After keeping us at the edge of our seats for their first two matchups of the seasons, the Lions and Stampeders put even the most avid football fan to sleep in their third meeting.
Here are my post-coma thoughts on B.C.’s 25-11 loss.
Adams family struggles
After a strong debut as the starter last week in Calgary, Vernon Adams Jr.’s first home start was highly anticipated as the return of exciting football to Vancouver. Instead, fans were treated to an offensive performance so darkly satirical, you might have mistaken it for the latest reboot of The Addams Family.
The only difference is that macabre comedy is funny. This one was not.
VA was not as sprightly as Gomez or as cunning as Wednesday in his home christening. Instead, he appeared to go through his reads like Lurch — slow, fitful, and uncertain. The result was football that verged on the mind-numbing and Adams had no answers for what made this rematch so uniquely challenging.
“I don’t know really. They were playing a lot of man, but that didn’t stop us from doing what we do. I might have missed a few throws and that was it, man,” he said post-game. “Like I said, we’ve got to stay on the field and move that ball, hit those big plays when they come and don’t hurt ourselves.”
Adams was 6-of-14 passing in the first half for 73 yards and showed no signs of improvement in the second, finishing 12-of-24 for 151 yards. He took off just twice for 11 more, though mercifully finished without a turnover.
While there was little question that B.C.’s offensive line struggled at times with the Calgary pass rush, particularly when it came to handling stunts, their quarterback often had more time than he realized. Any form of pressure seemed to throw him off what little rhythm he had and he rarely made use of the escape lanes available.
In the end, Adams looked panicked when he didn’t need to be and certain of his reads only when he shouldn’t have been. It produced scattershot accuracy, with open targets lunging for balls placed well out of reach.
Backup Antonio Pipkin entered the game late in the fourth quarter and offered some semblance of life, managing a pretty garbage-time touchdown to Dominique Rhymes. The spattering of boos throughout the game indicated that many fans thought a switch should have been made earlier, though head coach Rick Campbell wanted to give his starter every opportunity to push through the slump.
“I hope the guy’s not too hard on himself. Quarterbacks are such driven guys and I don’t want to play the roller coaster game with him,” he insisted. “He’s the same guy that won us a big game last week, so we’ll make sure we get better as far as how we gameplan and what we do to put him in a position to succeed.”
There will be no quarterback controversy in the lead-up to next week’s game against Ottawa, as this team’s hopes now cling to Adams. We’ve now seen both sides of what he can do; which one he demonstrates next is an open question.
A little help, please
On a normal week, allowing 18 points through 55 minutes of action should win you a CFL game. It is therefore difficult to fault a dog-tired Lions defence for this loss, though veteran defensive back T.J. Lee had no problem doing so.
“This was probably our worst game as a defence in terms of yards. We gave up a lot of yards on angles and tackling and so on,” he said frankly at the podium. “We focus on those details and we’ll be a better defence and give our offence better field position so they can make plays.”
Ryan Phillips’ crew played their typical bend, don’t break style throughout and it mostly worked, though a lack of aggression allowed Calgary quarterback Jake Maier to complete nearly 82 percent of his passes for 294 yards and Ka’Deem Carey to rush for 84 on 12 carries.
What was lacking was the big plays that defences need to win games in the modern age and those have been shockingly sparse for the Lions of late. The team’s only takeaway — a Lee interception in the fourth — was erased by penalty and the defensive line failed to record a sack for the third time against Calgary.
This team has unquestionably been less aggressive defensively since Nathan Rourke went down, for obvious reasons — you can’t risk as many big plays against when you don’t have a generational quarterback as a safety net. However, the coverage busts are happening anyway — just look at Jalen Philpot’s 54-yard catch to set up the game’s first major — and there are no game-changing plays to offset them.
Unable to get off the field, B.C.’s defender were worn down to a nub and their performance suffered. The six broken tackles on Peyton Logan’s late touchdown run are all the evidence you need of that fact.
Offensive coordinator Jordan Maksymic has put together some wonderful game plans this year but I thought he got decidedly out-coached by Dave Dickenson in this one.
Having seen their opponent just last week, Calgary came out with a variety of ways to stretch the defence laterally, using jet sweeps and end-arounds to exploit B.C.’s edges and set up Carey for long runs inside. It was hardly an explosive outing for the team but they offered challenging new looks to test a familiar foe and move the ball.
B.C., however, looked entirely stagnant from a playcalling perspective and offered no change-ups to try and spark some momentum. Electric receiver Lucky Whitehead wasn’t schemed into space once and the passing attack became predictable as its quarterback floundered.
This lack of creativity manifested in a lot of second-and-long situations, which the Lions were simply unable to overcome. They ultimately managed just 48 yards on 19 second-down attempts — an average of 2.5 yards per. Stunningly, the team was actually more productive on third down, mustering 53 yards on six tries. I wasn’t even aware such a feat was possible.
It’s clear that Maksymic needs to get more innovative without the perfect passer for his system. That should start with more plays that lean on Adams ability to make plays on the run, rather than his inconsistent ability to work through progressions.
If you’re looking for a bright spot in an awful game, returner Terry Williams has been everything the Lions could have hoped for when trading for him a few weeks ago.
The speedster averaged nine yards per punt return, 22.8 yards per kickoff, and added a 27-yard missed field goal return while making decisive cuts upfield. He oozes explosiveness and seems destined to eventually bust a big one, even with the sub-par blocking in front of him.
Old town road
Given the unfortunate extracurricular activities that followed the last meeting between these two teams, Saturday’s contest in Vancouver was a relatively tame one.
It was pretty clear that Cam Judge’s decision to accept his one-game suspension without appeal cooled the situation considerably, as no punches were thrown as retribution for Lucky Whitehead and nothing spilled into the streets outside BC Place post-game. In fact, there were even whispers of a pre-game hug session, firmly dousing any remaining embers of the feud.
Despite this more loving exterior, Whitehead did get one parting shot in at the Stampeders via his pre-game entrance. As any fan who follows the team on social media knows, the electric receiver’s arrival to the stadium before every home game has become something of a running gag, with him riding everything from a child’s tricycle to a pogo stick in increasingly elaborate reveals.
This week took the cake, as Whitehead showed up in a classic Canadian tuxedo, complete with a denim cowboy hat and leopard-skin boots, and made his way to a trailer backed up underneath the stadium. From it emerged a tawny-coloured horse — hat tip to my colleague J.J. Adams for that descriptor — which Lucky proudly rode from one endzone to the other.
It was a perfect parody of the Stampeders’ white horse, Quick Six aesthetic and well-executed by the team as a whole. Whitehead got to take a jab at the group that wronged him while never providing true bulletin board material and the Lions got a piece of engaging viral content as a result — the only entertaining thing to come out of the whole evening.
It’s a long-held football tradition to make your rookies sing in training camp and in the CFL, that often means teaching them the Canadian national anthem. The Lions took things one step further on Saturday, foregoing the services of a professional singer for the pre-game ceremony and trotting out injured receiver Josh Pearson to belt out O Canada instead.
Apparently, the Decatur, Alabama native has earned a reputation as something of a crooner in the B.C. locker room and was given the honour much to the delight of teammates. He learned the lyrics this week, resulting in some obvious nervousness, but acquitted himself well.
Pearson’s rendition didn’t quite have the operatic delivery of a Mark Donnelly but he avoided any expansion era Dennis Park pratfalls — if you don’t get that reference, do yourself a favour and look it up. After the final note, he found himself mobbed by teammates in celebration.
While I doubt we’ll see Pearson pick up the mic again this season, it was a fantastic only-in-the-CFL moment.
Slipped a disc
From musical highs to a musical low, the Lions had a new guest DJ — a Nanaimo city council candidate (yes, really) erroneously named DJ All Good — in the house and his inauspicious debut amounted to a crime against the eardrums of everyone in attendance.
His brief first-half set consisted of two minutes of continuous turntable slapping, producing an incoherent series of record scratches that lacked any semblance of rhythm or melody. It swung between painful and comedic as the crowd sat in stunned silence, mouths agape as “Vancouver Island’s premier DJ” attempted to finish the sequence with his hands behind his back and the sound cut out.
What makes this moment all the more baffling is that the DJ’s second set, which lasted through much of halftime, was arguably very good. I have no idea what changed in the intervening minutes or if his first musical act was some poorly conceived attempt at comedy, but it was the only part of the evening harder to sit through than the Lions’ offence.
You’ve got a friend in me
Defensive tackle Woody Baron made his Lions debut Saturday after missing the first three-quarters of the season and was held entirely off the stat sheet. That can sometimes be deceptive when it comes to defensive line play, but it didn’t appear that Baron made much of a noticeable impact in the rotation against the Stamps.
The mostly unheralded former Alouette was arguably the biggest overpay of the CFL offseason when the Lions made him the second highest-paid interior defensive lineman in the league. However, many thought the same about the addition of Mathieu Betts, who has been sensational in 2022.
Baron has not yet had a chance to prove his own doubters wrong and there is no sense in making rash judgements while he gets his feet wet. If he can produce, it will simply be gravy for a Lions’ defensive line that has been this year’s most pleasant surprise without him on the field.
The first rule of holes
Calgary special teams coordinator Mark Kilam is the best in the business and he showed why on the very first play in the game, exploiting a massive gap near the sideline on B.C.’s kick return alignment for a surprise onside kick.
The hole was likely as glaringly obvious on film as it was in person and the Stampeders executed perfectly, even though Nick Statz failed to secure the catch. Once again, the light was shone on B.C.’s special teams ineptitude and schematic failures, as you simply can’t surrender an onside that easily at the professional level.
As we all know, the first rule of holes is to stop digging and for the Lions, that may require a coaching change when this season is done.
Few things can unite opponents in solidarity quite like a serious injury and I would like to join the entire league in wishing Derek Dennis a speedy recovery.
Calgary’s left tackle suffered what appeared to be a devastating ankle injury after being rolled up on early in the game and was carted off the turf after being down for as long as I’ve ever seen for a non-head injury. While no official diagnosis is currently available, it looked season-ending and you are forced to fear the worst for the 34-year-old.
What makes the injury even crueller is that, as the anchor of the CFL’s best group of hoggies, Dennis appeared well on his way to taking home the second Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman award of his career. Calgary has depth at the position and Canadian second-year Canadian Bryce Bell filled in admirably, but it’s unlikely we’ll see the veteran get his due reward now.
Dennis is one of the most outspoken players in the league and while we have rarely seen eye-to-eye, I have always admired him for his willingness to engage in a healthy debate on Twitter. Here’s hoping he can defy all expectations and be back on a CFL field quickly.
Spoonful of sugar
Despite the fact that they already have the season series against Calgary in hand, this loss will be a bitter pill for the Lions to swallow. The only thing making it easier is that the team managed to clinch a playoff spot before the ball was even kicked off.
Inevitably, these two teams are going to see each other again in the West Semi-Final — location TBD. Hopefully by that time, B.C. can figure out which version of their team they want to be.