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This article was published 29/10/2018 (351 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Everyone appreciates a head coach who goes for it, puts it on the line, and is uber-aggressive. It's a reflection of his belief in his team and players, of confidence in their ability to perform in the face of adversity.
What many of us are less certain about, however, is the value of being overly aggressive and rolling the dice when it isn’t called for.
With a final, meaningless, regular season game to go, it is time to take stock of the work that General Manager Kyle Walters and Head Coach Mike O’Shea have done. With their third consecutive winning season in a row, and third consecutive playoff opportunity, they have accomplished what no other pairing has done since Brendan Taman and Dave Ritchie in 2001, 2002, and 2003.
After a couple of seasons reshaping the roster into what they wanted, they have now created a consistent winner capable of beating any opponent, at any time. Considering the number of unsatisfactory years and seasons in between these streaks, it is a notable accomplishment for this franchise.
The next hurdle to overcome will obviously be securing that first playoff win, of which the Taman and Ritchie tandem had two, including two divisional final games, and a berth in the Grey Cup. Going forward, the only thing that concerns me about this football team is the tendency to roll the dice, and take needless risks, when the situation doesn't call for it. In fact, this team is so well balanced and so good right now, they don’t need to play that high-risk, high-reward game anymore to be successful.
In case you missed the Calgary game, up by two scores — or 11 points — with approximately four minutes remaining in the fourth, and his defence playing lights out, O’Shea went for it, on his own 28-yard line. Up in the broadcast booth, we both agreed that punting, and giving the defence a long field to defend, was the right call for the situation. O’Shea decided to go for it, and, as he told us after the game, it was because of how successful his team is at converting these scenarios.
In fact, a few minutes later, he was presented with a similar situation — with only a few inches to go this time — and he went for it again, and got it. But the scenario in question didn’t work out, and it almost cost this team the game. Had Dave Dickenson, the head coach for Calgary, just taken a field goal, or had the right call been made on that third-down touchdown pass, Winnipeg might have lost this game. Calgary would have been down by only three or eight, with three minutes left in the game.
Largely, I don't blame the guy. To be a head coach, you have to have an unfailing belief in your football team. You have to believe that they will come through for in make-or-break scenarios. Head coaches can’t just pretend to be on board, they have to be on board. If you blow smoke at your players, or if your play calls are overly conservative and you flinch away from challenging moments, they will know you don't believe in them, and there goes the locker room.
And Mike O’Shea believes in his team without a shadow of a doubt. He thinks they can accomplish almost anything. He believes in them more than anyone else. He definitely thinks they can win a title, and this year, he might be right. But this unfailing belief and confidence shouldn't override what a situation calls for.
Nobody reviews film more than coaches. They watch game film mere moments after road games on the flight home. They watch game film in their offices, minutes after a home game. They pore over it, they rewind it, they slow it down. I daresay that by the time the team is finished watching any particular game film, they’ve probably seen it some 20-odd times.
When Mike O’Shea watches the game against Calgary, I hope he stops it before he directs the offence to go for it on third and a long one from his own 28-yard line. I hope he looks at the down, the distance, the score, the clock, how his defence is playing and where they are on the football field. And
I hope, if this scenario repeats itself in the post-season, that he punts the football away and just lets his supremely talented team do the job for him.
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.