August 21, 2014

Morris: Lions face tough task in Western matchup

Kevin Glenn has a couple of thoughts on what would make Sunday a great day.

First would be the BC Lions (5-3) beating the Saskatchewan Roughriders in a key CFL West Division matchup at BC Place Stadium. Things would be even better if the Lions’ quarterback spends the afternoon without getting up close and personal with Rider defensive tackle John Chick, who leads the league with 12 sacks.

“It’s always a good day when you don’t come face-to-face with a guy like that,” Glenn joked.

Chick was named defensive player of the week after making three quarterback sacks, four tackles and forcing a fumble in Saskatchewan’s 16-11 win over Montreal last weekend. It’s the second consecutive week, and third time this season, the 31-year-old has received the award.

Lions’ coach Mike Benevides has already come up with a way of dealing with Chick.

“I think we need to play with 13 players,” he said.

It’s only Week 9 of the season but the Lions-Roughrider clash could have playoff implications. Heading into Thursday BC, Saskatchewan, and Winnipeg (5-3) were all tied for third spot in the West with 10 points, two behind Calgary and Edmonton.

Whoever wins between BC and Saskatchewan will have a two-point lead over the losing team in the tight West standings. Depending on how the rest of the season plays out, that could help determine which club claims the final playoff spot in the West, including a potential crossover spot, and who may be eliminated fomr the playoffs altogether.

“This game is huge for us,” said running back Andrew Harris, who sat out the Lions’ 33-17 win over Toronto Sunday with an ankle injury but could play against the Riders. “It can set us up and move us up the standings.

“The West is so tight. Any time you play a Western team it’s a must win, especially when you are neck and neck with a team.”

The Lions have won three games in a row and five of their last six while the Riders are on a four-game winning streak. Their last loss was a 26-13 defeat by B.C. on July 12.

“There is a sense of urgency,” said offensive tackle Jovan Olafioye. “Everybody feels the pressure.”

“We need to come with a win.”

After a slippery start the Lions offensive is gaining traction. Heading into the weekend B.C. is second in the league in points scored (196), average yards per game (357.5), passing touchdowns (12), plays from scrimmage (629) and average time of possession (30 minutes, 48 seconds).

The Lions also have three receivers among league’s top seven. Emmanuel Arceneaux is third with 472 yards on 27 catches, Courtney Taylor fourth (405 yards, 37 catches) and Harris seventh (371 yards, 25 catches).

“We want to be one of the best groups in the league,” said Taylor. “We want to fight every week and be physical.”

“All year long, whether we had all the interchangeable parts on the o-line, the injuries, even the quarterback situation, it doesn’t matter. When we line up between the lines we are going to be the best. We are going to beat that guy in front of us.”

Harris remains second in the league with 410 rushing yards on 77 carries. Stefan Logan, who replaced Harris, was named offensive player of the week after rushing for a career-high 145 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown against Toronto.

Harris leads the league with 781 yards from scrimmage. Logan leads in combined yards with 1,182.

Glenn, who has been filling in for the injured Travis Lulay, is third in the league with 2,005 yards from completing 146 of 235. He believes the offensive can get better still.

“We’re not where, as an offense, we want to be at all,” he said. “I will be the first to say it.”

“There is a lot of growth and a lot more that we can do. That’s a good thing when you can always build. You never want to be where you feel there is no where else to go.”

The defending Grey Cup champion Riders have struggled on offence. Quarterback Darian Durant’s completion percentage is just 60.1 per cent, second worst among the league’s starters.

The Riders are tied for fifth in points scored (173), are sixth in passing touchdowns (seven), second last in plays from scrimmage (399) and third last in average time of possession (24:43).

Ryan Phillips, B.C.’s veteran defensive back, said the Riders are still adjusting after losing players like running back Kory Sheets and receivers Weston Dressler and Geroy Simon over the winter.

“I think they are going through a transition right now,” said Phillips. “When you lose a whole bunch of veteran guys . . . it makes them struggle a little bit.”

“We know they can hit a spark any time. We just have to make sure it’s not against us, especially on our home field.”

Benevides has some decisions to make, especially with the Lions having a bye next week.

He wants to watch Harris in practice this week before deciding if he will play.

Lulay, who had off-season shoulder surgery, saw limited action against Toronto. He’s expected to play against the Roughriders but Benevides won’t say how much.

“I anticipate he’ll still have a part in what we want to get done,” said the coach. “I told them both to prepare.

“He’s healthy, he’s ready to go. He needs to play.”