The battle is always won in the trenches!
Every football game will come down to which team is able to control the line of scrimmage. The big boys up front don't often dominate the headlines but you can't ignore the impact they had on the outcome in the CFL's East and West finals on Sunday.
The major storyline entering the West final was whether Edmonton's offensive line could handle the push from B.C.'s defensive line. We were all waiting to see how Lions head coach Wally Buono was going juggle his roster as it appeared he had too many able bodies ready to play.
Instead of sitting a D-lineman, Buono decided to rotate all six and sit receiver Akeem Foster. This move illustrates that Buono understood the key to this game was to make sure that Edmonton quarterback Ricky Ray was pressured and that the play needed to be stopped before it had a chance to get started.
By rotating six defensive linemen, he ensured that he always had players with fresh legs on the field which proved to be too much for the Eskimos offensive line.
Losing running back Jerome Messam to injury for this game was a huge blow because of his ability to help out with pass protection. The Lions push up front to collapse the pocket eliminated the necessary time Ray needed to complete balls downfield.
Some have questioned whether B.C. defensive lineman Khalif Mitchell was deserving of his league recognition this year. Mitchell was hilarious to watch, as he went through his pre-snap dance and then pointed at his next victim.
The speed at which the six-foot-five, 315-pounder is capable of coming off of the line is impressive. Snap after snap he got both Edmonton guards back on their heels and drove them right into Ray.
Marsh steps up
Down 26-3 at halftime, Edmonton was forced to take some shots downfield which led to four turnovers. Defensive back Dante Marsh has been solid for the Lions all season. You don't often hear his name because he is usually eliminating the opponents' short-side receiver, forcing quarterbacks to go to their second read. Marsh came up with two key turnovers to seal the victory for the Lions and is well deserving of some headlines this week.
The Lions were never out of complete control of this football game. They understood what needed to be done against the Eskimos and went out and executed their game plan. It wasn't until the fourth quarter, when the defence let its foot off the gas to ensure the victory, that Edmonton was able to score some majors.
The boys up front on the Lions offensive line were just as dominant. Their play completely frustrated rush end Marcus Howard, who ended the game with three penalties for hitting B.C. quarterback Travis Lulay late and received a tongue-lashing from Edmonton head coach Kavis Reed for his lack of discipline. The Eskimos finished the game with 12 penalties for 80 yards.
I am not sure if everyone fully appreciated how amazing "The Catch" from Geroy Simon was. Big-time players step up in big games to make big-time plays. There was none more impressive than the one-handed catch he made downfield against the Eskimos.
What made this catch even more impressive was that he caught the ball with his left hand while he shielded the defender off with his right arm. A wily move by a veteran all-star receiver.
Lulay has matured into a seasoned quarterback. He was composed through each snap and made solid decisions distributing the ball to seven different receivers, while choosing to throw the ball away when necessary. What has been understated through his career is how athletic Lulay is. The play when he ran 61 yards for a touchdown demonstrated what Lulay has in the tank.
The Lions are playing with a lot of swagger and now get a chance to stake their claim on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, better known earlier in the season as Swaggerville.
The Hamilton Tiger Cats came face to face with a Blue Bombers team that played much more aggressive and prepared to seize the opportunity. Although Winnipeg played an amazing defensive game, Hamilton head coach Marcel Bellefeuille has to be disappointed with the lack of offensive execution of his football team.
The Ticats' attempt to grab some inside information by signing Bombers receiver Terrence Jeffers-Harris on Friday obviously didn't work because quarterback Kevin Glenn and the Tiger-Cats offence had no answer for the swarming Bomber defence and never looked like they got into any rhythm.
You can't help but feel for the veteran Glenn and his continual misfortune of getting hurt in big games. Prior to getting sidelined with a knee injury on Sunday he was simply missing throws he needed to make.
Finishing with 113 yards passing in three quarters of work is not going to get it done. Unfortunately, critics will once again be convinced that Glenn is not the quarterback to lead this team to a championship.
Entering the game, it was imperative for the Hamilton offence to establish a rushing attack anchored by Avon Cobourne and supported by creative misdirection plays with Marcus Thigpen and Chris Williams.
Hamilton's lack of execution at the point of attack eliminated any chance for the Ticats to consistently move the chains. When you have negative rushing totals for individuals, it means your offensive line is losing the battle up front. Williams and Thigpen finished the game with a total of minus-1 yards rushing.
The performance of Cobourne was central to Hamilton's success, and he was contained to only 28 yards rushing. The only play that seemed to have any success against the Bombers defence was a shovel pass that Cobourne ran four times for 39 yards.
I don't really care how cold it was yesterday ... the Ticats did not come ready to fight.
Once again, the Bombers defence completely frustrated Hamilton's offence with its speed and aggressiveness. Holding an opponent to only one field goal is impressive. More impressive was how disciplined this defensive group is.
The Bombers defence came into this game well prepared to shut down any attempt by the Ticats to execute a creative rushing attack with various misdirection plays. In order to shut down this style of play, each individual needs to fully understand their role and be disciplined to execute their job rather than play with their eyes.
Misdirection plays can only work when a defensive unit attacks the look of a play rather than staying sound in their defensive responsibilities. The Bombers defence is not only an aggressive and talented bunch, but proved it fully understands the discipline of team defence.
Offensively, the Bombers manhandled the Tiger-Cats on the line of scrimmage. Running back Chris Garrett ran with explosiveness and hit the holes fast. The Bombers offensive line was extremely good at creating the space for Garrett, who was too powerful for their secondary. The fact Winnipeg rushed for 271 yards is nothing short of embarrassing.
What will hurt the most for the Tiger-Cats is realizing they simply got beat by a stronger opponent.
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