Let's Talk DEFENCE

Our Leos offence usually gets more than it's fair share of discussion. A continuing discussion of who should be the starting qb, the excitement of realizing we have a back-up in Pierce who oozes potential, a tremendous recieving corps, the continuing emergence of Warren as the league's best all-purpose tailback, a retooling of the offensive line, the Leos offensive strategies all occupy our attention.

However the Leos undefeated record this year and the improvement of the squad from last year has more to do with the Leos improvement on defence and special teams. Some of those reasons include:

  1. The decision to hire Dave Ritchie as defensive coordinator to replace Arsanian. Ritchie has brought a complex defensive scheme with three man and four man fronts, three linebacker, four linebacker, and even five linebacker sets, and defensive back units which include five, six, and seven defensive back formations. The Leos have utilized the blitz much more often this year, and have schemed it with linebacker, defensive half, and safety blitzes. They've even dropped lineman like Johnson into coverage while blitzing to provide different looks. It's made playing the Leos more challenging than the 'vanilla' defence of last year.
  2. A more aggressive attitude towards defence which has led to a lot more fumbles and interceptions. The Leos defence is a weapon in games and the turnovers have led to touchdowns. The Leos offence, in some ways, has not been as effective or explosive, as last season and turnovers have played a huge role in offensive production.
  3. Improved personell, especially in the defensive backfield with the additions of Phillips, Miles, and Tony Tiller has resulted in more team speed and aggressiveness. Improved pressure on the quarterback has also helped the defensive backfield unit. The Leos defence is giving up the highest amount of percentage completions in the CFL. However most of those passes have been of the shorter variety. Combined with sure tackling from most of our defensive backs has limited opposition offences.
    We've really cut down on long passes and made timely interceptions. Young and Marsh are excellent corners, Phillips is a real find, and Tiller is a fast, smart defensive back.
  4. Kidd, Simpson, and Floyd bring an experienced, physical approach to the linebacker positions, playing their positions with the reckless abandon within a disciplined approach.
  5. Brent Johnson has emerged into a complete defensive end who is now the best in the league at his position. Always an excellent pass rusher his ability to also stop the run and to rush the quarterback from different positions on the defensive line are also outstanding this season.
  6. A tremendous comradarie amongst the defensive unit. These guys play for each other and cheer each others successes. An example was when Crumb made a nice interception and return in the Hamilton game they were all over him on the sidelines.

What Needs To Improve:

  1. Chris Wilson has provided excellent contain and a speed rush with pressure on the quarterback so far this season. With Johnson getting more double teams its time for Wilson to start improving his technique and begin getting more quarterback sacks. McKay-Loesher is starting to get more game time reps and could emerge in this position.
  2. The Leos need an improved interior pass rush. Williams is beginning to step up his game in the interior of the line. Ferrara has been solid but not impressive. My big hope in the off-season was that the Leos would sign Joe Fleming but that never happened. Dante Booker may yet get back into the starting lineup. In the long term the Leos defense could really use a defensive tackle with tremendous push inside. It would make Johnson's job easier and also help a speed guy like Wilson by not allowing the quarterback to step up in the pocket.
  3. Improved play from Mark Washington. Washington is an experienced defensive back. He doesn't have the speed to break on the reciever as some of the other speedy Leos defensive backs. However he has been a smart defensive back in the past who understands the strengths of the recievers he faces. This year he's tried to make the big hit at times without 'wrapping' well and on blitzes he's given up the inside route a few too many times, a cardinal sin when Miles is blitzing from the safety position.

Interested in your thoughts!! I'll post a separate topic on special teams, another HUGE reason the Lions are undefeated so far this year.

Blitz- your post as usual leaves little to be disputed or argued. Your knowledge of the game and defences is inarguably the best of the posters I have read here or at lionbackers.com.

First off, you have made a huge improvement lately by making the Buck Pierce family, friends and his fans like me happy that you now regard him highly enough to spell his name right...lol..just kidding.

Undisputedly, the Dave Ritchie addition to the Lion's coaching staff has made a huge difference in the defence this year and the teams 8 and 0 record.

One comment. If we are mixing it up as you note and all can see as it is different guys all the time reaching the QB, is it fair to suggest that Wilson and Ferrara need to improve? I haven't recorded games at home to get that second look or three so you may be spot on.

It can't be argued that these guys aren't a together unit at all. The personnel you have named are all great additions to the talent. There were times a few years before Wally that is frustrating that we couldn't play man to man and rarely got a pick off or a sack or decent QB pressure on a consistent basis. One of the measures of a good team is if guys accept changes/rotations and they seem to have been able to do that.

Dave Ritchie takes the D guys down to the far end near the Skytrain when the main practice and uses that time to teach and add in the wrinkles I assume and do the walk throughs. Plus he has just watched how the D reacts to the scout team offence so he can make some minor adjustments there. When it is hot like that and the guys have been out since 10:30 pm and it is now closer to 1 pm, it says a lot that guys look to be focused and working hard still.

One other really small thing to show how together they are. I can't recall which DB/CB it was but it was a real hot day and the D were down at the far end of the field and the guy came to get the water and was pulling the cart to the end when one of the staff guys came and said he 'd do it but the guy just waved him off nicely and finished hauling it there. I have seen this twice now.

It supports the togetherness idea but raises a small point. They need a guy not a player doing this!!! I always maintain that a team's offield performance and organization mirrors how they play in games. If the warmup is disorganized or guys aren't focused right it turns up in missed assignments.

For a long time head coach, Dave Ritchie sure has a great defensive mind for the game and it sure shows.

Buck Pierce-I learned a lot about perseverance. Things aren’t always going to go your way. I’ve become so much more aware of the realities of the game and life…Things can be taken away from you. You can either sit back…or overcome it and fight through it....

Football 16...your insights into how the Leos practice and your keen eye provide so much invaluable information to this forum. THANKS!!

To answer your question regarding my fairness (or lack thereof) first of all the Leos defence is a unit as you point out. In the Leos defence, especially on blitzes often the defensive tackles will sacrifice themself to open up a lane for a blitzing linebacker or defensive back...so its not fair to just focus on sacks and you also have to look at pressures on the qb and their effectiveness at stopping the run. However Johnson has made a lot of sacks this year, even when double teamed. It does open up one on one opportunities for Wilson, Ferrara, and Williams to get to the quarterback on four or five man rushes. Wilson's sped would be assisted by a stronger push up the middle, not allowing the qb to step up as stated. Wilson has gotten pressure on the quarterback but is just a fraction away from getting sacks but at this stage of the season he should have a few. I'm not down on them but, looking for constant improvement, I still believe we should be getting a few more sacks from the other defensive end position and a stronger inside push, at times, from the tackle position. Outside of Johnson our sacks are mostly coming from the linebacker position, from blitzes. If we can get to the quarterback, with a four man front, and get that pressure from the defensive line side away from Johnson at times and also from up the middle at times, it just makes us much more difficult to play against.