Like most offensive linemen Ben Archibald has very broad shoulders.
The B.C. Lions' giant left tackle knows the offensive line's first priority is protecting quarterback Travis Lulay. So with Lulay being pounded like a drum recently Archiblad knows who has to step up and shoulder most of the responsibility.
"Our job is to protect him," Archibald said after the Lions practiced on a hot afternoon to face the Montreal Alouettes Sunday at BC Place Stadium."
"As a line we've underachieved. We've been put in difficult circumstances sometimes but that's no excuse or reason to justify. We've made mistakes. Teams have attacked us and we haven't responded real well at times. Some of those are definitely on us a group."
The Lions have lost two of their last three games, including last week's 37-29 defeat at the hands of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. When the Lions last played Montreal Aug. 22, they blew a 21-7 halftime lead and lost 39-38.
|"Tweaking and Refinement"|
- Ben Archibald
The Lions have managed to score an average 26.5 points a game this year but also have allowed 26.6. More troubling is the way Lulay has been batted around like a kitten playing with a ball.
The Mongolian hordes showed more subtlety ravaging Asia than the defensive strategy teams have used against the Lions. Opponents have simply brought more men than the offence can handle, resulting in Lulay taking some crushing blows. He's been forced to pick himself up more often than a drunk on a Saturday night.
B.C. has given up 26 quarterback sacks in 10 games this year. That compares to 30 all last season. There have been 17 sacks in the last six games and 11 in losses to Hamilton (three) Montreal (five) and Toronto (three). Lulay has thrown eight interceptions this year compared to 10 last season.
The Lions' offensive line has faced questions all year. Second-year player Matt Norman took over at centre when Angus Reid injured his back at training camp. Kirby Fabien, a 22-year-old rookie, started at right guard but was lost for the season with a knee injury. He was replaced by Dean Valli.
It's too easy to blame all the protection problems on the offensive line. Sometimes sacks occur because a receiver runs the wrong route or the quarterback doesn't see an open man and hangs onto the ball too long.
"There's a lot of guys on the field," said the six-foot-four, 322-pound Archibald, the league's outstanding lineman in 2010.
"Some of those sacks and hits are from breakdowns among the group, when (opponents) should have been picked up but they weren't. Unless you are in meetings and know the complexity of the whole scheme it's hard to tell from the outside."
Lulay can also help himself. To beat a charging defence the quarterback must get rid of the ball quicker. He can also move his launch point or sometimes step up into the pocket.
"We have to answer in multiple ways," said Lulay, who has thrown back-to-back 300-yard games. "Whether it's the quick game, the wide receiver screen or the running back screen. Things like that are things you look at."
Quarterback protection is also the responsibility of the running back. Andrew Harris has been adequate stepping into the role but at five-foot-11 and 213 pounds, he's not the biggest man in the backfield.
"It's not my strong suit but it's something I'm working on," said Harris. "I'm ready for it and accept the challenge."
Harris' role as Lulay's bodyguard has resulted in him seeing the ball less. He had just four carries for 20 yards in the loss to Hamilton. In the last three games Harris has carried the ball 22 times for 67 yards and no touchdowns.
The Lions have plenty of time to iron out their problems. They are secure in third place in the CFL West. Considering the Edmonton Eskimos are fairly far behind, it would take a catastrophic collapse for B.C. not to make the playoffs.
Only two of B.C.'s wins this season have come against teams with a winning record. Things won't get any easier down the stretch with three games against Saskatchewan and two against Calgary.
"We're behind the eight-ball in the West right now as far as having a home playoff game," said Harris, who has rushed for 582 yards on 118 carries this season.
"That's what we want right now."
Emotions ran high at practice this week when defensive back Korey Banks and defensive end Khreem Smith got into a fight.
"It shows we have a lot of energy right now," said Lulay. "Those are two high-strung guys.
"It's not overly surprising."
Lulay shrugged when asked if he's taken more hits this year than in the past.
"I don't remember," he said with a smile. "Maybe that's a sign of punishment in the past."
Lulay remains confident in his line's ability to keep him healthy.
"The second I start second guessing or doubting anything in front of me, that's bad for the unit," he said. "I see the way those guys work . . . how much it bothers them if I do get hit."
"Those guys are working their tails off for me."
Archibald said the offence doesn't need an overhaul, just some minor tweaking.
"You take 12 guys on offence and everyone tweaks a little bit and plays a little bit better, eliminates two errors a game," he said. "Now Travis has the time, now he is finding the open guy."
"It's just tweaking and refinement. The difference between winning and losing is so close. There's just a couple of details here and there that have to be fixed."