The left tackle and his fellow Winnipeg offensive linemen will have to give starting quarterback Joey Elliott time to try to pick apart the B.C. Lions’ top-ranked defence if the Blue Bombers want to come out on the winning end of Friday’s home contest.
The Lions haven’t allowed an opponent to score a touchdown the past 13 quarters and have given up only 22 points in their current three-game win streak.
“I feel like every game starts with the hogs,” January said after Winnipeg’s walk-through on Thursday.
“It’s on us to get the running game going, it’s on us to make sure that Joey’s protected and comfortable back there in the pocket.
“It’s not a job that comes with a lot of notice or praise, but it is one that’s necessary and we accept the challenge and we welcome the good competition with a good defensive line.”
B.C.’s powerhouse defence leads the CFL with 19 quarterback sacks, including a league-high seven from defensive end Karon Williams.
Winnipeg’s young offensive line has allowed a league-high 21 sacks.
Last season’s Grey Cup combatants are at opposite ends of the win column heading into the game. The defending-champion Lions sport a CFL-best 5-2 record, while the Bombers are in the loop’s cellar at 2-5.
Winnipeg’s “Swaggerville” defence was the cream of the crop last season, but the accolades have flipped to the Lions this year.
B.C.’s defence is tops in the league in allowing the fewest first downs (114), fewest net yards (1,924) and fewest average points per game (17.7).
Winnipeg’s defence is third in first downs (137), but seventh in net yards (2,940) and points per game (32) and fifth in QB sacks with 14.
However, with some injuries in the rearview mirror, the Bombers will finally field the defensive dozen it projected as its starters at the beginning of the season.
Bombers rookie wide receiver Chris Matthews, who’s second in the league in receiving yardage with 37 catches for 575 yards and five TDs, said the team has to build off of its 32-25 home victory over Hamilton last week.
Making his first start of the season and third of his three-year career, Elliott was named CFL offensive player of the week for completing 33 of 43 pass attempts for 406 yards with one TD and no interceptions. He was the first Bomber pivot to go over 400 yards since Michael Bishop in October 2009.
“The line did a great job for (Elliott), and it always starts off in the front and then it ends up with the quarterback, then the running back and then it’s the receivers,” Matthews said.
“That’s just how it goes on both sides of the ball. He did a good job, I really commend him for that. Hopefully, he can keep on going with it and we’re going to keep on making him look good out there.”
While it’s the defence that’s been driving the Lions, their offence is no slouch with quarterback Travis Lulay at the controls.
The four-year veteran has completed 68 per cent of his passes this season with 11 TDs and five picks. His offensive line has only allowed a league-low eight QB sacks and opened enough holes for B.C. to lead the league with 908 yards rushing.
“First of all, we’ve got to start by stopping No. 14,” Bombers defensive end Alex Hall said, referring to Lulay.
“If we get him out of the game, it’ll make the game easy for us. He makes a lot of plays with his feet. When he gets out of the pocket, he’s looking to make plays. He’s really elusive in the pocket.”
The rookie Hall had a stellar outing against Hamilton last week, being named defensive player of the week after recording one QB sack (fourth of the season) and two forced fumbles. He stripped quarterback Henry Burris at the one-yard line to quash a TD drive.
The first quarter in Friday’s tilt could be a telling one for the Bombers.
Winnipeg has been outscored 54-8 in the first quarter this season, while B.C. has outscored its opponents 44-18 in the opening quarter.
“In my opinion, there’s a lot of slow starts in the CFL right now,” Elliott said.
“I think it’s a very defensive-oriented league right now and as an offence you have to just try to figure out what they’re doing and hang around and play a solid four quarters with all three phases – offence, defence and special teams.”
He acknowledged B.C.’s defence is a veteran crew that does some “uncharacteristic things.”
“They take some chances with a veteran secondary,” Elliott said. “Mixing up their fronts, they do a really good job of that.
“With a veteran secondary you can do that because their (defensive) co-ordinator has a lot of trust and faith in those guys.”
But that won’t hold back the confident 26-year-old Purdue product.
“You don’t want to play gun shy, though,” Elliott said. “You want to be aggressive and see things and go with it.”
As for facing a team that hasn’t given up a TD in 13 quarters, Bomber head coach Paul LaPolice said that stat makes him gulp and also get excited about the challenge of ending that run.
“It’s a little of both, but the competitive side of you says, ‘Hey, here’s what we’re going to do to score. Here’s a couple things we think are really good,‘ “ LaPolice said.