It's give and take for Ticats
By Frank Zicarelli, QMI Agency
|Ticats Avon Cobourne rushes the ball during first half action in Hamilton on Setp. 5, 2011. (MARK O'NEILL/QMI Agency)
HAMILTON - There is nothing Winnipeg’s opportunistic defence throws at opponents that hasn’t been seen in three-down football.
Whether it’s applying a pass rush with an interior push, coming off the edges or mixing coverages in the back end, the Blue Bombers have been able to go from a four-win team to a squad playing host to this Sunday’s East final by making plays.
It’s as simple as it is obvious, a fact of football life, that the Ticats have experienced in three regular-season meetings with the Bombers. In each game, the Ticats came out on the losing end, each time the victims of the turnover ratio.
More than any area heading into the weekend, ball protection has been a topic in Tiger Town. In the combined three losses to Winnipeg, the Ticats were a minus-7 in the giveaway/takeaway rating, a number that simply cannot be repeated if they hope to advance to the Grey Cup.
Playoff football often comes down to the team that wins the turnover battle, an area Hamilton won with a plus-1 last weekend when it ventured into Montreal. The two turnovers the Ticats created led to 10 points, including an interception return by Jamall Johnson that put the ball on Montreal’s four-yard line.
But what separates Winnipeg from most other CFL teams is its ability to score on defence. In the three games against Hamilton, the Bombers produced three pick-sixes against Kevin Glenn.
“It reminds me of back in the day of the Toronto Argos defence, when they used to do the same things by scoring a bunch of points on defence,’’ Glenn said.
Back then, it was Rich Stubler calling the shots for the Argos defence, a unit that would compensate for a sputtering attack and ultimately be the catalyst behind a Grey Cup win in 2004.
While capable on offence, especially when a ground game is established to set up play-action, Winnipeg’s strength is on defence.
And of the matchups that will determine the East representative in next week’s Grey Cup, Hamilton’s offence versus Winnipeg’s defence is the one the Ticats must win, or at least hold their own in, by not turning over the ball.
“You have to keep it (football) away from them,’’ Glenn added. “How you do that is to remain focused and read your keys and don’t give them any opportunities to make those big plays.
“Ball security is very important because that defence thrives off turnovers. They’ll score points or they’ll help their offence score points.”
No team ended the regular season with as many forced turnovers as the Bombers, who produced 54. In the three games against the Ticats, Winnipeg’s offence turned the ball over but once.
“They’re very good at what they do,’’ Hamilton wideout Chris Williams said of Winnipeg’s defence. “They don’t do a lot of stuff, but what they do, they’re good at, and they’re comfortable at. For us, we have to make sure we see what we see and take advantage of it.”
Hot reads, taking advantage of mismatches in coverages, misdirection — there are no secrets at this time of the season when it comes to game-planning. The key, as always, involves execution, which begins first through recognition.
“They’ll mix it up,’’ Glenn said of Winnipeg’s defensive looks. “But they don’t do a lot of different stuff. They’ll play their defence, no matter what you’re doing, and they’ll do it well.”