Defensive coordinator change worked wonders for 2017 Ticats (& Bombers should take note)

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats fired defensive coordinator Jeff Reinebold in early August of last year. Changing coordinators mid-season often reeks of desperation and, at 0-6, that’s exactly the state in which the Ticats found themselves a little under a year ago.

Reinebold was replaced by linebackers coach Phillip Lolley, a 64-year-old career assistant with no prior coordinator experience at the professional level. After a shaky start — the Ticats gave up 76 points in lopsided losses to Winnipeg and Ottawa in Lolley’s two first games as defensive coordinator — the switch produced outstanding results for Hamilton’s young defence.

Stats (avg. allowed per game) Reinebold Lolley
Points 39.0 25.9
Total yards 487 367
Time of possession 33:46 29:46
QB efficiency 120.11 90.59
Sacks 1.67 3.17
Forced fumbles 0.67 1.25
Interceptions 0.67 1.00
First down 5.62 5.67
Second down 9.10 5.79

Following Lolley’s promotion, the Ticats saw a thirty-point drop in average opponent quarterback rating, a four-minute drop in average opponent time of possession, and a 120-yard drop in average opponent total yards. The team doubled the number of sacks and forced fumbles they were able to generate per game, while also producing a 33 percent increase in interceptions. Lolley’s unit also held opponents to an average of just 5.79 yards on second down, a 3.31-yard decrease following Reinebold’s dismissal.

Perhaps most importantly, Hamilton held opponents to 13.1 fewer points per game under Lolley, a major contributing factor to the Ticats’ impressive 6-4 finish last season.

It was tremendous improvement from a unit that changed very little in the way of player personnel after the coaching change. Lolley’s turnaround wasn’t predicated upon improving the talent on the defensive side of the football, but utilizing it in better and more productive ways.

Hamilton’s defensive turnaround last season is one from the which the Winnipeg Blue Bombers can learn. Replacing a coordinator mid-season isn’t without risk, but it can also prove to be a viable solution.

Winnipeg’s defence is simply under-performing. The unit is struggling with yardage once again — currently ranked eighth in the league, the defence is allowing 288 passing yards per game — but is failing to produce the high number of takeaways it has in past seasons.

Giving up gobs of yardage was somewhat understandable when the Bombers were generating more turnovers than any other team in the CFL. The takeaways appear to have dried up. The yardage? Not so much.

The Bombers are simply too talented to squander another season due to sloppy defensive play. Richie Hall and his players have become very adept at verbalizing their insistence that the unit’s play will improve. Fans have grown tired of hearing such promises — it’s time to show (not say) that the club’s defence can get the job done.

All of this will prove irrelevant when and if Winnipeg is able to eliminate the missed assignments, explosion plays, and soft zone looks that have limited its defensive success over the past three seasons.

If not, the Bombers have a bye week in early August following a soft intermediate schedule that features a pair of two-game sets with B.C. and Toronto. A failure to show meaningful improvement against the Lions and/or Argos should result in a change at defensive coordinator.

It worked for Hamilton. It could work for the Bombers.

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