They are leading all the juicy and meaningful statistical categories the Canadian Football League tracks – points allowed, second down conversion rate against and turnovers forced among them.
Yet, ask those in and around the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive huddle and they’ll insist there is so much more room to grow, so much more work to do – even after last Sunday’s 23-8 Labour Day Classic win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders, an outcome which marked the third time in five games this team has held an opponent under 10 points. Further to that, the Bombers have held teams to just 67 points after five games a total, which we pointed out in this week’s Upon Further Review hasn’t been this low since 1958.
Think about that for a moment – no Bombers team since the days of Herb Gray and Buddy Tinlsey, Gord Rowland, Dave Burkholder and Steve Patrick has surrendered this low a point total over the first handful of games.
“We enjoy the game right afterwards. We have that enjoyment right there. But when it’s time to get back to work it’s like that game never even happened,” said safety Brandon Alexander. “You look at the positive things so you can keep matching those up, but then you look at the things we could have taken care of, we could have made better plays or better adjustments. We harp on those plays because those are the plays that could potentially get us beat.”
“We’re always going to have good things every game, but you don’t count those. You count the ones that are things we’ve got to work on, things that they could have hit us on and we clean those up. We don’t clean up good things, you clean up all the bad things. There was a lot of things on that tape we have to clean up and we’re doing it right now.”
Alexander specifically referenced a play in the first quarter – a double move by Riders receiver Kyran Moore in which he got behind defenders but was overthrown by quarterback Cody Fajardo. And there was more, too. Like missed tackles.
“I can count three of them myself, personally,” said Alexander. “We had missed tackles out there. We want to play a perfect game. Is that going to happen? No. But you want to play as close to perfect as you can. Missed tackles, more hands on the ball.”
Now remember, this detailed self-critique comes after a win which pushed the Bombers into first place in the CFL’s always competitive West Division standings. And it comes at the start of a season in which the Bombers lost starting dime back Mercy Maston for the year with an Achilles in training camp and then saw his replacement, Josh Johnson, drop with an injury a week later.
Starting weak side linebacker Kyrie Wilson has yet to take a snap and dominant defensive tackle Steven ‘Stove’ Richardson has been out since Week 1 with a foot injury. Oh, and three different CFL rookies have made starts in the secondary in Deatrick Nichols, DeAundre Alford and Josh Miller. Undoubtedly this tone is set by head coach Mike O’Shea, who was asked after the game on Sunday if the defence ‘takes pride’ in holding three opponents to less than 10 points in five games this year. O’Shea responded with a cautious tone, suggesting ‘pride can be dangerous.’
After Wednesday’s practice O’Shea was asked if that type of thinking is an attempt to keep his defensive crew humble or if it was based on a previous experience as a coach or player. Or both, perhaps.
“I believe the defence played very well. It was a terrific game,” he said. “They took the ball away, they limited the yards, they tackled well, they had pressure, they played a physical brand of football like they need to. It was a really pleasing game.
“But, once again, I think it’s part of who we are – you’ve got to move on. They were certainly going to enjoy that win that night, I just don’t think you can stare in the rearview mirror and admire it for too long.”
And the admiration of Labour Day Classic – as impressive as it was – ended long before the club even came back to work this week.
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