B.C. Lions: Five things to consider to start September

The B.C. Lions enter September in second place, in a bit of a slump.

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A week off for the B.C. Lions to start September gives them, and us, a chance to take stock of where this team sits with two months to go in the CFL season.

Here are five things to consider about the Lions’ ambitions this season as the battle for playoff positioning starts to heat up:

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Adams’ arm

So much about the Lions’ success rides on Vernon Adams’ arm.

The veteran quarterback is averaging 246 yards a game through the air, as good as he’s managed in his two previous seasons as a starter in Montreal.

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On Saturday, he had 306 yards passing, the seventh time this season he’s surpassed 300.

This offence-through-the-air is very much a team strategy: the Leos are averaging the most passing yards — 306 yards — and the fewest rushing yards — just 81.5 yards — per game across the league.

The equation is pretty simple.

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Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros (8) gets sacked by B.C. Lions’ Mathieu Betts (90) during first half CFL action in Winnipeg Thursday, June 22, 2023. Photo by John Woods /THE CANADIAN PRESS

Defensive woes

To start the season all talk was about the Lions’ defensive dominance.

That’s not been the case lately.

Before Saturday’s win over the Als in Montreal, B.C. had lost three of four games. In those three losses, they had given up 38 points per game.

You’re not often going to win when you’re giving up that many points.

The good news is most of the time their defence has been outstanding, and on the season as a whole they’ve still given up the second-fewest points in the CFL; only Toronto has given up fewer.

And it’s because the Lions continue to make big plays in big moments like the interception in the end zone by Quincy Mauger on Saturday as Montreal looked poised to take the lead.

“Me and Manny (Rugamba), we’ve been practising attacking the ball. Iron sharpens iron, so when watching film having Mack in that three spot and running that corner route, I had to make that play. Any time the ball’s in the air, the DB’s mentality is to make that play. That’s exactly what happened right there,” Mauger said after the game.

The Lions also did a great job of harrying Montreal quarterback Cody Fajardo — again, when the Lions have been on, their defence has kept opposing QBs scrambling.

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T.J. Lee had another pick in the game’s waning moments as the desperate Alouettes tried to pull off a miracle.

Big leg

Sean Whyte is as good as they come. The Lions’ kicker has nailed 30 of 32 field goal attempts this season, the best success rate in the league.

His only misses have been from 49 and 52 yards, there’s no shame in that.

Having Whyte nailing kicks from everywhere is a great supplement to the red-hot aerial attack, which has scored 20 touchdowns on the season, the second-most in the league.

The only kink in the Lions’ offensive armour is their running game, which has scored just four touchdowns on the year, the fewest majors scored on the ground by any team in the CFL this season.

If the Leos can somehow add a little more power to their rushing attack, watch out.

B.C. Lions wide receiver Alexander Hollins (13) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown against the Montreal Alouettes during first half CFL football action in Montreal, Saturday, September 2, 2023.
B.C. Lions wide receiver Alexander Hollins (13) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown against the Montreal Alouettes during first half CFL football action in Montreal, Saturday, September 2, 2023. Photo by Graham Hughes /The Canadian Press

No comeback

When the Lions have lost, it’s been about bad starts they can’t recover from.

Three of their four losses on the season have seen the Lions trailing at the half. Indeed, those are the only three times they’ve gone into the half trailing — not once have the Lions recovered to win after a first-half scoring deficit.

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B.C. is one of three teams in the league to not have come from behind to win after trailing through the first two quarters: the disastrous Edmonton Elks and the nearly-as-woeful Calgary Stampeders are the only other CFL squads to not have come back after trailing at the half.

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The B.C. Lions’ Justin McInnis (18) makes a touchdown catch against the Edmonton Elks’ Marloshawn Franklin Jr. (32) and Kai Gray (29) during first half CFL action at Commonwealth Stadium, in Edmonton Saturday July 29, 2023. Photo by David Bloom Photo by David Bloom /Postmedia

Playoff hopes

Even sitting second in the West, the Lions weren’t in control of their playoff fate before last Saturday.

But with the Blue Bombers losing to the Roughriders on Sunday, the Lions are back in full control of their positioning.

The Lions and the Bombers have one game left against each other on the season, Oct. 6 at B.C. Place. If the two teams end the year with equal records, the winner of that game will likely take first in the West.

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