The defence leads the B.C. Lions' Grey Cup charge
Don’t believe the adage in sports that offence sells tickets and defence wins championships. That may be true of some teams, but it’s not the case with the B.C. Lions these days. The Leos’ defence is playing so well this season that it has become worth the price of admission, and you might want to purchase a ticket or two, since each week it looks more and more like this wall of a defence will lead the Lions to a second straight Grey Cup title.
With a 20-17 victory in Winnipeg on August 24, the Lions pushed their current win streak to four games. But that barely scratches the surface of how well the defence is playing. For starters, the Lions have held their last four opponents to a total of 39 points. During that stretch, the Blue Bombers became the first team to find the B.C. end zone, when quarterback Alex Brink plunged through the pile for a one-yard score. As a group, the Leos defence hasn’t surrendered a passing touchdown since July 6—six games ago. Simply put, this is unheard-of in a pass-happy league where teams usually air it out up and down the field. But not this year. Not against these Lions.
With a ferocious pass rush, a run-stopping linebacker corps, and a veteran secondary, the Lions are forcing the teams they play to pick their poison. And opponents are having a tough time finding any kind of weakness.
It’s been an impressive display and one that hasn’t gone unnoticed or unappreciated by the Lions’ offence, the group that has benefited most from the show of force. With the defence this sharp, the pressure to perform has been lifted from the group paid to move the football, including quarterback Travis Lulay, who’s had his moments but hasn’t played at the same level of consistency he did last season.
“You can’t say enough about the way the defensive guys are playing, and the thing that is most impressive about it is that they’re doing it on such a consistent basis—it’s not in spurts, it’s throughout the football games,” Lulay tells the Straight after a recent practice at the team’s Surrey training facility. “Offensively, if we do stumble out of the gates early in games, we don’t have to start pressing and we don’t have to start drawing stuff up on the sidelines. We can just stick to the game plan, go out, and start executing better, and having the defence playing as well as it has really has been a great spark plug for the team.”
There is a sense about this year’s Lions that it’s just a matter of time before Lulay and the offence hit their stride. But until then, the defence will have to keep coming up with the big plays at the right times.
Judging by recent performances, that shouldn’t be a problem. This is a group that has been forced to play the last two games without suspended lineman Khalif Mitchell, arguably the team’s best player when he’s in the lineup—and it hasn’t slowed the Lions down.
And as the team nears the midway mark of this season, it’s not out of line to begin considering this unit’s rightful spot in B.C. Lions history.
“I’ve played a lot of football for the Lions, and as we speak you’re talking about maybe the best defence we’ve ever had,” veteran centre Angus Reid says. “You can’t do anything against our defence and it’s not because of one player. It’s across the board. I know it firsthand because we have to practise against them all week. I can tell you this honestly, there have been many weeks where our practices are much harder than any game I’ll play in because of the personnel, their attitude, and their athletic ability. They are just too much of a handful.”
That’s remarkably high praise from a guy who has lined up in practice against the likes of Cameron Wake, Brent Johnson, Tyrone Williams, Carl Kidd, and Barrin Simpson, to name just a few of the Lions’ defensive stalwarts during Reid’s tenure with the team.
But that’s what makes the 2012 squad special. Clearly, other editions of the Lions have had big names, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a defence that can match this crew in every area of the game.
“This group has individual star players, but they all buy into what’s being taught to them and they really play for each other,” Reid says. “When you have those facets, you’re seeing what can be done.”
And one of the things that the Lions’ defence has done in recent victories is get the football back for the offence. On the rare occasions when opponents have been able to move the football against the Lions, someone on that defence has made a big play to force a turnover that snuffs out any threat and gives the Lions’ offence another shot.
“They’ve been great at setting up a short field for the offence, and our job is to go out there and put points on the board and take advantage of that situation,” Lulay says. “When those types of things are happening the way they have this season, that’s a great recipe for success.”
And with that recipe, the B.C. Lions seem to have a good thing cooking. They have emerged as the class of the Canadian Football League, thanks in large part to their daunting defence. It’s a group that’s giving the Lions all kinds of confidence—and giving everyone else in the CFL nothing but headaches.
Jeff Paterson is a talk show host on Vancouver’s all-sports radio Team 1040. Follow him on Twitter @patersonjeff.