The Blue Bombers haven’t shown a discernible weakness during their 3-0 start to the 2019 CFL season, but superb play from their defensive unit has been deserving of extra praise.
Winnipeg hasn’t allowed an offensive touchdown since Week 1, and the club’s 10 takeaways have resulted in a CFL-best plus-five turnover ratio. In addition, the Blue Bombers defence ranks second in net offence allowed (331 yards per game) and first downs (19.66 per game).
How did they rate?
"I’m tough, so I figure a B-plus," Winnipeg defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall said following practice Tuesday at IG Field. "We had opportunities to do some things earlier — Drake (Nevis) dropped an interception (against the Ottawa Redblacks) and we had another interception dropped. So, if we can minimize those things and still tighten up a few things, I think we’ll do better. But we’re continuing to improve and that’s what I like."
Head coach Mike O’Shea seems pleased.
"I don’t think they’ve reached their peak and you hate to blame things on luck," O’Shea said.
NEXT MAN UP: Wide receiver Chris Matthews is expected to miss Friday’s game against the visiting Toronto Argonauts, and that could mean another start for rookie Kenny Lawler.
The 25-year-old American was targeted four times and caught two passes for 19 yards in Winnipeg’s regular-season opener against the B.C. Lions. He hasn’t played since.
"It’s hard staying patient, but patience is a virtue," Lawler said. "You’ve just gotta prepare like you’re a starter and wait for your turn. When preparation meets opportunity, make the most of it."
In times like this, Lawler leans on his father, Kenneth Lawler Sr., for guidance. The elder Lawler was a cornerback during his college days at the University of Oregon and is currently the defensive co-ordinator at San Bernadino (Calif.) Valley College.
"My dad’s always been there when it came to football," Lawler said. "He’s a defensive guy, and with me being a wide receiver, he teaches me about the defences and how to defeat coverages and how to be presentable to the quarterback in certain coverages. Him instilling that in me at a really young age really helped."
NOTEWORTHY: Winnipeg special-teams leader Mike Miller was honoured as one of the CFL’s performers of the week after tying a league record with seven special-teams tackles in the win over Ottawa.
Miller leads the CFL with eight special-teams tackles in three games. In 2018, his 22 special-teams tackles were two behind club leader Chandler Fenner.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
Updated on Tuesday, July 9, 2019 at 8:27 PM CDT: Adds photos.