September 20, 2021

Steinberg’s MMQB: Hear the Lions roar

Peter McCabe/

The BC Lions were staring at a golden opportunity heading into Saturday night. Calgary had lost the night before, while Edmonton was in a tough spot to close out the week against Winnipeg. Well, the Lions took care of business with their third straight win and the Elks would eventually lose later that night. As a result, BC now sits second in the West Division with a decent cushion on their two Alberta rivals.

» Recap: Lions knock off Als for third consecutive win
» CFL Fantasy: Who won Week 7?
» Michael Reilly on Lucky Whitehead: ‘His energy is infectious’ 

The Lions are one of this season’s nice stories as we approach the midway mark, led by Michael Reilly’s resurgence. Reilly’s return to BC for 2019 didn’t go the way anyone wanted. He struggled getting in a rhythm with receivers early while the offensive line in front had trouble protecting him. Then, when things finally looked to be figured out, Reilly sustained a season-ending wrist injury in Week 18.

Through his first six starts of this season, though, Reilly has looked like the guy who rattled off three straight 5,000-yard seasons in Edmonton. Saturday saw Reilly go 21/25 for 308 yards and two touchdowns; it was his third straight outing over 300 yards and fourth in six starts this year. As a result Reilly is back in a familiar spot on top of the CFL’s passing table. Rankings below reflect quarterbacks with 100 or more passing attempts.

Statistic Rank
Passing yards 1,601 2nd
Passing yards per game 266.8 2nd
Passing touchdowns 8 3rd
Efficiency rating 119.5 1st
Completion rate 75.6% 1st
Interception rate 0.6% 1st

Reilly’s stellar start to the season has been aided by a true dynamic duo at receiver. Lucky Whitehead went for 133 yards and a touchdown in Saturday’s 27-18 win in Montreal, which was good for his third 100-yard game of the season. We’ve used the term “emerging superstar” a few times on Monday mornings this year when referencing Whitehead. Well, I think you can now replace “emerging” with “bona fide.”

Whitehead leads the CFL with 554 receiving yards, 248 YAC yards, 18.5 yards per catch, and five plays of more than 30 yards. Right there with him is BC mainstay Bryan Burnham, who continues to be as steady and reliable as it gets. Burnham sits fourth overall at 433 yards and is as sure-handed as ever; he’s failed to reel in just five of his 32 targets all season.

But one thing that might be flying under the radar is what the Lions have done on the other side of the ball. Head coach Rick Campbell’s strong defensive track record has certainly followed him to Vancouver in year one. Through six games, the Lions have allowed a league-best five offensive touchdowns and sit first overall with 98 points against.

BC should feel good about how they’ve gotten to a 4-2 record, including impressive road wins in Montreal and Calgary. They’ve created a decent cushion for a West Division playoff spot and return home for their biggest game yet in Week 8: a showdown with the 4-2 Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Welcome back

Speaking of Sask, they bounced back in a big way Friday night…and so did Cody Fajardo. After dropping both legs of their Labour Day series with the powerhouse Bombers, Fajardo and the Riders came to play in a generally dominant 30-16 win over Toronto.

After leaving Saskatchewan’s last game, it was awesome to see Fajardo come back quickly and go the whole way a week later. And it was evident Fajardo was playing at 100%, because he was right back to the form that had him as the early-season Most Outstanding Player favourite.

Fajardo threw for 212 yards and two touchdowns and added an additional touchdown and 58 rushing yards on eight carries. It was the type of performance that should help lower the heat on some of the criticism Fajardo was taking coming out of the Winnipeg home-and-home. Look, there isn’t a quarterback in the league the Bombers aren’t going to terrorize right now.


Against a solid Toronto defensive unit, I was most impressed with how controlled Fajardo looked in the passing game. With the Argos doing a nice job smothering number one target Kyran Moore, Fajardo was more than happy to take advantage of the frequently open Kian Schaffer-Baker to the tune of 11 targets, nine catches, and 99 yards.

Taking Fajardo’s Week 7 performance into account with his season a whole, I can’t wait to see him go head-to-head with the aforementioned Reilly. Both quarterbacks are coming off strong outings and second place in the division will be on the line Friday night.

Quick hits

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats put together a great game plan and executed it well in their 23-17 win over the Stamps to open Week 7. As a result, David Watford was able to pick up a win in his first CFL start. Offensive coordinator Tommy Condell called a simple and effective game for his quarterback and Hamilton’s defence held up their end to pick up an important win.

Winnipeg’s kicking situation remains a work in progress. With Tyler Crapigna sidelined, the Bombers gave 2020 first round pick Marc Liegghio three games that had some highs and lows. Liegghio went 5/8 on field goal attempts and missed a trio of extra points, but also hammered a few impressive kicks from distance. I still think the Bombers have something with Liegghio, who remains their punter, but I understood trying something else for this week.

That someone else was journeyman Ali Mourtada, who went 0/3 kicking field goals in his CFL debut Saturday night. Mourtada hit all four of his point-after attempts and deserves some more time to work out the kinks. That’s the best part for Winnipeg: at a dominant 6-1, they have the opportunity to be patient and let this situation work itself out on its own.

Finally, congratulations to 2017 leading receiver Brandon Zylstra for catching his first NFL touchdown pass on Sunday. The former Edmonton standout, who racked up 1,687 yards in his only full CFL season, caught three passes for 44 yards and a major as his Carolina Panthers took out New Orleans 26-7.

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