The defensive formations and schemes in pro football are detailed and complicated but the ultimate goal for Dylan Wynn has never wavered.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats defensive tackle’s main priority, game in and game out, revolves around being disruptive, getting to the quarterback and making his life miserable
“Isn’t that the story about football, though,” Wynn said with a smile. “That’s what we’ve been told since we were kids.
“That’s why I love my job so much. I get to directly affect that.”
So when Hamilton (3-9) hosts Winnipeg (12-1) on Saturday afternoon, Wynn and the Ticats’ defence will aim to get to Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros often and disrupt the defending Grey Cup champions’ offensive flow.
“Collaros is definitely an elite quarterback who’s been able to pull his team through a lot of stuff,” Wynn said. “It’s all that, isn’t it?”
Collaros and Co. have been very resilient this season.
Winnipeg has won five times by double-digit margins. Seven victories have come by seven or fewer points, with four being by two or less points.
Winnipeg’s lone loss of the year, a 20-17 decision to Montreal on Aug. 11, was in overtime. Kicker Marc Liegghio missed a 32-yard field goal that would’ve broken a 17-17 tie late in regulation, then again from 37 yards out in the extra session.
Collaros was the CFL’s outstanding player in 2021 and should be a contender for this year’s award. He leads the CFL in TD passes (career-high 26), boasts a 70.5 completion percentage and needs just 141 passing yards to eclipse his career season high (3,376 in 2015 with Hamilton).
But most importantly, Collaros has won 12 of his 13 starts thus far.
Winnipeg defeated Hamilton 26-12 on June 24 at IG Field in their first meeting of the year. In that game, Willie Jefferson’s 30-yard pick-six in the fourth quarter staked the Bombers to a 25-9 advantage and cemented the victory.
Collaros finished 21-of-32 passing for 302 yards with an interception in that contest. Hamilton recorded four sacks but Wynn said there are no moral victories in pro football.
“Week in and week out, our personal reflection on how our season has gone is any team can beat any team any week in the CFL,” he said. “The step between what’s perceived as doing great and perceived as not so great is very thin.
“We know we have a defensive line that’s dangerous, we like our front and I love our defence in the back end to. We can be dangerous when we’re clicking on all cylinders.”
Winnipeg has already clinched a postseason berth – the first CFL team to do so. The Bombers can cement a home playoff game with a win Saturday and Calgary loss to B.C. on Saturday evening.
The West Division leaders certainly have history on their side. Winnipeg is 5-1 versus East Division rivals and 7-0 on the road this season.
Hamilton comes in having lost three straight and is tied for third in the East with Ottawa (3-9). Amazingly, though, both the Redblacks and Ticats remain in playoff contention, just four points behind second-place Montreal (5-7).
First-place Toronto (7-5), Montreal and Ottawa are all idle this week.
“They’re all must wins,” Wynn said. “We’re past Labour Day in the CFL and every team knows what that means.
“These wins mean a little extra and the losses hurt a little more. We’ve got to buckle down and get hot at the right time.”
The good news for Hamilton is veteran quarterback Dane Evans (right shoulder) returns and will start against Winnipeg. With both Evans and backup Matt Shiltz (wrist) out, rookie Jamie Newman was forced to make his first CFL start in the Ticats’ 28-8 Labour Day loss to Toronto.
Evans, 28, has completed 207-of-309 passes (67 per cent) for 2,473 yards but has more interceptions (CFL-most 13) than touchdowns (10). He has also fumbled seven times, losing six, both league highs, and lost seven-of-nine starts.
Hamilton is averaging just 19.8 offensive points a game (second-last overall) and has scored just 20 offensive TDs (tied for last). The Ticats also lead the league in turnovers made (41), fumbles lost (12) and interceptions (17).
Winnipeg’s defence leads the CFL in fewest offensive points allowed (18.6 a game) and offensive touchdowns (18). The unit is also tied with Hamilton for fewest offensive yards allowed (331).
“They’re big, they’re tall and they’re fast,” Evans said. “Everyone knows their D-line is one of the best in the league, especially their ends [Jefferson and Jackson Jeffcoat].
“Their linebackers are also very solid, so is their back end. They’re a great defence.”
Hamilton and Winnipeg have met in the past two Grey Cup games, which the Bombers have won. Evans has been the Ticats’ starter in each contest and said he enjoys competing against the Blue Bombers.
“The biggest thing I like about these guys is they make you play,” Evans said. “You’re not going to get free ones on them and as a competitor I love that.
“I love going against these guys.”