Heading into their bye week, the general mood on the West Coast is that of disappointment and frustration. The BC Lions expectations heading into the 2019 season was that of a high octane offence and a solid defence led by head coach DeVone Claybrooks. However, at 1-6 reality has set in that this team isn’t a contender.
The 2019 season is far from over and we’re all well aware of the 2011 Lions who started in a similar fashion only to go on and win the Grey Cup. But that was the exception, not the rule. Point being, it wasn’t supposed to be like this. Another loss to Saskatchewan has cost the Lions the tie-breaker and has seriously hindered their playoff chances.
How They Got Here
Let’s rewind to February when it was just announced that Mike Reilly would be taking his talents to the West Coast. This initial move alone set the BC Lions expectations to astronomical heights. That would just be the start of new identity the Lions were forging. Duron Carter was signed to be the go-to target for Reilly with his spectacular 2017 season still fresh in the minds of many fans. Lemar Durant was also added to bolster a receiving corps that had also brought back Bryan Burnham. In the backfield, Brandon Rutley was re-signed and John White was lured over from Edmonton.
Finally, on offence, the Lions brought over Sukh Chungh and re-resigned Hunter Steward to solidify the offensive line in front of Reilly. On paper, this was supposed to be a highly functioning offence with game-breakers at every level.
Defensively, the Lions locked up TJ Lee and signed Aaron Grymes in the secondary. The SAM linebacker/defensive back hybrid, Chris Edwards was brought on board from the Eskimos as well. This side of the ball was expected to thrive under the watch of Claybrooks and Rich Stubler.
On offence, they haven’t been pretty. Mike Reilly has taken a beating behind the makeshift Lions offensive line. They’ve allowed a league-leading 25 sacks in seven games while starting four different line combinations in that same time frame. When he does have time to throw the ball, he’s averaging just 7.3 yards per attempt.
The effect? Just six touchdowns to six interceptions for Reilly and an 85.9 efficiency rating. That’s second last for quarterbacks that have played in at least four games, only Mcleod Bethel-Thompson has a worse rating. However, that’s not to say Reilly has been making poor decisions. He has ranked near the top in a majority of Marshall Ferguson’s weekly accuracy grades.
As for their free-agent running back additions, the Lions rank second-to-last in rushing attempts per game (16.7) and third last in yards (538). The offence has been squarely placed on Reilly’s shoulders. However, he doesn’t have the time to make the plays CFL fans are accustomed to him making over the years. There appears to be less merit to “establishing the run” than originally thought, however, a run game is desperately needed in the Lions case who are hoping to take the pressure off of Reilly.
The aforementioned secondary has been a dud through seven weeks. They’ve allowed a league-worst 15 touchdowns (note that they’ve played one extra game than every other team). The Lions secondary hasn’t been able to create many turnovers either with just four interceptions on the year. Along the trenches, the Lions have mustered just seven sacks in seven games. For a unit being coached by Claybrooks and Stubler, this is not good enough.
This is a young group and it will take time for the rest of this defensive line to grow into their roles. Korey Toomer is in his first season as a CFL player and Junior Luke is in just his third season. The other half of the defensive line is comprised of an all-time great in Odell Willis and Davon Coleman who had eight sacks last season.
Hindsight is 20/20
So what’s missing from this group that has caused such a slow start on the west coast? For one thing, they may be missing the leadership they had from last season in the locker room. Being a rookie head coach is never easy, it makes it more difficult when leaders like Emmanuel Arceneux and Solomon Elimimian are no longer around. Not to mention the losses of Anthony Orange, Chris Rainey, Tyrell Sutton and Cory Watson. That’s a massive mix of leadership and playmakers that have vacated the dressing room.
Now, no one here is disputing the merit behind Mike Reilly securing his money. However, it did come at a cost to keep key contributors from season’s past. And perhaps this was lost in the hype between the Claybrooks hire (who should have the opportunity to finish out the entire season), the Reilly signing and the other flurry of moves the Lions made. To top it off, they revealed some great new threads and before everyone knew it, they were West Division favourites in many’s eyes (including my own).
This isn’t Reilly’s fault for being paid what he’s being paid, nor is it the Lions fault for paying him what they are paying him. It may have come down to the BC Lions expectations being too high before this brand new team took the field. Should any Reilly led team be 1-6? No, however, it hurts that much more for Lions fans and supporters when the promise was championships.
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