(With files from Riderville.com/BCLions.com)
VANCOUVER -- The Lions and Roughriders are ready for round two of their West Division rivalry on Sunday afternoon at BC Place, as one team looks to stay hot and another tries to figure itself out.
It’s barely even been a month since the Riders just edged out the Lions by the skin of their teeth back in Week 3, but so much has changed since then that it almost feels like ancient history.
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That impressive grind-it-out 23-20 win in front of a boisterous Mosaic Stadium crowd in July was a statement game for the Riders, and now they travel to BC Place to face the league’s hottest team, trying to make an even bigger statement.
Still, if Head Coach Corey Chamblin’s players have learned anything in the first seven weeks of the season, it’s that they can’t get too caught up in the emotions of any one game.
“You can’t get too high with the highs and too low with the lows,” the rookie head coach told Riderville.com. “I’ve had highs and lows and I know that if you just keep working, things will turn around, and they will for this team.”
The sudden three-game slide has certainly tested the team’s mental makeup, and it’s a test Chamblin said his players seem to be passing with flying colours.
“The one thing that I have learned is that the guys in the room are still upbeat,” Chamblin said with a smile. “They are still in a positive spirit when they come to work and I think that is the biggest mark of a winning team.”
“It may not show in the win column, but they are a young team and it shows they didn’t falter,” he added. “We’ve been in every game to this point and I’m confident their hard work and attitude will materialize into some wins very soon.”
While the impact of turnovers applies for every team in football, it can’t be overstated for the 2012 edition of the Riders, who didn’t turn the ball over a single time during their three-game winning streak to open the season.
In their three losses since then, they’ve turned the ball over six times, including four interceptions from quarterback Darian Durant. But turnovers aren’t the only thing the Riders should be looking to improve heading into Sunday’s contest, according to Durant.
“The penalties are hurting us more than anything,” Durant said. “We killed ourselves with things like offsides and time count violations.”
“Those are just concentration penalties and things that can be avoided easily,” he continued. “We know that things like holding are going to happen, but some of the penalties that we can control are things that we need to be better at.”
Despite the lack of success in the win column, the Riders have still proven to have the capabilities of an elite team over their current stretch of losses, in which they were outscored by a total of just 12 points, and led by as many as 18 points in two of the three games.
Durant, meanwhile, remains on pace for a career year, sitting third in the league among starters with 1,765 yards and eight touchdowns, while throwing only four interceptions.
Yet, while his quarterback rating of 95.7 is solid, his team’s recent misfortunes have made him the target of some criticism among Riders fans. Durant is well aware of all the negative talk that has started to circulate, and he is just brushing it off saying its par for the course.
“I don’t worry about people say or think," the 29-year-old pivot said. “I’ve been through pretty much everything a guy can go through here. We’ve come out on top in some cases and in some cases we’ve sunk.”
“It’s not just about me. We are a young team and we just have to keep fighting and keep plugging.”
The next test will be their greatest yet, as the Lions have taken the league by storm since a 2-2 start, now boasting the league’s number-one defence and an offence that appears to be back in Grey Cup form.
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One thing the Riders can expect is that they’ll be facing a Lions team that’s a little different from the one they beat back in the first month of the season. Especially on defence, where they haven’t given up a major for nine quarters – a streak that goes back to the third quarter in a loss to the Eskimos back on July 20.
Led by one of the most reliable, veteran-savvy secondaries in the league and a pass rush that still likely appears in the nightmares of its latest victim, Ricky Ray, the Lions ‘D’ is ranked number one in the league in 14 defensive categories, including first downs and net yards given up.
They also sit at number one in quarterback sacks with 16, and touchdowns given up with just eight. Most impressive though has been their run defence, which has an 18-yard edge over the second-leading team with an average of 70.5 rushing yards allowed per game.
As they prepare to face the shifty Durant though, who’s thrown for 400 or more yards in his last two games but can also do some serious damage with his legs, they know they’ll be facing a unique challenge on defence that might be a little harder to contain.
|The last time they met|
Tristan Jackson reutrned a missed Paul McCallum field goal 129 yards, while Kory Sheets moved the offence late to give the Riders a 23-20 win in front of a boistrous Mosaic Stadium crowd. It was a showcase of the league's top two teams at the time, as both offences moved the ball carefully and methodically while the defences also stood their ground, leading to an impressive overall showing for both teams. Lulay broke out with 345 passing yards and two touchdowns in the loss, while Durant managed the offence without error in completing 18 of 28 passes for 172 yards against a very opportunistic Lion defence.
“I think it’s hard to keep him in check,” said Head Coach Mike Benevides. “I think what you get in Darian is a guy that’s going to hurt you with his feet and hurt you with his arm. When you look at last week, what Saskatchewan is doing very well is finding ways to make explosive plays.”
“It doesn’t matter whether it was the ironic tip drill for 53 yards or (Kory) Sheets for 70-plus yards, they’re finding ways to make some really explosive plays,” the first-year head coach added. “And as an offence, when you look at a team that last week had 500 odd yards of offence, it’s tough to handle.”
Durant only ran once against the Esks, but when he did he made it count, finding space in the middle of the field and sprinting for a 27-yard touchdown, on which he was barely even touched.
The Lions came through last week in a big way against one of the hottest quarterbacks in the league, making Ray look rather pedestrian at the best of times. Constant pressure on the first-year Argo led to three interceptions and a fumble from the veteran pivot, with two of those turnovers coming on the opening drives of the game.
As they get set to face another elite quarterback this week, they may scheme Durant a little differently than Ray, but in the end it’s impossible to try and fully contain him.
“I don’t think any players like that you shut them down in our league,” said Benevides. “What you do is you try and minimize what they do, and I think there are critical elements and points in the game you have to make plays, it’s no different than last week – early in the game we had to make some plays, and found a way to do that against a hall of fame quarterback.”
Offensively, the Lions continue to play consistent football, but most importantly they’ve been able to avoid turnovers. Travis Lulay has been the model of consistency in this league so far, and he best displayed his coolness in a win over the Argos heading into the bye.
Where the Argo defence was able to hold BC’s offence well in check throughout the majority of the game, Lulay stayed patient and didn’t turn the ball over a single time, taking only what the defence gave him.
That ended up being the difference in the game, as a fourth quarter touchdown gave the Lions just enough separation to hang on for an impressive road win, 18-9.
Lulay has thrown a touchdown pass in a league-best 17 straight games, and will have a good chance to extend that streak against a Rider defence that’s given up 11 touchdown passes in six games this season, including at least one in each of its previous four games.
Kickoff is at 7 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live via Game Tracker on CFL.ca.
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