A bust without Rust

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 12:17 PM ET

You couldn't see the chip on Wes Lysack's shoulder yesterday, not even from up close.

Once you got the Winnipeg Blue Bombers safety talking about his defence, though, it was plain as day.

It seems the Winnipegger takes exception to recent criticism of the dirty dozen, going into tonight's make-or-break rematch with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

"We've had two relatively bad games -- or probably three bad quarters, more than anything," Lysack was saying yesterday. "People are making a bigger deal of it than they should be. Everybody didn't think the world was falling apart when our offence wasn't doing good at the beginning of the season, and we were playing well.

"Now all of a sudden everybody thinks we're the worst defence to ever play in the CFL. To me, it doesn't really mean anything. 'Cause I know what we can and can't do."

So do we, and that's the problem.

What the Bomber defence can do is give up yards and points. What they can't do is stop people.

Seems pretty simple.

You're tempted to trot out the CFL stats, the ones that show the Bombers -- through 11 games, not just the last two -- rank dead last in 15 defensive categories, second-last in four others.

You're tempted to highlight the 443 yards the Bombers give up, on average, per game -- by far the worst total in the league.

You're tempted to point out that 344 of those are passing yards, a number that, if it holds up, would mean Winnipeg has the CFL's worst pass defence in at least 20 years.

We say at least 20 because our reference books don't go back any further than 1985.

So it wouldn't be a stretch to say this defence is one of the worst in CFL history.

But let's hear Lysack out.

"I never make excuses for anything, but losing Rod (Rust, the defensive co-ordinator) and the changes we've had to make on defence because of that are obviously a setback," he said. "With the last two weeks we've almost been kind of in training camp mode, with the different defence we're putting in, guys learning different things.

"We've been trying to scramble and regroup. Hopefully we can start to put things back together and play the way we were before that."

Head coach Jim Daley said the same thing yesterday -- that since Rust was forced to leave the team because of health problems in his family, the Bombers have been forced to change their defence.

"It's a major setback," Daley said. "You can't coach another man's package. It's very hard, given the uniqueness of Rod's defence."

You've heard of the bend-but-don't-break philosophy? That appeared to be the type of defence Rust was building when he was forced to leave the team because of health problems in his family.

Even in their last win, against Ottawa three weeks ago, the Bombers allowed the Renegades to move the ball some 400 yards. Come out on top, 38-17, and who cares, right?

With Rust gone for the last two games, though, it's been more like bend, then snap, crackle and pop. And that was against Hamilton and Saskatchewan. Imagine if the Bombers had played B.C. or Edmonton?

So do we let this group off the hook because of the loss of its coach?

I don't think so.

You'd like to give them a couple more weeks to adjust before rendering a final verdict, but you can't even do that. It's win tonight, or pretty much kiss a playoff spot good-bye.

What the Bombers have to do tonight is find a way to win, without their defensive co-ordinator.

If they don't, it won't matter how big a chip anyone carries around on their shoulder.

Because fewer and fewer people will even be paying attention anymore.


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