Were the BC Lions Expectations too High?

BC Lions expectations
REGINA, SK - JULY 20: Head coach DeVone Claybrooks of the BC Lions on the sideline during the game between the BC Lions and Saskatchewan Roughriders at Mosaic Stadium on July 20, 2019 in Regina, Canada. (Photo by Brent Just/Getty Images)

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

Offence

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.

Defence

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.

The Results

Offence

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.

Defence

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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5 COMMENTS

  1. You pretty much nailed it. The Lions had some weapons on offence but, as noted by Lions beat scribe Willes during training camp, on defence there were questions all over the place. He also had some doubts about the OL at that time. The OL features 2 very good bodies in Figueroa & Chungh but losing Olafioye & Husband to retirement hurt. Boyko, highly touted, & Vaillancourt, a high draft at one time, both are not quick enough to play tackle & that’s where they’ve been. Last week they occupied both tackle positions. Chungh has always been an excellent run blocker but so-so for pass protection. In Edmonton with Reilly they played a lot of long ball, which is in his wheelhouse. He needs that extra second to open up things downfield. The Lions continue to try to push the ball downfield. You only need to see the 1 sack allowed by the Eskimo OL this year to get what happens when you have a quick release QB like Harris. To offset the rush, the Lions haven’t used the quick dump passes over the middle & part of the problem there is Carter. He’s a big guy with a long stride who takes a while to get going & doesn’t get off the line quick plus in the inside doesn’t get a running start. So he’s not a good safety valve. And the Lions have very poor depth at import receiver. Prior to Lankford, a so-so receiver, coming over there was no import on the roster behind Carter & Burnham. Result – when Burnham had to sit out one game they had to go with 4 Nationals on 5 receiver sets as the Global player was the only other non-National they had.
    The defence is a mess. Stubler was once a Matthews disciple who brought a lot of looks & pressure on defence & is content the past few years to play the “Bend don’t Break” defence. Too much zone & the Lions don’t have the players to bring pressure from the front 4. They probably should look at bringing back Lemon who’s great there but meh on run defence. He & Willis were a terror last year. They lost Elimimian (there’s that leadership issue you identified), Awe & last year’s Western all-star @ SAM, Foster. And while Grymes & Lee are a great duo @ HB, they have major issues around them. Their 2 starting CB’s, all-Cdn Orange, & Rose signed with West opponents.
    It’s going to be very tough for the Lions to recover this year – already 0-6 vs the West, lost the tiebreakers to Sask & Edm, & down 1 game in the 2 set matches with Wpg & Calgary. Where do the ygo from that?

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