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They have shown all the signs of being the championship defence a some had envisioned back in training camp. Over the last two games, the numbers would make any opponent cringe: 13 sacks, seven interceptions and only one touchdown given up.
And as they get set to face the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the first of a crucial home and home series on Saturday night ( 7:00 PM/TSN/TSN 1040/ ESPN+), the most impressive thing about the improved Lions’ defence is the fact they aren’t nearly satisfied yet. Defensive coordinator Mark Washington has made sure of it.
“That’s always the case. We’re trying to get better every day, we’re trying to get better every week,” said Washington.
“More importantly, we want to be improving on the upswing as we get into the later parts of the season. Last week was last week. The last two, three, four weeks, whatever; that’s the past and we’re trying to move on. We’re ready to go and preparing ourselves for Hamilton.”
And this is a unique test starting them in the face. Tiger-Cats’ quarterback Jeremiah Masoli has put up excellent numbers this season, more on that below, and could be one of the better QBs in the league when it comes to getting the ball out quickly. His tendency to rely on the deep ball and test the secondary has also led to some giveaways. That is where the rejuvenated Lions’ defensive backs will be licking their chops. Washington is quick to remind his players that if they’re not careful, they will pay the price.
“He’s the real deal,” said Washington of Masoli.
“He has a lot of arm talent and his escapability is crazy. The offence that they’re running and the plays that they have; they understand it well and they execute it well. We’re gonna have our hands full and we know that. We have to make sure that we execute to the highest ability that we have.”
And these past two games, that execution has been evident from the opening whistle. Case in point: an interception by Bo Lokombo on the opening drive of last week’s victory over Montreal that led to the Lions’ only touchdown of the game; a Jonathon Jennings dart to Bryan Burnham. It’s that playoff-type intensity they will need to put on display from here on in, on defence especially. If they can continue to force turnovers at this incredible pace, they will be tough to beat.
“We’ve been in the playoff hunt for the last couple of weeks now and we’ve dug ourselves a tremendous hole like you’ve said,” added Washington.
“We’re trying to dig ourselves out of it.”
And if they can continue to force turnovers at this incredible pace, they will be tough to beat.
“That’s the purpose of them; you want to take the ball away, you want to create big plays for yourself, you want to give the offence a short field and you can maybe even score yourself. It’s all about scoring points, changing the momentum and also changing the field position.”
As Jennings prepares for his first start behind centre since July 7th, having a solid defence to back him and the offence up can only pay dividends in the long run.
Saturday, September 22nd
BC Place Stadium
7:00 PM PT
TV: TSN/RDS/ESPN +/ BT Sport
Radio: TSN 1040
Lions last result: a 32-14 win over Montreal on September 14th.
Ticats last result: a 43-28 loss to Calgary on September 15th.
2017 season series: the teams split their two meetings with the Lions winning 41-26 in Hamilton and the Ticats escaping with a 30-27 victory at BC Place.
Gameday weather forecast: 50 per cent chance of rain with highs of 15 degrees Celsius.
Vegas Line: The Lions are listed as two-point underdogs.
2018 W/L record: 3-2-0. Statistics: 77/114 for 735 yards, four touchdowns, four interceptions. Efficiency rating of 82.4.
2018 W/L record: 6-6-0. Statistics: 272/409 for 3,786 yards, 16 touchdowns, 13 interceptions. Efficiency rating of 95.9.
Shawn Lemon- the line of scrimmage will once again be a big focus Lemon has found his groove following a pair of sacks in Montreal. The big boys up front are motivated for more. Lemon has at least one sack in his last five games.
Bo Lokombo- the pride of Abbotsford has given the coaches no reason to take him out of the starting defence. His interception on the opening drive last week led to the Lions’ only touchdown of the night. He has interceptions in two straight after going his first 52 career games without one.
DeVier Posey- after recording just 32 receiving yards in his debut in orange, Posey is hungry to break out. With the offence looking to improve its red zone efficiency, number 85 gives them a viable threat with a short field.
“I don’t know why everybody thinks the defence has (only played well) been the last two games. How many games have we played? Eleven? You take the Winnipeg (and) Edmonton games out, and that was maybe a bad quarter, they’ve pretty much played good defence most of the year. They’ve been way more outstanding I would say the last six or seven games. When you look at that, you’ve got to say that Mark Washington and his staff, the players are all starting to blend in and understand the system, buy into the system and with the addition of Shawn Lemon and Claudell (Louis), and having Bo (Lokombo) have a big role, I think the defence has evolved and the evolution has caused way more pressure on the quarterback, way more turnovers and that’s what you need to usually win football games.”- Wally Buono on his defence.
“Just that mindset of trying to stay patient. I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve kind of told myself while I’ve been the second string is just (that) when I get my opportunity just be patient, don’t force things, try to let the game come to you and I don’t need to do too much. We didn’t do a whole lot on offence this past week, but we also didn’t try to kill ourselves either. It gave us an opportunity to win.”- Jennings on how he’s approaching his first start since early July.
“They’re very good all across the front. Their scheme is good, they rush the passer hard and the thing that gets my attention is they lead the league in takeaways because of that pressure; the quarterbacks kind of throw that ball up for grabs. You can say all you want about statistics, but the one statistic is taking the football away and that’s what they do.”- Ticats’ head coach June Junes on the Lions’ defence.
“He makes a lot of things happen and he’s accurate with the football. He presents a little bit more of a problem than 14 does because he’s more of a pocket passer; whereas this guy can make things happen and make big plays. We’re going to keep him in the box and contain him, along with stopping their run game. They have a very good run game.”- Jones on preparing to face Jennings.
**Jones quotes courtesy ticats.ca
Stats of the week: Washington’s defence now leads the league with 31 sacks, 16 interceptions, is tied for the league lead in pass knockdowns with Ottawa (41) and has allowed the second-fewest points behind only Calgary. Turnovers had led to 69 % of their points during this two-game winning streak. Hamilton enters this one as the highest-scoring first quarter team in the CFL at 113 points, while the Lions have not allowed any points in the opening quarter these last two weeks.
One area the Lions will want to improve on over the final third of the regular season is red zone offence. They currently rank seventh in that category at 42 per cent.
The Lions are in search of their first three-game winning streak since a 4-1 start to the 2017 season ( June 30-July 21).
This marks the first home and home series between these two teams since 2013 when the Ticats were playing in Guelph during the construction of Tim Hortons Field. That resulted in a split with the home team winning each time.
Other than Lulay, the other injury news of the week in Lion land concerns defensive lineman David Menard who tweaked a calf in practice. Rookie Julien Laurent will dress in his place. Fullback Rolly Lumbala is back after missing the Montreal game to attend his father’s funeral.
The Tiger-Cats will be without leading rusher Alex Green due to an arm injury. John White starts at tailback in his place. They will also be without their most dynamic playmaker Brandon Banks for a second straight week as the receiver continues to deal with a groin injury.
TSN 1040 has you covered, beginning with the pre-game show at 5:00 PM with Lowell Ullrich and Chris Burns. Bob Marjanovich, Giulio Caravatta and sideline reporter Karen Surman bring you the action at 7:00 PM. Viewers can watch on TSN 1 while Lions fans south of the border can stream it on ESPN+. Fans in the UK and Ireland can tune in on BT Sport.