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Blue Bombers D gets an A for improvement

O'Shea impressed by way unit is coming together

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Taylor Loffler (16) and Chris Randle (8) chase down Hamilton Tiger-Cats' quarterback Jeremiah Masoli (8) as he drives for the touchdown line during the second half of CFL action in Winnipeg on Friday. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)</p>

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Taylor Loffler (16) and Chris Randle (8) chase down Hamilton Tiger-Cats' quarterback Jeremiah Masoli (8) as he drives for the touchdown line during the second half of CFL action in Winnipeg on Friday. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/8/2018 (768 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ offence gets a lot of attention.

After all, the unit leads the CFL in points scored with 268 — the Edmonton Eskimos are second with 221 — and also has the league’s best ground game with 1,221 rushing yards, with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats a distant second at 877 yards.

But even though the offensive side of the ball has some league-leading numbers, it’s the Blue defence that’s been deserving of the headlines lately.

The Bombers’ offence scored when they needed to in Friday’s victory over Hamilton at Investors Group Field, but they weren’t at their best. The defence was forced to come through in the clutch and prevent Tiger-Cats quarterback Jeremiah Masoli from leading his team to a game-winning drive with just over a minute left in the game. It was a situation that had many Bombers fans feeling uneasy, as the defence has failed to make game-saving stops in recent years. But middle linebacker Adam Bighill put an end to Hamilton’s final drive by plowing through running back Alex Green’s block to get his hands on Masoli, forcing him to throw the ball away on a third and 12 at Hamilton’s 45-yard line with 46 seconds left to seal the deal on a 29-23 victory.

"That’s what we can really take away from this game," defensive back Chris Randle said on the defence closing it out. "I think we got to recognize that (Hamilton) did do some good things, we played a really good team, but when it was time for us on those last two drives, the defence stepped up and made plays to win the game."

The defence has stepped up since their first meeting with Hamilton in Week 3, where Masoli threw for 369 yards to lead the Ticats to a 31-17 victory. In five games since, Friday’s contest was the first time the defence has allowed more than 20 points in a game. And unlike Week 3’s meeting, Masoli failed to pass for 300 yards — something he’s made look easy dating back to last season, as he’s eclipsed 300 yards passing in 11 out of his past 13 games — as he finished the night with 251 yards passing and a touchdown, while completing 17 of 27 attempts.

The Bombers didn’t pick off Masoli, but did take him down four times, which gives them the league lead in sacks with 21. The Blue and Gold also have the most interceptions in the CFL with 11 and have allowed 170 points this season, behind the undefeated Calgary Stampeders, who have held teams to 80 points in seven games. It’s safe to say eight games into the season, the 5-3 Bombers have proven they’re more than just an offensive juggernaut.

"I think it’s just morphing," Bighill said on the identity of the defence. "From the last couple years, from what I hear, is that the defence has been lagging a little bit behind the offence as far as production wise. You know, obviously, it’s not because I came that it changed, but that’s definitely not going to be my mindset when we come in here and play football. We’re all going to contribute on defence and have high expectations about what we’re going to be able to do. It’s great to see and to have the opportunity as a defence to close a game out when we need to close a game out."

There were some fingers being pointed at the defence for the team’s 1-2 start to the season, but Bighill said the scheme or the way they go about things hasn’t changed since then. Instead, the only thing that has changed is the fact they’re more familiar playing with each other.

"Guys now have been on our roster for a number of games now and learning how to play together and seeing things the same way," said Bighill, who had seven tackles, a sack and a forced fumble on Friday. "If you make a mistake, you clean it up and it doesn’t happen again. The chemistry we’re building and the improving on mistakes is compounding and we’re climbing a mountain. This is a long season and we’re hoping to reach a peak at the very end."

The unit’s improved chemistry obviously hasn’t gone unnoticed by head coach Mike O’Shea.

"They’re all impressive guys, but together, what I think I like the best is how they’re figuring it out together," O’Shea said.

"I think they’ve really come together and starting to really understand how each of their plays and each unit how they play affects the other guy or teammate beside them. I think they’re starting to really play as a defence, not as a D-line, or a linebacker group, or defensive back group, they’re really starting to figure it out all together."

taylor.allen@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @TaylorAllen31

Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen

Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.

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Updated on Monday, August 13, 2018 at 10:52 PM CDT: adds photo

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