The B.C. Lions have completed one third of their CFL season, but the team's offence is only performing at around 50 per cent.
The Lions have showed flashes of brilliance, but players and coaches headed into the bye week knowing three of those wins weren't exactly convincing.
"We're not close to where we want to be right now," said Emmanuel Arceneaux, B.C.'s leading receiver with 384 yards from 19 catches. "I'm not going to lie and say we are.
"Right now we're not executing. We are putting together just enough to get a win. We're not satisfied one bit with the performance that we have put up these past six weeks."
The Lions offence has been like a ship on the ocean. There have been highs and lows. Good plays come in waves, then the tide goes out.
After six games B.C. led the league in plays from scrimmage (459), first downs (128) and net yards offence (2,148). At the same time the Lions were middle of the pack in points scored (143), touchdowns (14) and average yards passing per game (246.3).
Moving the ball hasn't been a problem. Punching it into the end zone has.
In their 38-12 loss to Toronto, B.C. was inside the Argonauts' 10-yard line four times but managed only field goals. It was the first time in 131 games the Lions didn't score a touchdown. It also ended quarterback Travis Lulay's streak of 36 games with a touchdown pass.
The Lions found their claws in last week's 27-20 win over Winnipeg, with Lulay throwing three touchdown passes inside the 20-yard line.
Jacques Chapdelaine, B.C.'s offensive coordinator and receivers coach, said the Lions are heading in the right direction but the journey is far from complete.
|Getting used to change|
"I need to trust those guys and understand how they play. When new guys come in it kind of shakes things up for myself and the guys they are playing with. The good thing is we have Dean, who has been in there for a while. It's almost like we didn't skip a beat."
- Lions RB Andrew Harris on changes on the BC offensive line
"Right now we have to dig ourselves out of a negative slump a little bit," he said. "We showed when we are executing, when we do what we are supposed to do, we're doing really well.
"We can control the football, we can control field position, we can control the tempo of the game. This is a game of speed and execution. When those two things aren't working together, you're not looking pretty all the time."
The Lions are experiencing some growing pains. The team lost 25 years of CFL experience, plus a pair of clutch, go-to receivers, with the departure of slotbacks Geroy Simon and Arland Bruce.
Arceneaux is back after a two-year stint in the NFL where he dressed for three games and had one catch. Wide receiver Courtney Taylor played just five games with the Lions last year after missing two seasons of football when diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Receivers Nick Moore, Shawn Gore, Marco Iannuzzi and Ernest Jackson all have three or less years experience.
"Chemistry is something that gets better as the year goes on," said Lulay.
Injuries have also resulted in lineup changes. Arceneaux missed the Toronto game with a ankle injury and wasn't 100 per cent against Winnipeg. Moore, who has 357 yards on 23 catches, didn't play against Winnipeg due to an ankle problem. Gore missed a game with a concussion.
Coach Mike Benevides said in a sport where a split second makes a difference, Lulay and his receivers are still checking their watches.
"When you take a look at certain conversion routes, certain vertical routes, there are things they have to work through together," said the second-year coach.
The Lions started the season with second-year player Matt Norman playing centre for the first time in his career and rookie Kirby Fabien at guard. Fabien tore up his knee against Toronto, moving veteran Dean Valli, who had off-season knee surgery, back into the lineup.
Running back Andrew Harris, who has 459 yards from 83 carries, said the offensive line is the engine that drives the team.
"I need to trust those guys and understand how they play," said Harris, who also has five catches for 189 yards. "When new guys come in it kind of shakes things up for myself and the guys they are playing with.
"The good thing is we have Dean, who has been in there for a while. It's almost like we didn't skip a beat. At the same time I was getting used to Fabien. He was coming into his own. It hurts a little bit. You have to just keep rolling with the punches."
Lulay is still one of the top quarterbacks in the league but hasn't always shown the prowess of his 2011 Most Valuable Player season. He's completed 119 of 180 passes for 1,468 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions, plus rushed for 193 yards on 23 carries. He still hasn't thrown for 300 or more yards in a game this year.
"If I'm concerned about my statistics, I'm concerned about the wrong stuff," Lulay shrugged. "We're trying to find ways to win football games.
"Four of those games we were running the clock out late. If you are behind you are still throwing it. If we were losing games I'd probably would have thrown for more yards."
The true test of how good the Lions are will come later in the season. B.C. plays both Saskatchewan and Calgary twice in the final seven games.
Lulay expects the offence to be firing on all cylinders by then.
"If we are playing equal to where we are now in the last third of the season, we'll be disappointed," he said. "You want to continue to get better as the season goes on.
"We have been able to bounce back in a lot of good situational football. The biggest thing is the lulls in between. We have spots where we are very good. Even if we're not scoring, we're moving the ball, giving ourselves opportunities to make plays. It's the spots of the game where we have three two-and-outs where we have to be better. I am confident we will be."