August 26, 2021

“We were like a rollercoaster”

Defensive Coordinator Richie Hall

Take a quick glance at the Canadian Football League’s weekly statistical package and two numbers jump out as they relate to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defence: Points allowed: 14.3. Rank: 1.

Yet, for a second straight week, the Bombers defence has spent the last few days flogging themselves for their collective mistakes made – particularly against the run – after giving up over 149 yards along the ground in last Saturday’s 30-23 loss to the Toronto Argonauts. Couple that with the 123 rushing yards the Argos generated in a 20-7 win by the Bombers two weeks ago and those are some gaudy totals for a unit that gave up a measly 64.2 yards average along the ground in 2019.

And for a crew that set such a high standard in the Grey Cup run and into the first two weeks of the 2021 season, that simply doesn’t measure up.

“Defensively we haven’t played physical football from a consistent perspective,” said Bombers defensive coordinator Richie Hall on Thursday, following a practice session closed to the media. “We’ve made some plays at times, but one of the things we pride ourselves on is being a physical defence, a physical football team.

“And these last two weeks we, umm, s—t the bed. Excuse my language, but that’s what we did. We can’t have that type of a mentality and expect to be successful because that’s where everything starts.”

It’s worth noting here that the Bombers’ problems in last week’s loss were across the board, from two field goal misses, to the troubles on defence to the offence sputtering on so many possessions. Those are all intertwined, too. For example, the offence’s inability to stay on the field – the Argos had twice as much time of possession – meant the Bombers’ D was seemingly back on the field not long after trotting to the sideline and gulping down a swig of Gatorade.

Winnipeg’s attack managed just 12 first downs and 233 net yards and was also hurt by three pass drops by receivers. Asked about those drops impact the offence’s ability to stay on the field, offensive coordinator Buck Pierce offered this:

“There’s mistakes to go around. Too many mental mistakes. Too many opportunities where we didn’t focus on what we needed to do to get our job done and having 12 guys on the same page.

“Obviously you can’t have drops. In three down football you’ve got to make those plays and our guys will make those plays and we’ll continue to give our guys those opportunities to make those plays. You can’t drop the football and we’ve got to be on the same page and continue to do what we do.”

The perplexing thing for the Bombers, based on their recent body of work – ‘recent’ including the ’19 playoff run – would be why these assignment mistakes and mental errors have occurred over the last two weeks.

“The ‘why’ part is always the human element,” said Hall. “Why do we do what we do? How can you do it on one play but not on the next play. It has to be that consistent attitude: ‘this is what we do, this is our DNA.’ Whether we make the play or we don’t make the play, we’ve got to be physical because if you’re not physical you get run over – especially up front, they control the line of scrimmage and when that happens it’s a long day for us.”

“When you look at our performance the other day, we were like a rollercoaster. There was peaks and valleys. But the thing that was eliminated is we weren’t physical, we weren’t aggressive. We have to get that back. How do we get that back? It’s just an attitude. You have to go in with the mindset that’s the way we’re going to play football.”

Thursday’s chat with the coordinators also included a discussion on this week’s opponent, the Calgary Stampeders, who pay a visit Sunday night. The Stamps, 1-2 after a critical win over the Montreal Alouettes last week, arrive with rookie Jake Maier at quarterback and not veteran Bo Levi Mitchell. Maier looked solid in his debut last week, but Hall was asked if there was a time in his career where he was over confident because his squad was playing a back-up quarterback.

“I guess when you’re 5-6 you don’t have anything to be over-confident about,” said Hall with a size-large grin. “When you get to this level, everyone’s a good player because they’ve done something right to be playing at a professional level.

“When I look at our defence, when I look at our football team, we can’t go into any game being over confident because, first, we haven’t accomplished everything. Everyone is good and in order to win you have to play well. You can’t expect to go out there and not play well and expect to be victorious.

“Us being over confident… we can’t,” added Hall. “We’re coming off a loss. We haven’t played well in the last two weeks, so we have to take care of business. We’ve got to make sure we’re fundamentally sound and we play together as a group.”