Has Swaggerville lost its SWAG?
When I think of the Winnipeg Bombers defence last season, I think of tough physical football played by athletes that could seize control of the game and dictate to opposing offences what they could and could not do.
I think of players who knew they were good and then each week showed us that they were. The Bombers played solid team defence in 2011 and entertained us by making the amazing look easy.
Winnipeg was good enough to trick opposing quarterbacks into throwing the ball in their direction and then jump routes to intercept the football.
Players that intimidated quarterbacks with their speed off the line and pursuit from sideline to sideline. In a league that was built for offence, it was the defence that stole the spotlight in Winnipeg last season and man it was entertaining to watch.
I remember the first time that I had a chance to watch the Winnipeg defence in 2011. It was early in the season when the Bombers were playing the B.C. Lions at Empire Stadium, and they completely frustrated a young Travis Lulay. That was the first and only time I have seen the Lions quarterback lose his composure during a game.
When the Bomber defence took the field, it was in complete control of the contest.
I was in the stands this past week to witness the 2011 Grey Cup rematch between Winnipeg and B.C. After watching the game all I can say is the SWAG has left Swaggerville.
Granted, Lulay is a much more seasoned CFL quarterback. However, last year Winnipeg waltzed right into Montreal early in the season and made the Alouettes, led by Anthony Calvillo, look average.
Lulay never looked uncomfortable in the pocket this past week. Bottom line... if you allow a quarterback to have time, he will eventually find someone open. Even though the game was 16-10 after three quarters, it reflected the Lions' inability to execute more so than a stingy Bomber defence. Advantage: defence
If there was a time that the Bombers should have looked dominant it was in week one. The advantage always goes to the defence in the first game because the offence does not have the ability to break down film in order to prepare a game plan. A perfect example of this was seen in the Montreal-Calgary game.
Newly acquired Stampeders defensive co-ordinator Rick Campbell did a very nice job holding his cards close to his chest through the pre-season by using very basic defensive concepts. Keeping the play book closed kept the veteran Montreal offence guessing and on their heels throughout the game, resulting in Anthony Calvillo throwing for only 11 first downs and 174 yards passing.
The Stamps look like they have a solid defensive group this year, but I don't believe these are the kind of statistics that we will be seeing from the Montreal offence.
Swaggerville looked ordinary.
A dominant defence always starts with having a strong defensive line. Last season, the Bombers controlled games because they owned the line of scrimmage. They controlled first downs by stopping the run, and could pin their ears back on second down and get after the quarterback.
The success the Bomber secondary had -- holding opposing offences to the fewest yards in the league in 2011 -- had more to do with the defensive line's speed in forcing the ball out of the quarterback's hand than the skill of their secondary in blanketing receivers.
Don't get me wrong, Winnipeg's secondary is extremely good, but when you have a defensive front that can pressure an opposing quarterback, you're not forced into turning around and chasing opposing receivers downfield as much.
When you have the ability to force opposing pivots to make quick throws, you have more time to anticipate the quarterback's release and break up a play or make an interception.
An imposing pass rush will make the quarterback release the ball within two seconds and minimize opportunities for the offence. A threatening pass rush will take away opportunities for the receiver, who won't have enough time to get up on the defensive back and forcing them to turn their head away from their quarterback. It will create opportunities for the defensive secondary to break on the football and make a play rather than move away down field in coverage.
A perfect example of this was Lions receiver Geroy Simon's 57-yard reception that made him the league's all-time leading receiver. A dominant pass rush would not have given Simon enough time to get 40 yards down field.Dangerous pass rush
Bottom line, the Bombers do not have a dangerous pass rush this season.
Without it, Jovon Johnson looked average and only had one tackle in the game. Johnathan Hefney looked like his feet were stuck in mud as he was forced to clutch and grab receivers who got a step past him down field. A talented Winnipeg secondary looked average because Lulay had too much time in the pocket.
Was Odell Willis the Mayor of Swaggerville?
Although Odell Willis was held off of the stat sheet against the Tiger-cats this week, he made his presence felt by being quick off the line and forcing Ticat quarterback Henry Burris to release the ball early or pull the it down and take that extra step to escape the rush, which took him out of his rhythm with his receivers. It was nice to see that Willis still has that amazing first step and it is his ability to get to the quarterback quickly that the Bombers are missing right now.
The Riders had a great showing in week one, but this young team still has a long way to go. What I really liked about what I saw from Saskatchewan's defence was how this young group played with confidence on the field. They made a few mistakes, but had a front that attacked the quarterback and a secondary that was aggressive to the ball.
Young players will feed off the confidence that Willis brings to the field. They will thrive on the enjoyment and excitement that he has for the game.
I loved the picture of Willis celebrating with Weston Dressler after he caught one of his touchdown passes. He brings leadership to the Riders and fosters an atmosphere of confidence which breads success.
Has Winnipeg lost the Mayor of Swaggerville?
The reason why the Western conference dominated week one was due to great defensive play that started with strong play from the defensive line. It is not uncommon for offences to lag behind early in the year and I anticipate that we will see improvement in week 2.
However, does Swaggerville still exist in Winnipeg? Maybe in BC, Calgary or Edmonton... unfortunately it looks like the SWAG has left Winnipeg.
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