It has been the very best part of the very best defence in the CFL this season.
But the question now is whether the pass rush of the 2013 Winnipeg Blue Bombers will go down as one of the very best to ever play in the CFL.
Yes, it's still very early. But wow, consider the numbers:
- With 18 sacks through just the first three games of 2013, the Bombers defence is presently on pace to register 108 sacks for the year. That would demolish the previous single-season sack record for a team -- Calgary's 85 sacks recorded way back in 1986.
- The 18 sacks Winnipeg has already recorded is already almost halfway to the 43 sacks they recorded in all of 2012, when they finished second overall in sacks in the CFL.
- The Bombers have recorded seven sacks in a single game in each of the last two weeks.
- Bombers defensive end Alex Hall leads the CFL with five sacks through the first three games and has now recorded 14 sacks in his last 17 games going back to last year. If he could somehow continue his torrid pace this season, Hall would finish with 30 sacks in 2013 and shatter James Parker's single-season sack record of 26.5 set back in 1984.
Now, it's not new that the Bombers have a solid pass rush. In addition to finishing second in sacks last season, the Bombers defence also led the CFL in that critical category in both 2011 and 2010.
'As long as we continue to execute the way we have, it's very possible we can keep this up. Everything's possible if we keep executing the way we have'
But this year's early sack tally is so eye-popping -- and counter-indicated by the team's lowly 1-2 season record -- that it seems to beg the question whether it's all just an early season mirage or statistical noise.
Not so, say the men responsible for laying those quarterbacks on their backsides this year.
"As long as we continue to execute the way we have, it's very possible we can keep this up. Everything's possible if we keep executing the way we have," said Bombers defensive end Kenny Mainor Thursday after his team staged a final light practice at Investors Group Field in advance of tonight's home tilt against the Toronto Argonauts.
While it sounds boring, Mainor's mantra about execution was repeated up and down the Bombers defensive line this week by a unit that maintains their play to this point in the season is the result of nothing more complicated than X's and O's, flawlessly executed.
Bombers rookie tackle Zach Anderson -- one of three rookies that make up the platoon of players that constitute the always evolving Bombers front four -- says a lot of the credit for this year's success has to go defensive co-ordinator Casey Creehan and defensive line coach Will Plemons.
"When it comes to seven sacks a game, it comes down to coach Creehan and coach Plemons putting together the right packages for us. They have us stunt when we need to stunt, they have us doing straight verticals when we need straight verticals," explains Anderson.
"A lot of our success, really, goes straight back to them and the work they do during the week."
Plemons, who is in his second-year as Bombers defensive line coach and follows in that position in the long shadow of the late Richard Harris, says the sack statistic is not something he really concerns himself with much.
"I don't expect us to have seven sacks a game, every game. What I want is just for us to put consistent pressure on the quarterback, game in and game out, every rep. And if we do that, the sacks will come and go but we'll be creating havoc," said Plemons.
While the Bombers front-four has earned the headlines for all those sacks -- 16 of the 18 have been made by linemen -- the performance of the entire front-seven has also more quietly built the stingiest run defence in the league, holding opponents to under 70 yards rushing per game so far.
But it's the sacks that generate the most attention -- and not entirely without reason. The CFL stats department trotted out an interesting number this week that illustrates just how important sacks are:
Offensive drives this season in which there has been no sack have resulted in 57 TDs, or one in ever five possessions. But when there has been a sack, an offensive drive has resulted in a TD just three times -- or one in every 21 drives.
So if sacks kill drives, does that mean Hall (27; 6-6, 256; St. Augustine's) is the league's leading serial killer?
"I'd like to say thank you," Hall said with a grin the other day. "Sometimes when you don't have the best talent, technique can take over. And if you don't have the best technique, talent can make the difference.
"I guess I just try to merge the two. And I don't think a lot of people can do that."