim Burke and Casey Creehan are simpatico when it comes to defensive football and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are all the better for their being reunited.
They’re a couple of defensive geeks. Staying up late and designing packages and schemes to confound opposing offences. Burke is a little ball of intensity and Creehan boils over on the sidelines everytime his crew makes a big play.
The Bombers defence has adopted their style and attitude. The last time these two cooked up a defence together was 2011 and the Bombers rode their mastery all the way to the Grey Cup.
Creehan left for a defensive co-ordinator post in Hamilton but when his mentor got the head coaching job in Winnipeg it was only a matter of permission to raid the Tiger-Cats’ staff before the two were back in the lab together.
Thursday night the Bombers came into Montreal with a game plan to knock around Montreal Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo and they did just that, as their defence sacked the Hall of Famer seven times in a 19-11 win.
If fans around the CFL get sick of seeing Creehan chest-bumping his defensive players it’s most likely a good sign for the Blue Bombers. Creehan takes his lab coat off for game day and is — how shall we say this — very involved.
His shirt was soaking with sweat by game’s end and you could see the fatigue of a long week of coaching and then a night of sideline madness taking its toll by game's end. Creehan was practically shaking from the edge left behind by burnt adrenaline.
The question for these Blue Bombers as a whole is whether Buck Pierce and the offence can catch up to the defence. As strong as the Bombers D was on Thursday, the offence could best be described as weak tea.
Pierce got it done on a couple of occasions but the defence set the stage, read the lines and then drew the curtain.
Calvillo became frustrated and angry as he was constantly picking himself up off the ground. He was reduced to a shadow of his once-imperturbable self.
A note to Als coach Dan Hawkins and his staff: You have one of the best to ever play this game at quarterback. Tailor the offence to him and protect him. Having the ultimate dink-and-dunk quarterback hang in the pocket to take hits while trying to stretch the field and hit home runs is lunacy.
But that’s their problem, right?
Late in the game, with the Bombers leading 9-4 and the prospect of a Calvillo-led comeback and an 0-2 start for Winnipeg beginning to loom, the defence made the pivotal play of the night.
Defensive back Desia Dunn got a great break on the ball and picked off Calvillo at midfield. Pierce then drove the Bombers to the goal-line before stepping aside for understudy Justin Goltz who punched in his second TD of the night.
The Als had a little more fight in them, and Calvillo pushed his group down the field for their first TD of the game and doubt began to creep in once again for the Bombers faithful.
No need to fret, however, as the defence had one more bullet in the chamber.
A quick two-and-out for the Bombers gave Calvillo the ball again, but the Winnipeg D just trashed him once more, stole the football in the doing and it was game over.
Burke and Creehan love speed and they’ve put together a young group that flies to the football and arrives with a thud. There’s no room for heavy legs and that cost veteran Jonathan Hefney his job.
One has to wonder about the future of Jovon Johnson with this unit as well. He was sloppy with the football on kick returns, putting it on the turf twice. Once for a lost fumble and late in the game he narrowly escaped goat status, as his bobble was lost but then recovered. JJ will be challenged to pick it up, or else.
The Bombers appear to have a mighty defence and that can go a long way in the CFL. But sooner or later you have to score points. Putting up 19 won’t result in a win most weeks.
Burke says the defence has the edge early in a season and it takes a while for an offence to get its bearings. If this is just a case of shaky sea legs for Pierce and the offence, then there might be something special going on around here.
But if it’s another ineffective offence, all of Creehan and Burke’s defensive devilishness will likely just go to waste.