Labour Day weekend signals the start of the second half of the CFL season. With that, LastWordOnSports CFL has created report cards for all nine teams. Teams will be rated on their offence, defence, special teams, and coaching over the first 10 weeks of the season. This will help fans compare their teams to others across the CFL and help identify areas of strength and weakness. Here is the British Columbia Lions 2016 Mid-Season Report.
British Columbia Lions 2016 Mid-Season Report
Perhaps more than any other team in the CFL, the B.C. Lions have been the most exciting to watch when it comes to putting up points. Led by the electric Jonathan Jennings the Lions own a top three spot in nearly every offensive category and show no signs of slowing down. Whether it is through the air or along the ground the Lions have found way to put up points, and lots of them, nearly every time they take the field.
While Jennings is certainly the story at quarterback, it’s the “Manny and Friends” show at the receiver position with Emmanuel Arceneaux, Bryan Burnham, and Shawn Gore all having career years for the Lions. Running back is no different with Anthony Allen and Jeremiah Johnson doing their best to make Lions fans forget the departed Andrew Harris. Allen and Johnson have combined with Jennings to form the most dangerous and versatile rushing attack in the CFL, a feat that is made much easier behind one of the top offensive lines in the country.
If there is a criticism to be found against the Leos offence it would be that Jennings has struggled with consistency against tougher defences. In all three of the Lions losses this season they faced a formidable defensive effort that frustrated and battered their franchise passer. This could be a concern when the games get harder and defences tighten up come playoff time but the young signal caller has shown he can adapt, improve, and overcome given the chance to do so.
For all the glory that the Lions offence garners it would be foolish to ignore the real strength of the B.C. Lions, their dominant defence. Ranking in the top four in forced fumbles, sacks, and pass deflections, the Lions are a wrecking crew when it comes to making life miserable for opposing offences. And what makes the unit so dangerous is abundance of talent at every level of play.
Solomon Elimimiman and Adam Bighill are two of the best run defenders in the CFL, and both easily place in the top five for overall linebacker play in the league. Sack-master Alex Bazzie has nine quarterback take-downs and is backed up by a pair of other talented rushers in Craig Roh and Jabar Westerman. Mike Edem and Loucheiz Purifoy are performing exceedingly well in their hybrid ‘backer roles while older veterans Ryan Philips and Brandon Stewart continue to produce at a solid level.
The Lions are fully equipped to go toe-to-toe with any offence in the CFL and have more than a fighting chance to come out on top. As the weather gets colder and the games become more important, the Leos defence will be called upon more often than not to shoulder the load, something they should have no problem doing.
The weakest area of the B.C. Lions through 10 weeks is easily the special teams, and yet the unit is still among the league’s best. The speedy Chris Rainey and his dynamic returns have made the Lions the league leaders in punt and kick return averages while also being a threat to score anytime he touches the ball. Ace special teamer Jason Arakgi recently set the record for most special teams tackles in a career and continues to be one of the best in the CFL at stopping returners short of the end zone.
Where things get a little dicey for the Leos is their kicker, Richie Leone. Currently Leone is in the conversation for best punter in the league with a +50 yard kicking average and well over 2000 total kicking yards. The problems come on field goals, where Leone has been far from effective, sitting at less than 70% through 10 weeks. While the Lions have made up for this shortcoming by excelling in virtually every other area, being able to make clutch kicks when it counts is essential for every team come playoff time. With the second half of the season likely to include several close games, B.C. will have to hope that Leone improves before an errant kick sinks the team at an inopportune time.
Without a doubt the Lions have benefited greatly from the return of their legendary head coach Wally Buono. The Godfather of football has prowled the sidelines and infused a winning mentality back into a B.C. franchise, something that had withered away since his move to the front office in 2011. From strategy, to player development and retention, to handling the media and his own team’s emotions, Buono has made his return to the sidelines felt on the field and in the CFL’s standings.
It’s not just Buono making the Lions better on the sidelines either. Several members of the Leos coaching staff have distinguished themselves throughout 10 weeks. Khari Jones has excelled in his transition to offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach and has done wonders with Jennings. On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Mark Washington has molded his unit into one of the league’s most dreaded defences. The offensive line has also blossomed under the tutelage of long time CFL coach Dan Dorazio.
The only real negative for the Lions and their coaching staff is the abysmal loss to the Calgary Stampeders in Week 9. In what was arguably the most important game of the young season, the team was inexcusably flat from start to finish and looked utterly lost against the Stamps. This performance (or lack thereof) was out of character and likely an isolated event for Buono and Co, but it keeps the A+ off the board.
With an excellent blend of youthful energy and veteran grit, the Lions are setup to thrive both this year and for years to come. The biggest knock against the team was their performance against the undisputed best team in the CFL, Calgary. That said, the Lions have earned the right to stand right behind the Stamps as the league’s #2. The Leos combine an exciting offense with a suffocating defence and dynamic return unit. Throw in the unparalleled coaching acumen of Buono and B.C. has every chance to be the last team standing over the next half of the CFL season.
Overall Grade: A
Make sure to stay locked-in to LastWordOnCanadianFootball to take a look at the report cards for the rest of the CFL’s teams. Feel free to leave your own grades or comments below and make sure to check back for more exciting CFL content in the future.