EDMONTON — There are no shortage of storylines heading into Saturday’s game between the BC Lions and the Edmonton Elks at Commonwealth Stadium.
The Lions improved to 5-1 on the season with a 19-9 win over Saskatchewan last week but it came at the cost of starting quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. who left with a knee injury and was replaced by veteran Dane Evans.
Evans led the offence by throwing for 219 yards, a touchdown and an interception in relief against the Riders.
On the opposing sideline, Chris Jones’ Elks remain in search of their first win in 2023 after dropping their seventh straight to open the season against Winnipeg in Week 7.
Evans has always been able to amass yardage through the air but has been prone to turnovers, an issue he’ll need to be weary of against an Elks defence averaging an interception per game.
He won’t be short on targets as the Lions have been spreading the ball around all season to one of the most talented receiving units in the game. Keon Hatcher, Justin McInnis – who is third in the league in yards per catch with 17.5 – and Lucky Whitehead will give Evans multiple options with each read.
The Lions will be without Dominique Rhymes though, who’s also sidelined with a knee injury.
Meeting them downfield will be a talented Elks secondary that has been strong against the pass game, giving up a third best 254.7 yards per game. Defensive backs Kai Gray, Scott Hutter and Marcus Lewis have all been a big reason for their success.
Evans knows Edmonton will be hungry for a win and his side will need to match their intensity.
“This will be a good week getting back to work,” Evans told BCLions.com.
“We got a good challenge. It’s not like we’re playing a team that isn’t any good. Edmonton is good and their defence is probably their strength too. I’m excited for it.”
There’s reason to believe the Lions rushers will put up better numbers, as the Elks have surrendered a league worst 144 yards on the ground per game.
A large portion of the Lions success could hinder on the play of their defence which is something head coach Rick Campbell should be just fine with. Collectively, they’re allowing 358.7 net yards per game, good for third best in the CFL.
Defensive lineman Mathieu Betts heads into this week’s game leading the league with 10 sacks and linebacker Bo Lokombo ranks fourth with 38 defensive tackles. Both will look to add to the 21 sacks the Elks have given up and control a run game that is averaging 84.6 yards.
While the Lions don’t thrive in the interception department, they certainly do in limiting yards through the air.
Quarterback Taylor Cornelius has thrown seven of the his team’s 11 interceptions and needs to be cognizant of defensive back Garry Peters and his six pass knockdowns.
After connecting with six different receivers last week, Cornelius will try to establish chemistry with as many receivers as possible. One player the Lions secondary will need to keep tabs on is Dillon Mitchell who’s coming off a 115-yard receiving game.
As happy as he was with his performance, Mitchell is only focused on coming out victorious this week.
“I always want to win,” Mitchell told reporters.
“Personal stats will come. Overcoming adversity makes us as players. Going forward I’m hoping to keep that same energy and that same momentum so we can get the win.”
On the ground, Cornelius and Kevin Brown have formed a respectable duo and will keep the Lions on their toes as they look for their fourth straight game with over 100 rushing yards.
Jones knows his offence will be tested by one of the league’s better defences and expects his team to rise up to the challenge.
“That’s a good defence and it’s fun to watch them play,” Jones told reporters.
“They’re very active. They do a nice job of keying the football and they’re very disruptive. The thing I’m probably most impressed with is the way they pursue the football.”
With the Blue Bombers on a bye week, the Lions can take over sole possession of first in the West Division with a win.
The Elks will need to have their best performance yet to move into the win column and end their 20-game home losing skid.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. EDT from Commonwealth Stadium. International audiences can watch the game on CFL+ while Canadian viewers can watch on TSN. U.S. audiences can watch on CBS Sports.
— With files from BCLions.com and GoElks.com