CFL Wired: Week 13 - Stamps 'D' shuts down Lions
VANCOUVER — Simply put, Jonathon Jennings can't explain it.
The B.C. Lions' offence — a unit expected to be lethal this season — has been anything but for long stretches, and is the main reason the CFL club finds itself in serious danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 1996.
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"Doesn't seem to make any sense," said Jennings, B.C.'s third-year quarterback. "We've got a lot of great players, we've got a lot of individual talent.
"We haven't made it work yet."
With Jennings coming off a 5,000-yard passing season, the league's third- and fourth-leading receivers from 2016 in Emmanuel Arceneaux and Bryan Burnham, the acquisition of free-agent speedster Chris Williams, the return of Nick Moore, plus Jeremiah Johnson and Chris Rainey coming out of the backfield, it was thought the Lions' attack would torment opposing defences in 2017.
B.C. (6-6) has instead scored the fewest points in the high-powered West Division and has looked disjointed far too often ahead of a crucial game at home against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (2-9) on Friday night.
"When we've been good, we've been very good," said Lions head coach and general manager Wally Buono. "When we've been bad, we've been very bad.
"There's been two extremes."
Jennings led B.C. to a 12-6 record last season, and had his team off to a 2-1 start when he suffered an injury to his throwing shoulder in Hamilton on July 15.
Travis Lulay looked good in taking charge the next three weeks, but when Jennings returned on Aug. 5 something wasn't right.
Lulay was back at the helm 2 1/2 games later with the Lions in a free fall, however the veteran pivot tore the ACL in his right knee two games ago against the Montreal Alouettes and was lost for the year. Jennings came off the bench to lead B.C. to a convincing victory in that one, but regressed last weekend as the Lions failed to score a touchdown in a frustrating 27-13 road loss to the first-place Calgary Stampeders.
"We've got to pick it up and get it back together," said Jennings, whose team is 2-5 over its last seven contests after starting the year 4-1. "We played a good game against Montreal, and we looked to build upon that, but obviously didn't do it."
The 25-year-old leads the CFL with 12 interceptions in just nine games — including three in his most recent outing — against only six touchdowns. He completed barely 50 per cent of his passes in Calgary for a paltry 167 yards while also getting sacked four times, but was far from the only culprit with the offensive line and receiving corps not offering much in the way of support.
"It's definitely new to me," Jennings said of his struggles. "I've never went through a stretch where I felt uncomfortable or wasn't producing, but it's part of the pro game. It's a different level.
"You've got to figure out a way to rise to that standard."
Despite sitting last in the West, the Lions still believe they have the horses to get the job done, especially against an opponent that has allowed a league-high 34.6 points per game and ranks at or near the bottom of most defensive categories.
The party line coming out of practice was it's simply a matter of executing the game plan and avoiding the crucial mistakes at key times that have cost B.C. so dearly.
"We know what we're about, we know what we have in the locker-room," said Johnson, who leads the CFL with 11 touchdowns. "At this point it's fight or flight, and our guys want to fight."
The Tiger-Cats head to Vancouver off a 27-19 home loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders — a defeat that came on the heels of their first two victories of the season following an 0-8 start. Hamilton still has an outside chance at a playoff spot in the extremely soft East Division, but needs to go on a run.
"They've got some mojo," said B.C. linebacker Solomon Elimimian, who played for Tiger-Cats head coach June Jones at the University of Hawaii. "One thing he does is get guys to believe they can win. They're playing faster, they're playing harder.
"But I still feel it's all about us. If we do what we're supposed to do, we'll get the job done."
While the Lions' offence has struggled, their defence has, for the most part, hung tough. It would be easy to point fingers, but there's a faith things will improve if everyone keeps pulling in the same direction.
"The confidence level of this team is still high," said Elimimian. "It's football — one snap and clear, one game and clear.
"You've got to move onto the next challenge."