When the B.C. Lions elected to part ways with defensive coordinator Rich Stubler earlier this offseason so they could promote DB coach Mark Washington, it seemed likely it wouldn't take Stubler too much time to find another gig. The 64-year-old Stubler has spent more than 25 years in the CFL, mostly as a defensive coordinator, and his B.C. defence found plenty of success recently, including leading the league in 18 of 25 defensive statistical categories in 2012 and finishing tops against the pass this year. Calgary snapped up Stubler as their DC Thursday, filling the void left when Rick Campbell took the Ottawa Redblacks' head-coaching job, and he certainly seems like a strong hire. Can Stubler bring the success he found in B.C. to Calgary, though, especially considering how he's been tagged as a conservative coach?
One advantage for Stubler is that he'll have a strong group of players to work with. The Stampeders led the CFL with 63 sacks last season, and they were second in the league in points allowed per game (22.9) and opposing completion percentage (58.4 per cent), plus fourth in yards allowed with 332.7 per game. They also had the West Division's defensive player of the year in DE Charleston Hughes, who led the league with 18 sacks. Calgary does have a lot of potential pending free agents, including some key players like DE Cordarro Law, linebacker Juwan Simpson and DBs Fred Bennett and Chris Randle, and they lost starting safety Eric Fraser to Ottawa in the expansion draft, so there is work that needs to be done on the roster-construction side. Still, there's a solid core here, and that should help Stubler's efforts.
A criticism some have offered of Stubler's defence is that he doesn't tend to be overly aggressive, though. That was cited as one of the reasons offered for why B.C. opted to go in a different direction this offseason, and that could represent a major change in Calgary from the more-attacking philosophy Campbell has often talked about. However, when you look at the statistics, that change might not necessarily be as big as you'd think.
Let's look at Calgary's 63 sacks this year. 32 of the Stampeders' sacks came from starting defensive ends Law and Hughes, with starting tackles Junior Turner and Micah Johnson chipping in two sacks this season. Backup linemen Demonte Bolden, Shawn Lemon and Justin Phillips combined for nine additional sacks. 15 further sacks came from starting linebackers Simpson, Keon Raymond and Deron Mayo. Backup linebackers Karl McCartney and Glenn Love chipped in a sack each. Only two defensive backs recorded sacks: Fraser and Randle had one each. That leads to positional totals of 35 sacks from the starting defensive line and nine sacks from defensive line backups (44 total), with linebackers adding 17 (15 by starters) and defensive backs chipping in two. Thus, 44 of Calgary's 63 sacks (69.8 per cent) came from linemen you'd expect to be rushing, meaning 19 came from blitzers. Meanwhile, the biggest contributor to B.C.'s total of 45 sacks was linebacker Adam Bighill, who had nine. Fellow linebackers Solomon Elimimian and Anton McKenzie added four more, while nickelback Korey Banks added another and multi-position defensive back Lin-J Shell had three. That's 17 out of 45 sacks from blitzers, 37.8 per cent, meaning the other 62.2 per cent came from defensive linemen, a substantially lower percentage than in Calgary.
Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean that Stubler blitzed more than Campbell or that his blitzes were more effective. Keep in mind that a blitz from the linebacking corps or the secondary sometimes occupies blockers, allowing linemen to pick up a sack. Some results come from talent, too; Hughes and Law were much more productive than any linemen in B.C. this season, and their ability to get to the quarterback off a four-man pass rush meant Calgary didn't need to blitz as much. It's just worth keeping in mind that Stubler may not be as conservative as some say, and 2013 particularly showed that; he found unconventional ways to get to the quarterback even when his linemen weren't producing. Moreover, while B.C.'s 45 sacks were sixth out of eight teams this year, they were only two behind the Lions' league-leading total of 47 the previous year (and they would have been the second-highest total in 2012). Stubler will face challenges in Calgary, to be sure, and he'll have to generate pressure more consistently than his team did this year, but it's going too far to write him off as merely a conservative, old-school guy. The guy knows defence, and if the Stampeders can keep some of the talent they had this year, they could be a fun defensive team to watch in 2014. Just because Campbell has left doesn't mean they'll stop being aggressive.