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Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Ryan Dinwiddie (4) is sacked by Montreal Alouettes Anwar Stewart (9) and John Bowman (48) in Canadian Football League action in Winnipeg, August 8, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Greenslade (FRED GREENSLADE)
Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Ryan Dinwiddie (4) is sacked by Montreal Alouettes Anwar Stewart (9) and John Bowman (48) in Canadian Football League action in Winnipeg, August 8, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Greenslade (FRED GREENSLADE)

Als learned lesson in Winnipeg Add to ...

The enough-is-enough moment came, as these things sometimes do, on a trip to Winnipeg five weeks ago.

On that Saturday in late October, the Montreal Alouettes suffered a sloppy defeat at the hands of the Blue Bombers, which followed a narrow victory the previous week over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

In those two games, the CFL's league-leading defence gave up 79 points and almost 1,000 yards in total offence, and began showing worrying signs of fray.

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"We had 86 points to give to be the best defence in CFL history, in a hundred years … maybe it was mentioned to us a little early and guys got a bit greedy, but I'll you what, I was pissed after those two games," said defensive lineman Eric Wilson, who has emerged this season as one of the key elements in the Als' fearsome pass rush.

"Seventy-nine points in two games? It took eight games before that to score 80 points on us, and then we come out and give up all those points? It's unacceptable. We got into the room and had a heart-to-heart with guys."

The offshoot of the discussion was a decision to knuckle down and study more video, above and beyond the more than four hours daily already mandated by the coaches.

"Every day, we bring snacks, we sit down, we talk about what we need to do, so when it's game time, there aren't any questions in our head," Wilson said.

In the three games since the Winnipeg debacle, the Als have yielded just 48 points and battered opposing offences into submission with a voracious pressure defence.

Rush end John Bowman co-led the CFL with 12 sacks, the defence as a whole allowed the fewest points, fewest rushing yards, fewest first downs and fewest passing yards in the league.

"I told the young guys it's about leaving your mark," said Anwar Stewart, nominated as the league's top defensive player at the CFL awards last night. "Since [Winnipeg] everybody's been coming in here early and staying here late, been in the playbooks and talking to the coaches."

If the Als lost the 2008 Grey Cup at least in part because they couldn't shut down the Calgary Stampeders' passing game, this year's edition has no such worries.

"There's definitely more confidence," defensive co-ordinator Tim Burke said. "I think we played just as hard last year, but we were limited in what we could do, we were basically a zone team last year. … There's just such a camaraderie, there's such an esprit de corps amongst the defence that is better than it was."

In the off-season, Burke and head coach Marc Trestman sat down to devise a defence that would rely more on man-to-man coverage in the secondary and provide more sustained pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

"In this league, because of the size of the field, you have to be able to play man-to-man coverage," Trestman said. "Last year we tried to do it, we didn't feel we were equipped to handle it. … We sat down with [general manager]Jim [Popp]at the end of the season, and he obviously did another unbelievable job of infusing our football team with the kinds of players we need to do what we've done."

Popp promptly unearthed halfbacks Jerald Brown and Billy Parker (who combined for six interceptions) and all-purpose defensive back De'Audra Dix.

Halfback Chip Cox was moved to linebacker, and Trestman opted to start rookie Shea Emry at middle linebacker.

"We took a leap of faith with some players," said the second-year head coach, who insisted he deserves no credit for the defensive rejuvenation and lauded the job done by Burke and defensive line coach Mike Sinclair, linebackers coach Tim Tibesar, who is primarily responsible for the Als' blitzing schemes, and defensive quality control assistant Jean-Marc Edmé.

 

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