Lions get 50 doses of their own medicine and 10 other thoughts on being blown out by the Bombers

Photo courtesy: Steven Change/B.C. Lions

You have to give the B.C. Lions credit. When they lose, at least they lose big.

On Thursday night, it was a 50-14 smackdown at the hands of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, a loss that turned strengths into weaknesses and flipped almost every narrative around this team on its head.

Here are my thoughts on the game.

Dead On Arrival

The Lions’ defence entered this game boasting a streak of 44 straight opponent possessions without an offensive touchdown allowed. That didn’t last long against a Bombers squad that came out firing thanks to the aggressive play-calling of coordinator Buck Pierce.

Once Zach Collaros was handed the football for his first series, it took just two plays for Winnipeg to find the endzone. The first pass — a 34-yard strike to Kenny Lawler — set the tone but was immediately overshadowed by what came after.  With max protection to keep him clean, the quarterback loaded up on his second dropback and found Dalton Schoen in behind veteran T.J. Lee. With safety Quincy Mauger driving down into the flat to cover a potential swing pass to Nic Demski, there was no help over the top and last year’s Most Outstanding Rookie walked in for a 71-yard major.

Things would not improve for the visitors. After Dominique Davis was held short on a third-down sneak at mid-field, the Bombers wasted no time going back to the air. This time Lawler simply out-raced Marcus Sayles on the go route and Mauger got caught too low to stop the 57-yard touchdown.

Collaros was a perfect three-for-three for 167 yards and two majors before the Lions even found a pulse. After having allowed just seven pass completions of over 30 yards in the previous seven games combined, Ryan Phillips’ unit surrendered three in the first six minutes of this game. It never really got better; they would give up six big pass plays before all was said and done.

The second half began exactly as the first did with a deep touchdown on the first series — this time to Nic Demski. On play after play, B.C.’s vaunted secondary found itself torched in man coverage. The two halfbacks had particularly rough outings, but nobody was blameless. Even cornerback Garry Peters, who was named the CFL’s top defensive player for the month of July, was out-worked by Lawler on a fourth-quarter deep ball delivered by backup Dru Brown.

One result isn’t going to change the pedigree of this defence, but giving up six face-value touchdowns when they had only surrendered five in the first eight weeks should cause some serious introspection. They not only got out-classed on Thursday night, they got out-worked, and that humbling experience should never be replicated.

Dom and Dumber

Dane Evans was unable to complete his second start for the Lions, exiting the game shortly before halftime due to a rib injury sustained on a hit from Adam Bighill early in the second quarter. On any normal evening, that would be a headline-grabbing situation, but this game already felt lost and the expected return of Vernon Adams Jr. next week lessens any potential long-term ramifications.

Instead of spending the next 32 minutes of gameplay fretting about the future of the franchise, fans got to waste it wondering why Dominique Davis is still on a CFL roster. In admittedly difficult circumstances, the Lions’ third-stringer was an abysmal eight-of-18 passing for 76 yards, but the biggest problem is that all those reps are virtually meaningless for his team long-term.

Davis is 34 years old. Even in a league constantly criticized for its lack of young quarterbacking talent, he is older than every starter not named Collaros or Trevor Harris. We’ve known what he is for a long time and that is someone who doesn’t have the skill set to be a functional starter.

Given that B.C. already had a reliable veteran backup in Evans, the offseason addition of Davis always felt like a hat on a hat and not even a particularly dapper one at that. Whatever value he brings in short-yardage — another area he failed to perform effectively Thursday — is entirely negated by the roster spot and developmental reps he is taking away from a young prospect.

This loss in Winnipeg could have been a chance for a promising rookie to gain valuable in-game experience. Instead, it was fait-accompli the second that Davis took the field and carries no silver lining.

Firing Blanks

While the Bombers were hitting more shots than a college fraternity on reading week, the Lions’ attempts to find anything deep were about as successful as their subsequent mid-terms.

Despite immediately pressing for an answer after the Schoen score, Evans overthrew Alexander Hollins down the right sideline. He came within an inch of connecting with Lucky Whitehead in response to the Lawler touchdown, only for the receiver to lose track of the fluttering football and let it bounce off his outstretched fingers. Then came another forced deep shot to Hollins on the next drive, this time picked off by Demerio Houston.

Long before Bighill rattled his ribcage, Evans felt like a different passer than the one that Pro Football Focus named the CFL’s top offensive player for July. The heavy pressure that Winnipeg was able to generate was predictable but frequently rendered him off-balance. Offensive coordinator Jordan Maksymic did him few favours, seemingly determined to match the Bombers in a gunfight instead of sticking to the gameplan and regaining control of the pace of play.

The Lions are at their best when in rhythm and taking what the defence gives them, but each missed shot early stalled a drive and let Winnipeg run away with the lead. The frantic deep ball shouldn’t be a proud moment for either quarterback or play-caller, and the team needs to reevaluate their strategy for playing from behind.

A-Wrist-ed Development

A horsecollar tackle by defensive end Willie Jefferson helped to catapult the Lions’ first and only promising drive into the red zone, but the team had to settle for a field goal after Lucky Whitehead failed to bring down a high pass in the endzone. The receiver was adamant that he was interfered with but head coach Rick Campbell elected not to throw the challenge flag, a decision he may regret after reviewing the film.

While TSN was stingy with the replays, it appeared at first glance that halfback Evan Holm was holding down Whitehead’s right arm well before the ball arrived. The contact would not have been particularly noteworthy if it was on any other body part, but the restriction of the wrist absolutely impeded the receiver’s ability to catch the ball.

Sending plays to the CFL command centre is a roll of the dice at the best of times, but it was worth the gamble when down 17-1. An overturned call and the almost certain major that would have followed could have altered the complexion of this game.

JEC Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

Field-side cornerback Jalon Edwards-Cooper has not received nearly enough love for his high level of play this year, but a rare unforced error from him at the end of the first half felt like the final nail in the Lions’ coffin.

B.C. looked to have mostly stopped the bleeding by late in the second quarter and had a chance to force a critical second-and-long in their own end. Collaros went looking for Lawler but let go of a wobbly ball with pressure in his face, a pass that fell well short of the mark.

If Edwards-Cooper had been on his toes, he might have been able to get underneath for an interception. Instead, he appeared to lose track of the football and panic, rushing to perform a daylight mugging of Lawler along the sideline as the receiver made little effort to work back to the uncatchable pass. The result was the easiest defensive pass interference penalty any referee has thrown all year, 31 free yards for the offence, and a walk-in Brady Oliveira touchdown on the next play.

Edwards-Cooper made up for his error in the fourth quarter by forcing a fumble by Oliveira that Bo Lokombo returned for a touchdown, but that injection of life couldn’t match the demoralization of his mistake. A stop then could have meant holding Winnipeg to another field goal and even getting the chance to make it a one-score game before halftime. Instead, it marked the moment when the train truly went off the tracks.

The Number of the Beast

The Bombers received outstanding performances from all their offensive stars in this game, but the two most important players on the winning team were backup offensive linemen Tui Eli and Liam Dobson.

Winnipeg had six offensive linemen in the game for five of their six touchdowns — the lone exception coming on the final score in the fourth quarter. Dobson was on the field for the opening strike to Schoen and Oliveira’s first major, while Eli took care of the rest.

The heavy use of max protection was an aggressive way to combat a Lions’ defensive line that generated seven sacks the last time these two teams played and it worked to perfection. The widened edge neutralized the high motor speed rush that has made both Mathieu Betts and Sione Teuhema so effective on the outside, and the team’s smaller defensive tackles failed to push the stouter pocket. Collaros was kept upright throughout the game with oodles of time at his disposal and the defence struggled to account for the extra gap in the running game.

Show Me Moore

Last week’s hamstring injury to the perennially underrated Josh Banks was a blow to the Lions’ deep defensive line, but it gave the team a chance to debut rookie defensive tackle Marcus Moore.

The Utah State product is a physical freak, having reportedly ran a 4.75 forty-yard dash at his college pro day, vertical jumped 34.5 inches at 281 pounds, and put up 32 reps on the bench. He was also a noticeable disruptor in the preseason, collecting four defensive tackles, one special teams tackle, two tackles for loss, and a sack in two games.

Moore saw most of his action in the second half, announcing himself in a big way by sniffing out a screen pass to Oliveira and picking off Collaros. Given his measurables and the Lions’ usual reliance on a heavy rotation, I was disappointed to see him not used more early in the game, but a promising debut should help build some trust going forward.

Return to Prominence

The addition of receiver Terry Williams last season helped to kickstart a generally anemic Lions’ return game, but the results this season hadn’t been what many expected. That was until a pair of big returns late in this game served as one of the only bright spots.

Yes, Williams entered the week third in the league with 772 combined yards on the season — trailing only Oliveira and Saskatchewan’s Mario Alford — but B.C. has been kicked to an awful lot because of their (usually) stingy defence. On a per-return basis, the Lions were seventh in both punt (10.1) and kickoff (20.1) yardage. They were also near the bottom of the league with just three “big play” returns — punt or missed field goal returns of over 30 yards and kickoff returns of over 40 yards — while generating no touchdowns.

Scary Terry added one of each of those in this game, rattling off a 62-yard kickoff return and a 35-yard punt return in the fourth quarter. He successfully added 230 more yards to his season total and looked more dangerous than he has in weeks. Hopefully, that’s a sign of a future breakout to come.

The Emperor Has No Clothes

I wrote last week about the farcical nature of the Lions listing the injured Vernon Adams Jr. as their third-string quarterback while he stood on the sidelines in street clothes, but the lunacy got worse this week. Due to the Evans injury, VA had to hurriedly get suited up at halftime, trading in his jogging pants for shoulder pads without a realistic warmup.

It is beyond me how this benefits the team in any way. What if Adams had been forced into the game? I know he is nearly healthy, but would keeping Chase Brice on the practice roster really be worth risking your starter’s knee if he comes in cold?

This is professional sports, not a local beer league. Nobody should be getting dressed after the game has already begun.

I.O.Blue

The Bombers downplayed it all week, but their 30-6 drubbing at the hands of the Lions in Week 3 clearly provided a great deal of additional motivation for this game. They came out with steely determination and a controlled rage with the intention of giving the Lions a taste of their own medicine. They succeeded far more easily than even they could have imagined.

It is now the Lions’ turn to plot how they will respond to a blowout, as these two teams will meet for a third and final time to decide the season series on Friday, October 6. What they put forth this week will simply not be good enough to beat top teams in this league and they know it. Only then can they prove they’ve learned their lesson.

I suggest you circle that game in your calendar if you haven’t already.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.