August 26, 2014

Morris: Lions head into the bye with plenty of questions


This wasn’t the way the BC Lions wanted to spend their bye week.

The Lions won’t return to the practice field until Saturday but during the time away a swirl of questions will pester the players and coaching staff like a swarm of mosquitoes that ruin a summer evening.

A 20-16 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders last weekend, in a game team president Dennis Skulsky guaranteed the Lions would win, not only dropped BC into last place in the shoebox tight CFL West Division standings, it also exposed many of the team’s weaknesses.

Why did the Lions fail to score an offensive touchdown in a game for the second time this season? How do you explain a sputtering offence which generated just one first down during a 35-minute stretch in the second half? What happened to the BC running game which was held to just 56 yards? Why couldn’t the defence make a big play when necessary?

What has happened to home-field advantage? A Lions team that had lost twice at BC Place the last two seasons has already been beaten three times at home this year.

And maybe the biggest question, what possessed Skulsky to guarantee a Lions’ win, a move that backfired and could cost the team over $1.6 million if all the fans who attended Sunday’s game seek a free ticket for one of B.C.’s remaining four regular season home games.

Skulsky defended the move, saying it “was a response” to the Riders renting a billboard near BC Place stadium saying “green is the new orange.”

“It was also intended to be a response to get us going,” he said. “It didn’t get us going to the level I had hoped at the end of the day.”

“I don’t know when we will ever do it again but I stand by the decision.”

Lions’ owner David Braley has deep pockets so, while he won’t like it, writing a cheque to cover Skulsky’s bet won’t break him.

Still many Lions’ fans are left wondering, with a 5-4 record, do the Lions have the talent to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time since 1996?

Quarterback Travis Lulay believes it’s too early to panic.

“I know we are a better football team than we were in Week 1,” said Lulay, who has seen limited action this year while recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. “That’s progress for us.”

“Record wise we have a little bit of making up to do because we’ve had a couple of teams jump out on us here in the West. It’s going to be a battle but I do feel good about this room. We have more talent than we’ve had in certain years when it was a real struggle.”

Inconsistency has hurt the Lions this year. Some nights the offence has the harmony of a barbershop quartet. In other games it has the pitch of two cats fighting.

BC leads the league with 24 field goals, but is fourth with 17 touchdowns scored. Many promising drives have hit dead ends.

“It’s the opportunities not taken advantage of,” said Kevin Glenn, the quarterback who has guided the Lions while Lulay heals. “We kicked too many field goals and not enough touchdowns.”

The Lions defence has played well has also given up big plays.

“We need to get more take-aways,” said linebacker Adam Bighill, who is tied for third in the league with 40 tackles. “We aren’t helping the offence enough in that regard (to) change field position.”

“We are making average plays but we aren’t making enough big plays. That’s something we need to do. We need to cause fumbles, rip balls out. We need to be in better positions to make picks. We need to communicate better. There is always room to get better.”

The Lions have faced several hurdles this season.

Not only has Lulay been hurt, the left guard position has been a revolving door due to injury.

BC is also deciding what to do with defensive lineman Jabar Westerman who was told to stay home from the Rider game after missing the team walkthrough. Westerman is currently doing community service work in an attempt to have an assault charge dropped stemming from a June 29 incident at a local night club.

Bighill said the team has “moving pieces.”

“We’re a team that says the next man is up and we demand excellence from them,” he said. “No matter who you are, we demand excellence from you.”

One decision Mike Benevides must make is when Lulay will return as the starting quarterback. Benevides has chosen to slowly ease Lulay back into action but that luxury may be disappearing.

Benevides refused to say if Lulay would start the Sept. 5 game against the Ottawa REDBLACKS.

“I’m not going to make that call yet,” he said. “He is going to have more time with the bye week,”

“We’ll take a look at the guy who will give us the best chance (to win). We’ll look at the opponents we are facing.”

With half the season remaining the Lions still control their own playoff destiny. They have two games remaining against Calgary and one each against Edmonton and Winnipeg.

“We wanted to (beat Saskatchewan) so we could go into the bye at 6-3,” said Glenn. “We didn’t.”

“We’re still not out of the hunt. There is a lot of football let. Every team in the West is winning. We have to continue trying to win too.”