Blue Bomber Report Record: 4–1–0

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Defending the defence

Numbers don't lie, or tell the whole story, coaches say

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Blue Bombers head coach Tim Burke (left) has a discussion with defensive co-ordinator Casey Creehan during practice at Investors Group Field Wednesday.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Blue Bombers head coach Tim Burke (left) has a discussion with defensive co-ordinator Casey Creehan during practice at Investors Group Field Wednesday. Photo Store

The numbers say one thing, Tim Burke and Casey Creehan say another. The truth is probably somewhere in between.

Let's begin with the numbers, which in some very important categories suggest the 2013 Winnipeg Blue Bombers have the worst defence in the CFL.

Consider:

  • The Bombers have given up the most first downs overall (235) and the most first downs passing (146) and are tied for last in passing touchdowns surrendered (23);
  • Opposing quarterbacks have completed more passes against the Bombers than any other team in the CFL (248) and have their second-highest completion percentage against Winnipeg (67.9 per cent);
  • Winnipeg has given up the second-most passing yards in the league (3,099) and the most plays from scrimmage (897);
  • Winnipeg has given up the most points per game of any team in the league -- 30.3.

So yeah, that's what the numbers say. Yet talk to Creehan -- Winnipeg's defensive co-ordinator -- and Tim Burke -- the team's head coach -- and they will tell you that as far as they're concerned, the Bombers defence hasn't been that bad this season.

'I think (Creehan) has done a really good job. I think we play hard and he's come up with really good pressure schemes'

-- Blue head coach Tim Burke

"I think (Creehan) has done a really good job," Burke said after practice at Investors Group Field Wednesday. "I think we play hard and he's come up with really good pressure schemes. I think he was a little conservative early in the year. I don't think he trusted our (secondary) to be good man-coverage guys. And I just told him, 'You've got to play man to get good at man.' And we've gotten better as we played more of it."

Creehan also defended his defence.

"I wouldn't say they're not performing well for the most part," he said, correcting a reporter. "No, I wouldn't say that. We've had our games where we haven't performed to our standards and games where we've hung in there and played pretty well."

Now, some of that might sound overly rosy coming from the men in charge of a defence that is 2-9 this season, especially given what the league statistics say about where the Bombers defence ranks -- particularly against the pass. But in defence of their defence of the defence -- say that three times quickly -- it does bear reminding that a big part of the problems the Bombers defence has had this season has been a function of the team's anemic offence.

The number of plays from scrimmage, for instance, that the Bombers have surrendered to opponents this season has at least as much to do with all the two-and-outs the Winnipeg offence has generated as any failing on the part of the defence.

You could also argue some of the other statistical deficiencies of this defence are also a function of poor offence. How many of those touchdown passes against or average points surrendered, for instance, came as the result of the Bombers offence turning over the ball deep in their own zone? Quite a few, probably, when you consider Winnipeg's 39 turnovers this year are the second highest in the league.

Still, what's maddening is that despite it all, this defence showed itself capable twice this year -- in a Week 2 win over Montreal and again two weeks ago in a win over Saskatchewan in the Banjo Bowl -- of overcoming all of it to lead this team to victory, not unlike the 2011 Bombers defence did in leading that team all the way to the Grey Cup game despite another edition of a poor Winnipeg offence.

And so it demands the obvious question.

If you could do it twice in 2013, why can't you do it all season long?

Because they haven't, said Burke.

"I don't think we've played great defence all year long -- we've been so up and down," said the coach, before revealing where he thinks this 2013 Winnipeg defence really stands in comparison to the rest of the league.

"I think we're an average defence in the league. We're probably in the middle of the pack -- we could be better if we played consistently well every week."

So let's close today with one final bit of math to be derived from this 2013 season: When you add an average defence to a horrendous offence, the sum equals two wins in 11 games.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 19, 2013 D4

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