August 14, 2011

Mullin: Lions in trouble heading into Week 8

Jim Mullin

Saturday night’s collapse after a promising start by the BC Lions laid bare all the problems which have besieged this team en-route to a staggering 1-6 record.

After some quality play calling and results with a few added bells and whistles for the offence, it all went horribly wrong in their 30-10 loss to Winnipeg at Empire Field.

Errant passes ended up killing drives, turnovers forced them to play on shortened fields, penalties immediately wiped out points and missed assignments by players that led to mistakes all played a major factor in the team’s sixth loss of the season.

The Lions are now that 70s muscle car sitting benignly on the back of a farmer’s field; engine seized, transmission dropped, with plenty of great parts and still looking good but it’s safe to say that it isn’t going anywhere fast.

If David Braley leaves this machine unattended for too long, rust will turn it into a pile a junk.

At least the defence battled hard through 60 minutes, even though they were thrown in the deep end of the field on too many occasions.

Geroy Simon persevered, hauling in some balls with his team down by a hopeless 20 points with less than six minutes remaining.

There are so many questions about a team whose lone win came against the victory challenge Saskatchewan Roughriders, a team that is currently facing its own share of turmoil.

Neither of them looks poised to step up for an autumn rally at this stage, unless they address some glaring weaknesses.

But what can be done for the Lions? Well, they could start with roster tweaking.

Jamal Robertson’s steady hands were missed in the backfield on Saturday. The tandem of non-import Andrew Harris and Tim Brown had problems handling the ball and had trouble establishing the running game.

In all fairness to Harris, he had an electrifying 69-yard TD romp that was erased when it was called back on a Dean Valli holding penalty.

That play, if it stood, would have provided a huge momentum shift.

They will likely have to sacrifice an import receiver, and go with Robertson at tailback.

There is no short term answer for the ineptitude displayed by the interior of their offensive line, which were manhandled by a pair of backup defensive tackles.

The offensive line was a group who took a major stumble backwards after some promising displays earlier in the season. They could ride out the games against Edmonton and Toronto coming up, and go for an NFL airlift.

If there was any year Lions Director of Player Personnel Roy Shivers could come to the rescue, it’s this season. One would hope that whoever does arrive in the Lions’ den bring with him an emotional quality which is clearly missing from this squad.

There is still a sense that anyone in this organization has ‘snapped’ with the notion that 1-6 is intolerable. It seems like something which can be managed. That would be the wrong response for the 24,000 boo-birds at the PNE last night.

A coaching shuffle is a possibility, but almost certainly not in the cards. As long as this team is within distance of a playoff spot, and hold on to the seemingly abstract notion that playing in front of a sold out house in a home town Grey Cup is a possibility, that ain’t happening, kids.

Last year, I got the sense that if things got worse beyond 1-7, Wally Buono would be ready to drop the coach’s role and start the rebuilding process from the general manager’s chair.

A promising second half rally held off that prospect last season. Obviously, he’s hoping that lightning will strike twice.

Up until Saturday’s loss, the one thing that was reassuring for Lions faithful was that their team was competitive in all of their games in 2011. That can no longer be said after one of the worst offensive performances in over a decade.

What is becoming apparent is that the work that Buono did in tandem with the late Bob Ackles to resurrect the franchise back to prominence is in the process of unravelling.

A seven-win season and a playoff berth in a town as fickle as Vancouver is not going to cut it.

There was great hope that the move to Empire would stir up nostalgic visions of Joe Kapp, Willie Fleming and Tom Brown.

Instead it’s churned up the ghoulish past of a faded Jackie Parker limping out of retirement, the Don Moorehead era, and string of losing seasons.

At this point, there is as much rebuilding to do with the Lions as their renovated confines of BC Place.

Let’s see if both get done in time to save a season.