VANCOUVER – The B.C. Lions took a long look in the mirror this week.
Coming off a pair of performances where they jumped out to early leads only to falter badly in demoralizing losses, a measure of inner reflection was needed before getting back on the practice field.
“There was a lot of soul searching to make sure that we’re together,” said Lions head coach Jeff Tedford. “The guys have been really close and working really hard and pushing one another and are really excited to have another opportunity.”
That opportunity comes Thursday when the Lions (2-3) host the red-hot Edmonton Eskimos (4-1) to kick off Week 7 of the CFL season.
B.C. jumped out to an early 7-0 lead last Thursday on the road against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers thanks to a methodical 14-play, 95-yard touchdown drive, but managed just six points the rest of the way in a 23-13 loss.
That defeat came on the heels of stunning collapse on July 24 when the Lions led 21-0 at home against Toronto, only to see the advantage evaporate in a 30-27 Argonauts victory.
The Lions have still yet to put together four solid quarters this season — their only two victories are over the winless Saskatchewan Roughriders — and know they need a much better effort to have a chance of stopping an Edmonton team that has won four straight by an average of 23.5 points.
“We’ve recovered well this week. I do think the confidence is good,” said Lions quarterback Travis Lulay, who threw three interceptions against Winnipeg and has been taking most of the heat for his team’s eight-ranked offence. “We know we have a great challenge.”
One of the big problems for the Lions in 2015 has been an inability to get back on track quickly when things don’t go their way — something the players said they’re aware of and trying to correct.
“You can feel momentum. It’s a very real thing,” said Lulay. “There’s ebbs and flows to every single game. The best games I’ve ever played in there’s been negative plays or drives. You have to find a way to overcome those.”
One constant for the Lions has been the play of running back Andrew Harris, who leads the CFL in rushing and is also his team’s second-leading receiver.
“He’s an awful good player,” Eskimos head coach Chris Jones told reporters in Edmonton this week. “He runs with authority, he catches the ball out of the backfield, he’s faster than you think he is.”
To get back to .500, B.C. will have to break through against a stout Edmonton defence that is ranked first overall in yards allowed per game, first against the pass, and second against the run. The Eskimos own a league-high 17 sacks and have held opponents out of the end zone over the last two games, surrendering just eight points during that span.
“They’re just going out and dominating,” said Lions defensive back Ryan Phillips. “That’s really what it just boils down to.”
Eskimos quarterback Matt Nichols, who’s been handed the keys to the offence in place of the injured Mike Reilly, hasn’t had to put up big numbers because of his team’s defensive prowess so far this season. He will face a B.C. defence that was dominant as recently as last season, but sits last overall in yards allowed per game, last against the pass and last against the run.
“You’re judged by your performance week in and week out,” said Phillips. “It’s not what you did for me yesterday. Guys have to step up to the plate.”
That feeling is shared by the rest of his teammates, with Lulay insisting the belief in the Lions’ locker-room remains high as B.C. looks to get back on track.
“We’ve seen what we’re capable of,” said the quarterback. “I do feel like the vibes are good. We just have to go out and make it happen.”
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