Lions Notebook: Win over Riders shows progress but plenty still to clean up.


For much of the BC Lions first home game of 2015, it looked as though the same problems that plagued the team in their season opener in Ottawa were still an issue. Lack of red zone production, defensive breakdowns and untimely penalties were handing the game to the Saskatchewan Roughriders before the Lions pulled together and completed a classic CFL comeback for their first win of the season.

Sadly, only about half of the 23,062 in attendance knew that no lead is safe in the CFL, leaving those that left early without the experience of a great ending to the game by the home side.

Offensively, it wasn’t a bad effort by the Lions; they simply lacked finish. In the fourth quarter however, the Lions started to gel and it was sparked by a drive that was all Andrew Harris, capped off by a seven yard touchdown lob to Rolly Lumbala after Harris had the Riders defence focused on him.

Travis Lulay is starting to show signs that his confidence is growing, and he was clearly emotional after the game. His teammates rallied around him in the locker room following the game, knowing what their star QB has been through.

If there is one thing that is clear, it’s that chemistry is quickly developing between Lulay and receiver Austin Collie, who is proving to be a key signing for the Lions. Collie’s polish and pedigree has been on display in the Leo’s first two games and he’s become the Lions go to receiver in short order.

The Lions offensive line had a strong game, not allowing a single sack on Lulay but the running game was somewhat dormant until the fourth quarter. Still, this is a positive sign for the Lions, and if the line can stay healthy and continue to gel, that aspect of their game should improve as well with the talented Harris in the backfield.

Defensively, plenty of work remains for the Lions. What was considered a strength of the team heading into the season, the unit is giving up too much yardage, especially against the run. Adam Bighill stated that communication among the group was the worst he’s ever witnessed as a Lion versus the Redblacks, and it didn’t seem to be much better against the Riders.

It was Bighill that came up big with a key stop on a Riders 3rd down gamble that gave the Lions a shot to extend the game to overtime and perhaps reconsider going for it on 3rd down in the extra session.

The Lions run defence is a concern, giving up 312 yards (171 against the Riders) over two games. The defensive line is getting owned against the run and that must improve, as does the ability to get to the quarterback and contain him to the pocket. When you’re letting Kevin Glenn escape pressure, you’re doing something wrong.

Lastly, the Lions have to stop taking penalties. There were too many mental mistakes, like Collie calling for a pass interference call (the dumbest rule in football), offside calls, procedure calls, roughing the passer, and on and on. Jeff Tedford demands discipline and he won’t be putting up with these mistakes for very long if his reputation is accurate. Those penalties (17 of them) could have cost the Lions their first win of the season, and will cost them games more often than not if they aren’t cleaned up.

In the end it was a game that showed progress. A game that showed why the Lions went with Richie Leone over Paul McCallum, and a game that showed this team has the will and fortitude to stick together and fight. All three facets of the game contributed to the win down the stretch and that’s a very good sign.

Now they must build on that and do it all again in Regina this week.

Extra Yards:

  • The new lower bowl configuration looked much better than the empty seats and the Lions have added some good features to the game day experience. A new beer garden (I refuse to call it a Tailgate Party) has been created, a new BC Lions drumline is now situated in the lower bowl, similar to what the Seattle Seahawks do with their Blue Thunder drumline. There are drink specials up until a half hour before game time inside the stadium, and for the first time ever, I was able to buy a beer in my seat from a vendor.
  • Gone is the voice of Chris Palliser, the man who urged fans to make noise on defence. I know some people feel that such a person is not necessary and some find it annoying, but without him it was clear that the majority of the fans don’t get or don’t care about becoming part of the game. This needs to change, as the atmosphere when the Lions were on defence was dead for much of the game. I’m not sure how you fix it and I’m starting to come to the realization that such participation may never happen in Vancouver, unless the Lions can attract younger fans to the games on a regular basis. Sadly it seems like long time season ticket holders have little desire to participate and are more concerned with beating traffic than staying until the end of the game.
  • It was fantastic news to learn that long time Lions employees Bill Reichelt (Trainer) and Ken Kasuya (Equipment Manager) will be added to the Lions Wall of Fame on August 6th when the Lions host the Edmonton Eskimos. A deserving honour for two of the best in the business who have devoted more than seven decades of service to the club combined.
  • Cam Morrah took a shot to the knee late in the game from Tristan Jackson will be doubtful for the rematch in Regina and there is a good chance that special teams captain Jason Arakgi could be in the same boat with a pulled hamstring.
  • Ryan Phillips told TSN’s Farhan Lalji during the game that he expects to miss one more game before returning the lineup on July 24th at home against the Toronto Argonauts.