Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bombers' best chance is to out-defend Lions

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THEY say the best defence is a good offence. But this Friday evening at Canad Inns Stadium, the best defence will in all likelihood be, well, the best defence.

If the 2-5 Winnipeg Blue Bombers are going to beat the 5-2 B.C. Lions, it is going to have to begin with the Bombers defence at least matching -- and hopefully outperforming -- their counterparts with B.C..

Now, that is a tall order, of course. In case you haven't been paying attention to the CFL the past five weeks, the last time the B.C. Lions gave up a touchdown of any kind was way back in the fourth quarter of a July 20 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos.

Since then, the Lions have played and won three games without surrendering a major to their opponents; the Olympics have begun, played out and long since ended; and Prince William has plucked a pair of tourists to safety with his helicopter while his brother, Harry, got caught on camera with a pair of his own dangling in the wind.

All of which is to say that expecting newly installed Bombers starting QB Joey Elliott to replicate his 406-yard performance last week in a win over Hamilton against B.C. this Friday is probably not being realistic.

What's more within the realm of possibility, however, is Winnipeg's defence stifles Lions QB Travis Lulay, his talented aerial corps and workhorse tailback Andrew Harris to give Elliott and the Bombers a chance to win a low-scoring affair.

This is the same Bombers defence, remember, that held Lulay and the Lions to just 16 points through three quarters in the opening game of 2012 for both teams. And it's also a defence that is -- with the return of linebacker Brandon Stewart this week -- finally playing for the very first team this season with all their chosen 12 starters.

In a season in which the Winnipeg defence has shown tantalizing glimpses of greatness but has still yet to put together the kind of complete and dominating performance that was their trademark last season, there will be no better time than right now to finally put it all together.

"For me personally, it provides extra motivation because I would like to be at their level right now," Bombers defensive co-ordinator Tim Burke said Wednesday of the Lions defence. "Last year at this time, we were at that level. And I think we're slowly getting back to where we were, but it's been a growing process."

Who had the better defence in 2011 was a subject of some debate during Grey Cup Week last November in the lead-up to the Lions and Bombers facing each other in the championship game. While the Bombers defence led in most statistical categories at season's end, the Lions led in a few key categories -- most notably fewest touchdowns and fewest points surrendered.

This season, there has been no debate about who has had the better defence. B.C. is leading the league in several defensive categories, including fewest first downs, fewest net yards, fewest points, fewest TDs, fewest plays from scrimmage and most sacks. The Bombers defence, by contrast, lead in just two categories: fewest passes attempted and lowest average gain per pass.

Still, the only statistic that matters this week is who has the most points on the board at the end of Friday night.

"I think we're starting to get in a groove and our defence is starting to pick it up," cornerback Jovon Johnson said Wednesday. "(B.C.) has been playing well. They play defence the way they know how to play it and they're pretty good at it. So you have to respect that.

"But at the end of the day, our defence is going to go out and do what we're supposed to do. As long as we don't kill ourselves, I think we'll be alright."

Bombers defensive tackle Bryant Turner had three sacks against the Lions (lining up against a rookie) the last time the two teams played and is looking forward to the opportunity to make a difference for his team again.

"I think field position will come into play a lot this game, especially when you've got a defence over there that hasn't been getting scored on much," said Turner.

"The closer our offence starts to their end zone, the better off we're going to be as a team."

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 23, 2012 C1

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