December 7, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
The names mostly stay the same, and yet somehow the on-field face of the Blue Bombers defence seems to change: they were handsome in Montreal once, won that game and left Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo shaking with frustration.
That was, of course, the only game of seven the Bombers have won this year.
Because there is also... the other look, the one fans and coaching staff are coming to know too well. It's the look the Blue and Gold defence showed against Hamilton last week: grabby, scrambly and a little desperate. Sometimes, the sheer will of talents such as Alex Hall can compensate -- the defensive end has nine sacks in seven tilts this season, as many as he made last year in all 14 games he played. But when they don't...
"We haven't covered very well," head coach Tim Burke said bluntly after Thursday's practice. "We haven't played a lot of man coverage. When you play more zone, there's more completions. Also last week, we didn't get as good a pass rush as we normally get, so the quarterback's standing back there patting the ball. And then I think a third thing is, our defence is on the field a lot."
Yeah, well, with a rookie quarterback finding his way in the saddle, that pressure's going to happen. That's not necessarily news to the defensive crew, not after some rocky offensive years.
"It's kind of been like that since I've been here, everything's been on the defence," Hall said. "Obviously as a defender, you kind of want that pressure on you. When they say you should rely on your defence, you should feel like 'OK, I want to stop this.' "
The issue now is actually stopping things. Thanks to Hall and his colleagues, the Blue Bombers lead the CFL in sacks and account for half of the top eight sackers in the league. But opposing quarterbacks have been handily getting the ball down the field, and Tiger-Cats quarterback Henry Burris threw for 333 yards against the Bombers last week.
To clamp down on that, Burke would like to see his team look "hungry."
On that note, cornerback Jovon Johnson is champing at the bit to unleash more physicality.
"When we're allowed to be more physical and press man coverage, I think we're a lot better as a defence," Johnson said. "Versus playing a lot more zone, where we're not as aggressive... Ultimately, it boils down to being closer to the receivers to actually make a play."
So long, of course, as they keep their hands where they belong. The Bombers defensive corps took a handful of pass interference penalties last week, which didn't exactly help things.
"That was big for them, as far as field position," Johnson said. "We can't be grabbing guys... We gotta be smart about what we're doing and just go out there and try to make a play."
Consistency, physicality, making the play: those words were echoed from several Bombers defensive minds on Thursday, but saying and doing aren't always one and the same. Burke knows this, and he knows he's got talent on the roster, but the looming question is if it's enough to show that one consistent face.
"That's one of the great questions of coaching," said Burke. "Sometimes, when you're mediocre, that happens. You tend to be up one week and down another. I think when you're a real good team, then you tend to be consistently good. Then when you're really crappy, you're consistently bad."
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 23, 2013 C3