How the Lions Offence Is Evolving
The Lions are 0-3.
It’s not ideal, but does it really matter yet? Yes, I’m aware of how math works and every game counts towards the regular season record but with the amount of roster turnover put into action by GM Ed Hervey this winter can you blame the Lions for starting slowly after a short training camp in which full speed reps are limited?
The answer is no, these things take time and the Lions have already shown a intriguing evolution through just three games that makes me believe all might not be lost in a season painted in vivid orange with Grey Cup hopes pinned on the right shoulder of Mike Reilly.
Very rarely does a top player in any sport or league parachute in and immediately find chemistry. The first couple months of Kawhi took getting used to for Kyle Lowry, Tavares had to find his fit in the Leafs lineup after heading home and the Heat didn’t win a ring the year Lebron took his talents to South Beach.
For the Lions it’s all about learning who they are each week and finding ways to correct what has ailed them through the first three games of 2019.
Chief amongst those concerns has to be the offensive line who allowed a whopping seven sacks in a week two loss to Reilly’s old Eskimos squad including a stretch in crunch time where their star pivot was brought down - ball in hand - six times over nine snaps.
After that game it was obvious the right side of the line needed a shake up and to the Lions credit they shuffled the deck moving Brett Book out of the lineup while shifting left guard David Foucault over to Boyko’s right tackle spot which allowed Hunter Steward to fill left guard vacating his unnatural assignment at centre as Rouge Et Or alum Jean-Simon Roy stepped in for his first start of the season.
That’s a lot of change, but a suitable reaction to what appeared to be a fatal flaw - protecting their million dollar man Reilly.
Another way to help protect the quarterback is of course to lighten the load with an effective running game. Before the seven sack disaster in Edmonton and offensive line shake up the Lions showed little to no interest in trying to run the football, especially on first down.
Becoming one dimensional is obviously a problem and some play calling was determined by time and score but the Lions have already experienced a landmark shift in run/pass balance as offensive coordinator Jarious Jackson evolves his game plan away from expecting Mike Reilly to carry a boulder on his back and climb the Grouse grind, instead asking John White - who has looked incredibly fresh and quick - to share the load and produce.
In two of the Lions three games so far Jackson has called pass on 100% of 2nd down opportunities - excluding 2nd and 1 situations where Reilly sneaks for the first down.
That reliance on the air on 2nd down - while above average - is not unfounded, but I wonder if first down balance will creep its way into the later down as the season and the Lions approach evolves.
On those second downs Reilly has been sharing the ball around to a crew of extremely talented receivers who are still working to get on the same page. Bryan Burnham knows the BC offence best and also happens to be the most quarterback friendly receiver which bodes well for his 2019 productivity while Duron Carter has assumed the Robin role to Burnham’s batman with free agency signing Lemar Durant playing third wheel.
The relationship of quarterback to explosive receiver is a unique challenge. For better or worse you have to feed the talented pass catcher the ball but not at the cost of making sound decisions that have everyone in mind.
Duron Carter is a polarizing figure on and off the field who could be the game breaker BC needs but I get the sense early in this 0-3 BC start his targets are a bit forced which has resulted in three of Reilly’s four interceptions thus far coming on balls targeted for Duron.
Carter’s targets, first down run/pass balance, offensive line changes and more. It’s all part of the evolving BC Lions offence that has the potential to be one of the more dynamic attacks in recent CFL memory, but they need to figure it out fast or a team this talented could be on the outside looking in come November.