WINNIPEG - If the Bombers are going to prevail on Saturday in Calgary, it rests, as it has all season long, on the defence.
Too many times over the last eight years the Stamps have lit up the scoreboard against the Blue and Gold, coasting to victory no matter how many points the Winnipeg point getters produce in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
The Stampeders have averaged 34 points in eight straight wins over the Bombers at McMahon, but they’ve never played a defence like the one Winnipeg has put on the field this season. Not only that, but the Stamps have two relatively new starters in quarterback Drew Tate and running back Jon Cornish leading the way.
Winnipeg’s defensive line would probably like to worry about Tate and Cornish, who have supplanted Henry Burris and Joffrey Reynolds, respectively, but it is going to have its hands full with the offensive line.
“Their offensive line is really aggressive,” Bombers defensive tackle Bryant Turner said Thursday. “They’re really good and really well-coached. It’s going to be a challenge. I believe Montreal’s probably the best offensive line we’ve played so far, but Calgary’s looked pretty good.”
The Bombers will clinch first place in the East and the right to host the division final on Nov. 20 if they can win on Saturday. If they lose their ninth in a row in Cowtown, they’ll have to hope the B.C. Lions beat the Montreal Alouettes in Vancouver on Saturday night.
Calgary’s rushing production has increased since Cornish took over for Reynolds, but its passing yards are down slightly from where they were at the mid-season mark. Tate replaced Burris only three weeks ago, however.
No matter how you slice it, Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice said his team has to worry about both Calgary’s passing and running games.
“It’s the combination of the two, because it’s not like it’s a team you have to focus on just the pass or the run,” LaPolice said. “And they do a great job of play actions and misdirections and formations.
“They’re just a well-rounded offence, and Drew Tate does a good job. He makes people around him play hard and play better.”
LaPolice also feels Tate is more inclined to run when given the opportunity, whereas Burris preferred to pass in those situations in the last couple of years.
Cornish, meanwhile, is averaging 7.4 yards per carry, and the Stampeders are gaining a whopping seven yards, on average, every time they run the ball on first down.
“He’s pretty good. He’s a pretty shifty back,” Turner said. “We gotta make textbook tackles. You really can’t go in there and just use your arms. He’s hard to tackle. He’s hard to get a good hit on.”
We’re about to find out, on the eve of the post-season, if this Bomber defence can rise to the occasion when it matters most.