The more and varied ways you can win a football game, the more football games you can win.
On Friday night, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers predominantly relied on a different recipe for success in their game against Hamilton, namely the efforts of their special teams, and particularly their defence, to win their third consecutive game.
It is well known there are three phases that compete in every football contest. If you win all three — offence, defence and special teams — you undoubtedly win the game.
If you win two of those three phases (unless you turn the ball over a ridiculous amount) you also win the game.
If you only win one of those phases, the only way you get to taste victory is if that single group is so exceedingly dominant, they take over the entire game.
Over the last couple of successful seasons for the Bombers, and so far this year, where they’ve amassed a 28-16 win/loss record, the ingredients for winning have usually been the same. It’s most frequently been the offence and special teams winning out, operating with clinical efficiency and not making mistakes, while the defence throws in a few turnovers for good measure while they give up yardage like the PGA tour.
On occasion, the offence could be good enough to win games by themselves, but they were most frequently aided by the golden, robotic foot of Medlock, some occasional third-down trickery, and their cover aces.
The defence, with rare exceptions, were merely part of the entourage. If you used to watch Entourage on HBO, think of them as the defensive version of Johnny Drama, to the offensive Vincent Chase. They were game, they showed up, they took away lots of footballs and thought they were a big deal, but let's not kid ourselves; they were in tow, and riding the wave of the superstar.
Well, if the defence spent most of the last two years largely in the shadow of its big, offensive, brother, they have spent most of the 2018 season auditioning for a bigger role, and are starting to show glimpses of their own star power.
Almost halfway into the CFL season, only one defence has given up fewer points, and that’s the undefeated Calgary Stampeders. While their big brother — the Winnipeg offence — is averaging the most points per game in the league, the defence is sitting comfortably behind Calgary surrendering an average of only 21 points per game. They’ve allowed the third-fewest average yards per game, and the second-fewest yards per play. They are second in takeaways behind Calgary, and first in interceptions, and sacks. They are third in the CFL against the run, they have allowed the second-fewest yards per average pass, and the second-fewest completions of 30 yards or more.
What a contrast from the previous two seasons.
It’s fair to say that this performance has gone largely unnoticed in 2018, thanks to the exciting show its offensive counterpart puts on weekly, but it is high time they start getting their due.
On Friday night, this team would not have won without the clutch performance from its defence. Their defensive line simply could not be blocked five on four. Their linebacking crew, and particularly Adam Bighill, were making impact plays sideline-to-sideline, against the run and pass. And aside from the performance of Brandon Banks, who is currently a top three receiver in the league, they largely kept the rest of the Hamilton aerial attack in check.
The 2018 CFL season appears to be a paradigm shift for Blue Bomber football. They no longer have to be brilliant, creative and execute at the highest levels offensively, game in and game out, to win in this league. They can now have an off night moving the football, and make up for it with spectacular, and complementary, play by the defence.
Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears weekly in the Free Press.
Doug Brown, always a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.