The BC Lions entered 2018 knowing to get back to the post-season they’ll have to leap frog at least one, if not two, West Division teams to get there.
To do so, Jonathon Jennings needed to climb back into the conversation of top quarterbacks in the league. To say 2017 was a setback for his young career was an understatement as his interceptions outnumbered his touchdowns and his yardage dropped significantly.
No wonder the team went from second in the West to fifth.
Jennings rushed for 57 yards in Week 1, can he do it again this week? (Jimmy Jeong/CFL.ca)
On Friday night, the Lions have an excellent opportunity to send a message early in the year to the rest of the West as they hit the road against the Edmonton Eskimos.
If Week 1 was any indication, you could already see a far better Jennings throwing for 83 per cent with two touchdowns and no interceptions. It was a step in the right direction.
However, you could easily disregard that game because it came against the Montreal Alouettes who were lit up by a rookie quarterback in Chris Streveler in Week 2.
But, if you can, let’s ignore the opponent for a second to look through Jennings’ debut of this season as he was efficient and led a balanced attack. He also showed off his ability to use his legs to move the ball as he took off nine times for 57 yards. It was actually the most yards Jennings has ever rushed for in one game in his career and we’ll see if that was just a one-off or if Jennings is looking to add another dynamic skill to his repertoire.
One of the biggest problems for Jennings last year was the offensive line in front of him allowed too many sacks and too many pressures and they went out and tried to solidify the O-line. The weapons are still there for Jennings with his favourite targets Bryan Burnham and Emmanuel Arceneaux looked to often in the first game of the season.
But are these Lions ready to make a jump up the standings? And on Friday will we see an Edmonton team that could be threatened as a team that is falling back.
I know it’s a little early to be able to assess a team. I remember the Toronto Argonauts were 3-4 at one point last season.
The Eskimos, however, have to be a little bit concerned after getting thumped 38-21 by Hamilton last week.
Odell Willis will be facing his former team, the Eskimos, this week (Jimmy Jeong/CFL.ca)
Edmonton has allowed 34 points per game and over 400 yards of offence. After remaking some of their defence, the Eskimos are clearly ironing out some details while some of their former players were very good for the BC Lions. Gerry Peters got in interception, Marcel Young had two knockdowns and Odell Willis had a sack.
The biggest problem for Edmonton is the inability to stop the run early this season. 166 yards allowed per game is wearing down their defensive line and giving the opponent far too many options in play calling. It seems like everything the Tiger-Cats called worked.
Offensively, the Eskimos are showing the Duke Williams is fitting right in to take over for the departed Adarius Bowman and Brandon Zylstra.
So who are these teams? What is the balance of power early in the 2018 season? Was BC buoyed in Week 1 by the Montreal Alouettes? Did the Eskimos just have a bad day against Hamilton?
OR are we seeing an early trend for the 2018 season for both these teams? Is Jonathon Jennings finding his game again? Are the BC Lions defence coming to be being a fierce and feared? Has the Edmonton Eskimos youth movement led to too many inexperienced mistakes?
These games in the West have been decisive in the final standings. In every year since 2011 the divisional record has mirrored the final standings in the West Division. Both teams will answer some of the above questions.
If Jennings comes out and shows another well-managed, efficient and confident performance, we just could be seeing a major shift in the balance of power in a strong West Division.
Get all the top stories from across the league delivered to your inbox.