A home and home series, particularly in football, always provides a little extra intrigue. With only a certain number of games in any given season, the importance of taking four points and the season series from a division rival can never be overstated.
And as the BC Lions (1-1-0) get set for the first leg against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers ( 1-2-0) on Saturday night in the Manitoba capital, one common theme from observers that stands out is just how similar the two teams are. Both are coming off convincing losses, trying to prove they belong in this West Division dogfight and have players at key positions that maybe haven’t lived up to the billing just yet.
As far as Emmanuel Arceneaux is concerned, the pre-game storylines are what they are. His main concern is proving last week’s 41-22 setback in Edmonton was just a mere bump in the long road back to respectability.
“That’s every team,” said Arceneaux of those aforementioned similarities.
“We just got to go out there and do what we got to do. Life is good when you’re winning, so that’s what we want to get back to. The division is always tough so when you get a divisional opponent this early, you want to win that series. We’ve got to really just send a message and actually have the identity that we have to have teams on their heels and be in attack mode. This is the week for us to start that.”
Arceneaux and the new-look offence remain a work in progress with the lack of finish still one of the key issues. The prime example was last week, where they started out of the gate with a ten-play drive that only resulted in a single point off a missed field goal. That simple execution is often the difference between a win and a loss.
“That’s the whole key, you only win by scoring points,” added Arceneaux
“You want six instead of three, so that’s something we’re going to work on this week. That starts with the offence up front. We’ve got to go out there, execute and make plays.”
Another intriguing element to this matchup is the number of former Lions who know call Winnipeg home, the most prominent being four-time CFL All-Star and 2015 league Most Outstanding Defensive Player Adam Bighill. Having faced him many times in practice over the years, Arceneaux admits it will add a little extra sizzle to this already important showdown.
“He’ll hustle and he’s got a high engine, high motor and he’s going to play ’til the clock reads zero,” said number 84 of his old friend.
“You’ve just got to hit those kinds of guys in the mouth, impose your will on them and that starts right off the bat. You’ve got to put your pads on people like that and let them know it’s going to be a long night.”
Through his first three games in blue and gold, ‘Biggie’ has made his presence known at middle linebacker with 21 defensive tackles, tops amongst Bomber defenders. Chandler Fenner has started next to him at the nickel position, while Craig Roh and Anthony Gaitor round out the group of 2017 Lions now playing in the Winnipeg defence. Gaitor is on the injured list for a second straight week.
Fenner, who racked up 105 defensive tackles and 32 more on special teams over two seasons in orange, downplayed facing his old team in a chat with bluebombers.com.
“It’s not just, ‘Oh, I used to play there. I’m amped up to play against them.’ I just want to show growth against the team I used to play for. There’s no anger there at all. I’m always competitive. I’m always going to be in the middle of it. I’m always going to be trying to make a big hit, an interception or a big play. That never goes up or down. You can have too much tension, too much anger… there’s not enough space in a game for that. You have to have a clear mind.
“Besides, why would you run over to near their bench to celebrate or something? Then you’re missing the call on the next play you’re supposed to be getting. That’s the wrong vibe. You don’t want that negative energy going into the game. You want everything to be positive.”
Game # 3: B.C. Lions at Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Saturday, July 7th
Investors Group Field
5:30 PM PT
TV: TSN 1/ESPN 2
Radio: TSN 1040
2017 season series: the Lions took two out of three meetings, including a 36-27 triumph in Winnipeg on October 28th.
Lions last result: lost 41-22 at Edmonton on June 29th.
Blue Bombers last result: lost 31-17 at Hamilton on June 29th.
Game day weather forecast:
Another Tough Test For The Defence
Quarterback Matt Nichols was removed from the Bombers’ six-game injured list this week and will make his season debut on Saturday. The former Eastern Washington Eagle suffered a knee injury in training camp practice three days before the Lions and Bombers met to close out the pre-season. How valuable is he to the Bombers? Since he took over as the full-time starter on July 28th, 2016, they have a regular season record of 22-9 in games that he has played. Since then, they are 2-2 in games without him.
How much better is he than rookie Chris Streveler? That’s a whole other question, but one thing is clear: with Streveler rushing for 183 yards in the Bombers’ first three games and Nichols a guy who stays in the pocket a bit more, the Lions defence was likely preparing for two completely different quarterbacks. Nichols’ former college teammate T.J. Lee knows it will be a tough test.
“You’ve got to be ready for the running in the rookie sense and Matt Nichols is actually going to take his time and be patient with his reads,” explained Lee.
“Regardless of the matter, we’re going to come out and do what we need to do. He (Nichols) does a good job of playing into their offensive schemes. They have trick plays that make him feel comfortable, they have quick throws to make him get into a rhythm and he’s an all-around good quarterback.”
To a man, they simply know they must be better than last week where they allowed Mike Reilly and the Eskimos to put up 517 yards of total offence. With the possible return of Nichols and the ageless Andrew Harris still doing his thing in the backfield, it is easier said than done. Especially when you consider the Bombers boast the CFL’s highest-scoring offence at 34.3 points per game.
“Play assignment football and we’ll be okay,” added Solomon Elimimian.
“The biggest thing is just being decisive with what we do in all aspects. It’s certainly going to be a tough matchup, they have a lot of good players over there and its the next game. That’s the biggest thing. The only thing we can control is the work we put in this week.”
Three Keys To Victory
Limit the deep ball- an absolute must for the CFL’s worst pass defence after their let down in Edmonton.
Finish Drives- last week started promising before a ten-play drive to start the game ended with a Ty Long field goal miss. They can’t let opportunities like this slip.
Contain 33- nobody was expecting CJ Gable to rush for 165 yards against the stout Lions’ front. Andrew Harris provides a nice follow-up test.
Stats of the week: as mentioned, the Bombers lead the entire CFL in offence and a big part of that is the ground game: they’ve rushed for 516 rushing yards, an average of 172 per game. Harris is fourth amongst CFL backs with 216 yards on the ground.
Mendoza Line? Jennings has failed to hit the 200-yard passing mark in each of his two starts this season. Now is the time to change that.
More Jennings-related numbers from CFL stats guru Steve Daniel: he has an even win-loss record 0f 20-20 as a starter, having gone 10-10 on the road and at BC Place.
The Lions are 2-3-0 all-time at Investors Group Field. Before the win last season, the only other victory was a 28-23 result in their first visit on October 25th, 2014. That victory locked up a playoff spot for the 18th consecutive season. In addition, last year’s triumph was their only one in their last seven road games overall.
Defensive lineman Maxx Forde makes his regular season debut after healing from a shoulder injury suffered midway through training camp. For a second straight week, Chris Greaves will handle the assignment at left guard with Hunter Steward on the shelf.
TSN 1040 has you covered, beginning with the pre-game show at 3:30 PM PT with Lowell Ullrich. Bob Marjanovich, Giulio Caravatta and sideline reporter Karen Surman bring you the action at 5:30 PT. Viewers can watch on TSN 1 while Lions fans south of the border can tune in on ESPN 2.