Stamps keen to stop Harris, win West
Calgary defence focused on solid tackling against Winnipeg’s all-star running back
The Calgary Stampeders make it sound so easy.
Stopping Andrew Harris, of course, is anything but simple.
The rest of the CFL knows that all too well, as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back has proven himself to be a genuine game-breaker this season en route to rushing for 1,269 yards — second in the league behind William Powell of the Ottawa Redblacks.
When the Stamps hosted the Bombers at McMahon Stadium in August, however, the defence turned Harris into a non-factor, holding him to only 13 rushing yards on seven attempts.
So how did they do it? If the Stampeders have some deeply-guarded secret, they certainly weren’t about to reveal it to the media on Wednesday, two days before they attempt to clinch first place once and for all by beating the Bombers in a Friday night tilt in Winnipeg (6:30 p.m., TSN).
“It’s just getting after him,” said Stampeders defensive line coach Corey Mace. “Don’t let him get yards, wrap him up. He’s a good back, he breaks tackles. If we can stop his feet at first contact, that’s what you hope for.”
For a Stamps team that desperately wants to clinch a home game in the West Division Final this weekend, their past history against Harris is a reason to feel optimistic.
The Bombers rely heavily on the run game, but with the exception of a meaningless regular season-ending matchup at McMahon Stadium last year, Harris hasn’t had much success against the Stamps.
Harris was named as the CFL’s Most Outstanding Canadian last season, but he rushed for only 32 yards on 10 carries in the only game in which he faced the Stampeders starters in Week 3.
In 2016, the Stampeders held him to 13 yards and 28 yards in the two contests against the Bombers.
They’re aware they’ve had success in stopping Harris, although they’re downplaying the significance of that fact heading into Friday’s game.
“We’re aware, but every game is different,” said Stamps linebacker Alex Singleton.
“You just want to tackle, and it’s something we’ve done really well early in the season. I think last week, the reason we didn’t contain (the Saskatchewan Roughriders) as well is because we didn’t tackle as well. That’s what we hang our hats on. It’s just fundamental tackling.
“If you can make every one-onone tackle, you’re going to win a lot of games.”
If there’s a seed of doubt surrounding the Stamps’ ability to shut down the Bombers ground game, it likely comes from the defence’s uncharacteristic struggles against the run over the past two weeks.
Against the B.C. Lions on Oct. 13, the Stamps struggled to contain Tyrell Sutton. The Lions running back rambled for 106 yards on 22 carries.
Then last week, the Roughriders’ Cameron Marshall ran for 76 yards on 11 carries, and he wasn’t alone, as the visitors from Saskatchewan totalled 140 rushing yards at McMahon Stadium.
Marshall and Sutton are both dangerous running backs, but they’re not considered to be the same calibre as Harris, so the Stampeders defence is going to need to be better, plain and simple.
First place in the West may depend on it.
“(Stopping the run) is always important when you play Winnipeg,” Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson said.
“They have a lot of weapons in their receiving corps and can do a lot of different things. They have a lot of misdirection, and all that, but I do think Andrew is one of their best players. If you’re going to have success against their offence, you’ve got to be able to try to limit his (yards after catch). He catches a lot of balls, he doesn’t just run.
“I do think Winnipeg runs the ball more than anybody in the league, so for our defensive line, big challenge.”
The Stampeders believe the key to stopping Blue Bombers running back Andrew Harris is to wrap him up and not let him break tackles. Harris hasn’t enjoyed great success against Calgary.