A year ago, the B.C. Lions had scored the fourth-most points of the eight teams in the CFL (202). This year, after eight games, the Lions also stand fourth (207).
The team’s go-to receivers, Emmanuel Arceneaux and Nick Moore – taking over from Geroy Simon and Arland Bruce III – have more yards and touchdowns than their predecessors at this point last year. Quarterback Travis Lulay isn’t quite where he was, completing fewer passes for fewer yards, although his touchdown-interception ratio is nearly identical.
Running back Andrew Harris is again among the best in the league and has 816 yards from scrimmage, rushing and receiving, also almost identical to last year’s 820 (although on the ground he is averaging five yards a carry, not six).
While the offence in B.C. is, looking at numbers on paper, largely the same as it was a year ago, the team’s potency has been maligned for the past week, after collapsing at the last moment in Montreal.
What has changed in the past year revolves on a constant truth: success is relative.
Last year’s Lions were 6-2 at this mark, the best in the CFL. This year’s Lions are – after the no-time-left-on-the-clock loss to the Alouettes – 5-3.
Not bad in relative terms, but not good in the absolute terms of late August, when the Lions are third in the West, behind the 7-1 Saskatchewan Roughriders, who are threatening a wire-to-wire run with a hometown Grey Cup, and last year’s runners-up Calgary Stampeders at 6-2.
So in Vancouver – as the Lions play host Friday to the first game of a home-and-home series with the woeful-turned-reasonable Hamilton Tiger-Cats (4-4) – the theme is the same as it was in the second game of the season: “urgency.”
“It is what it is,” Arceneaux – repatriated from practice squads in the NFL – said Thursday at BC Place after a short practice.
The loss in a close game against Montreal has coloured the team’s offence, and not necessarily accurately. Citing critics, Arceneaux added: “They have to put the blame somewhere. But, you know, this offence is going to get rolling.”
Moore said the introspection at 5-3 is indicative of the team’s image of itself as a top squad in the CFL.
“It’s a good thing, to have a team and coaches that are concerned when you’re at 5-3, because 5-3, when you look at it, is not all that bad,” he said. “And to know that we’re not hitting at all facets right now – and we will – is a good thing.”
If the Lions do win Friday, the team will be 6-3 – still behind the league’s best but exactly where B.C. was at last year’s halfway mark.
There are things to fix. B.C. has doubled its turnovers compared with last year, 20 so far in 2013, third-worst in the league.
B.C. is not controlling the ball well. Last year at this point, the team led the league in first downs; now, it’s fifth. The difference for the Lions means one fewer first down per half. It adds up.
Lulay – who in the off-season signed the league’s biggest contract, at roughly $400,000 a year – has not yet thrown for 300 yards in a game in 2013, just one more sign the Lions are not fully delivering.
Head coach Mike Benevides on Thursday talked about “tremendous glimpses” of a powerful team, but the missing element of full-game performances.
Lulay, on the field after practice, described this moment as a chance to “get over the hump a little bit and kind-of shoo the demons away from the last week or two that could potentially bog a team down mentally.
“This group is mentally tougher than people might think. This is an opportunity to prove it to ourselves.”