It's become an all-too common sight over the last little while. And it must drive Mike O'Shea, Kyle Walters, Gary Etcheverry and anybody with their fingerprints on the Winnipeg Blue Bomber defence absolutely bonkers.
If it's not Jerome Messam of the Saskatchewan Roughriders last Thursday, it's Curtis Steele of the Toronto Argonauts a couple of nights ago, absolutely plowing through the heart of the Bombers defence with a number of would-be tacklers desperately clinging to the ball carriers like barnacles on a boat.
"We didn't tackle as well as we needed to on defence," said head coach O'Shea on his weekly radio show on CJOB Wednesday night (the team is not available to the rest of the media after a game).
"It's more focus than anything. Watching the tape you still see the defensive players really rallying to the ball, they're sprinting to the ball on every play, it's just the initial contact wasn't as solid as we needed.
"Credit to Toronto, too," added O'Shea. "When I watched the film they were very physical, their offence especially. To a man their receivers were blocking downfield on every run play... they were getting after it and we did not match their intensity."
Interestingly, however, where the uniqueness and innovation behind Etcheverry's defence was drawing rave reviews in the team's 5-1 start, it is now being questioned -- at least, outside of the club -- in the wake of two consecutive losses, the latest Tuesday's 38-21 setback in Toronto.
The Argos rushed for 174 yards against the Bombers, averaging 6.96 yards per carry. This, after the Riders jammed the ball down Winnipeg's throat last Thursday, finishing with 186 yards along the ground.
Just to hammer home how the Bombers look like they'd be hard-pressed to bring down a crawling baby these days, consider this:
- In the last two games Winnipeg has surrendered 360 yards along the ground -- 180 per game -- and an average of 6.67 yards every carry.
- Overall, Winnipeg's defence has already surrendered 929 yards in eight games this year and is giving up 5.66 rushing yards per carry.
All that, in basic terms, means the Bombers are not only getting pushed around at the line of scrimmage but have been inconsistent in their tackling. It means offences can grind for first downs or are often in second-and-short situations.
For the record, Etcheverry's defences have been sound enough to help lead the Riders to a Grey Cup berth in 2009 and 2010, despite having finished at or near the bottom against the run. The Bombers aren't unlike most other teams that have adopted the approach of converting defensive backs to linebackers to stop prolific passers but, with their emphasis on speed over size, do seem small at the position.
E.J. Kuale, who finished the game with his shoulder in a sling and is iffy for next week's game against Montreal, is the Bombers heaviest linebacker at 229. Ian Wild goes at 6-0, 208, but Teague Sherman, Derek Jones, Desia Dunn and Dan Unamba -- all of whom took turns at linebacker -- are all under 200 pounds.
By comparison, consider the Calgary Stampeders -- who entered Week 8 No. 1 against the run -- feature Deron Mayo (5-11, 225), Juwan Simpson (6-3, 234) and Keon Raymond (5-10, 198) at linebacker.
(Worth noting: the last Bomber championship team, in 1990, featured Greg Battle, 6-1, 225; Tyrone Jones, 6-0, 235; Paul Randolph 6-1, 225 and James West 6-2, 225 at linebacker).
All of this isn't to suggest the Bomber defensive line escapes blame, especially with them being the first line of defence and Bryant Turner Jr., Zach Anderson, Jake Thomas, Jason Vega and Greg Peach all need to be better.
There's also no question playing two games in six days made fatigue a factor. But the sloppy tackling was also an issue in the Rider game and in the loss to the Edmonton Eskimos on July 17 -- not coincidentally, the three contests in which the Bombers surrendered the most rushing yards this season.
Not surprisingly, O'Shea said Wednesday he has no issue with Etcheverry's scheme, nor the size of the defensive personnel. His beef, instead, is with the very basics of tackling.
"We do employ really only one large man in there in Zach Anderson (6-3, 270)," O'Shea told CJOB. "Everybody else is a different-size guy. We rely on speed and movement of the defence. I really think whereas the (media) might say they run an unsound defensive system, it's not that at all. As we break down film, we see where players maybe make a mistake. We see that the general concept of soundness and covering gaps is pretty good.
"The game prior, Saskatchewan employed the bigger running back (Messam) and he got moving and gained some yards pushing the pile. It was different than this last game. This last game we just missed some tackles."
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A look at the Bomber defence's numbers vs. the run this season:
Totals: 164 rushes for 929 yards; average of 5.6 yards