June 26, 2023

Steinberg’s MMQB: Making a statement

Daniel Crump/CFL.ca

The BC Lions put the CFL on notice Thursday night. After a resurgent 2022, the Lions look like legit contenders in the early stages of this season. BC now sits 3-0 after an emphatic 30-6 win over Winnipeg to kick off Week 3.

Thursday’s win had to feel good, too. It was just under a year ago when the Lions and Bombers met in a Week 4 battle of unbeatens with a very different result. On that July night, Winnipeg flexed their two-time defending Grey Cup champ muscle. This time around, though, BC went into IG Field and they came to play.

With Vernon Adams Jr. at the helm, the Lions were humming on offence. Even with superstar receiver Dominique Rhymes on the shelf with a foot injury, BC racked up 305 yards of total offence in the win. Without Rhymes, the returning Lucky Whitehead and second-year standout Alexander Hollins more than picked up the slack.

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And for a second straight week, the Lions were absolutely dominant on the other side of the ball. A week removed from shutting out Edmonton, BC’s defence held the vaunted Bombers to just six points and frustrated them all night.

Led by Mathieu Betts off the edge, the Lions used their front four to apply pressure on Zach Collaros all night long. Winnipeg had no answer for Betts, who finished with three sacks, four defensive tackles and a pass knockdown. With Sione Teuhema, David Ménard, and Nathan Cherry also getting in on the action, BC’s defensive line combined for six of the team’s seven sacks. For context, Winnipeg has allowed around 1.4 sacks against per game the last two seasons.

WILL linebacker Bo Lokombo continues to make an early case for Most Outstanding Defensive Player with another standout performance. Lokombo has been as consistent as they come; he’s recorded seven tackles in each of his first three outings and has paced a talented second layer that includes fellow linebacker Ben Hladik and ace boundary duo Garry Peters and T.J. Lee.

Sure, there’s plenty to suggest Thursday was an off night for the Bombers, but that shouldn’t take anything away from what we saw from BC. This team is playing with confidence across the board and they deserve every ounce of that swagger.

Adams looks as good or better than he did during his breakout 2019 campaign in Montreal. The Lions boast one of the league’s deepest and most dynamic receiving groups. Taquan Mizzell has quietly given BC a steady run game. And that defensive group has been stellar.

Next up is one to circle, as the Lions visit Toronto a week from today. It might be early, but I don’t think billing that as a potential Grey Cup preview is over the top at all.

Lots to like

You have to give Cody Fajardo a lot of credit. We knew he was going to have a chip on his shoulder in his first year with the Alouettes, especially knowing how his time in Saskatchewan came to an end in 2022. That extra motivation has translated to two solid performances and a pair of wins for Montreal.

Sure, there were a few double clutch moments from Fajardo in Friday’s 38-12 win over Hamilton. But there were far more encouraging signs than not, as Fajardo finished the night with 292 passing yards and two touchdowns while adding another touchdown on the ground. He looked explosive and played with swagger with numerous deep shots throughout the night.


It’s also hard not to like what we’re seeing from Fajardo and newcomer Austin Mack. The Alouettes added Mack just before training camp and he has picked up the Canadian game in a hurry. After putting up 120 receiving yards in his CFL debut in Week 2, he added 81 more and a pair of touchdowns in the win over Hamilton. It clearly looks like they’ve found something with the Ohio State product.

But Montreal’s biggest test yet is in front of them. While the team’s 2-0 start is promising, it’s also come against the 0-2 REDBLACKS and now 0-3 Tiger-Cats. With no disrespect intended, Saturday’s showdown with a mad, motivated Winnipeg team is going to show us even more about where this Als team is early on.

Quick hits

I sure do like how resilient Saskatchewan has been early this season. That was very much on display again as the Riders outlasted Calgary in overtime Saturday night. Despite giving up a two-score fourth quarter lead, Sask stuck with it in extra time. And that defence, which made big plays all night long, saved its biggest and best for last when Nic Marshall picked off Jake Maier in the end zone to seal the 29-26 victory.

I’m curious what the Stamps are going to do at receiver. With Reggie Begelton already on the six-game, Calgary lost budding superstar Malik Henry to a ruptured Achilles in Saturday’s loss. That leaves the 1-2 Stampeders without their top two receivers. While more will fall on Tre Odoms-Dukes, Cole Tucker, and Luther Hakunavanhu, I am curious if Dave Dickenson also looks for an external addition.

Finally, I am loving seeing A.J. Ouellette turn into a star in front of our eyes. The bruising running back went off for three touchdowns and 84 rushing yards in Toronto’s 43-31 win over the Elks to wrap up Week 3 action. Andrew Harris is still a factor in his final CFL season, but transitioning the run game to one led by Ouellette makes a lot of sense.

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