Mourning after: Lessons learned from Lions latest loss

Did the B.C. Lions hit rock bottom Friday? Perhaps not, but after their 24-23 loss to the equally loathsome Hamilton Tiger-Cats they can at least see the ocean floor. Rock bottom will be if the sixth setback in their last eight games is the one which costs them their 20-year streak of playoff appearances.

Some thoughts after a dreary night:

Getting offensive: The look on the face of Jon Jennings as he tried to explain how the Lions can continue to perform so miserably on offence spoke of a quarterback who doesn’t have the answers and isn’t working with any coaches who can help find them.

“It’s a combination of a lot of things. We didn’t do enough. It’s frustrating. We had some opportunities. Give them credit but we got to find a way to be better,” Jennings said, and not for the first time either.

Jennings didn’t throw an interception for the fourth game this season and shortened more of his throws to increase his effectiveness, but the fact remains the Lions are still only getting better quarterbacking than the two other teams that figure to miss the playoffs, Hamilton and Montreal.

Jennings’ Quar rating, the new omnibus stat devised this season by the league, only exceeds the number compiled by dormant Hamilton quarterback Zach Collaros.

There’s no rating, however, to rank offensive coordinators around the league, and though nobody on the offensive side of the Lions locker room would publicly throw anyone under the bus, there was the clear sense some have become frustrated with the red zone play-calling of Khari Jones.

Getting the ball inside the opponent’s 20-yard line used to result in success or at least did on average three of every four trips. Only once in four tries did the Lions score a touchdown against Hamilton. Equally ghastly is the fact only twice did they start a drive at midfield or better Friday, which has everything to do with the fact Chris Rainey has replaced Jeremiah Johnson in the Lions witness protection program.

Jones isn’t in charge of getting the Lions defence to tackle better and stopping Hamilton running back Alex Green, who hadn’t played in three seasons and yet ran for 140 yards in his CFL debut Friday.

Special teams isn’t the purview of Jones either, but finding ways to get the ball into the hands of their most athletic offensive player is and it is wearing on Rainey. Small wonder, perhaps why a scoreboard ad in which Jones is seen drawing up plays on a whiteboard drew derisive responses from a few of the paying customers behind the Lions bench. The only thing more depressing to some east-siders was watching Bombers-Redblacks on the big board before the game and seeing Andrew Harris churn up yardage in an offence directed by Paul LaPolice.

The season has morphed from questions about the offence, defensive pressure, ability to cover deep, to the lack of a return game and stability on the offensive line. Add it up and that’s why Wally Buono is coach of a 6-7 team at the moment.

 Shades of old: As daunting of a challenge of fixing the on-field product, an even bigger assignment is restoring the confidence of a fan base which seems to be intent on staying home at least until they can regularly beat quality opponents.

The Lions are by no means the only sports business suffering the effects of the lure of the mancave on either side of the border. But the reported crowd of 18,091 at B.C. Place Stadium is the third this season under 20,000, a figure once seen as, well, rock-bottom but now considered the norm. The stadium looks every bit as empty as when the late, great Bob Ackles so famously first viewed for himself in 2002 when he witnessed the scope of the rebuilding process he successfully undertook. If form holds through the final three home dates, the Lions will have their worst season at the gate since 1998, with little sign of hope until the absentee ownership of David Braley comes to an end.

Some fight left: Perhaps the most telling sign about a team is how they respond after a loss, and if there was any hopeful sign for the Lions it was their reaction immediately after what took place.

Jeremiah Johnson didn’t even have time to catch his breath after he tried to dodge the entire Hamilton defence on the final play of the game Friday when it seemed evident that if every one of his teammates had similar resolve the Lions might indeed pull out of their funk.

The B.C. tailback screamed his response when asked if his team could benefit from the upcoming bye week.

“We don’t need a bye week,” bellowed Johnson, who led his team with 17 touches but none inside the red zone. “I got to stay working at my craft. I got to work on breaking guys at the end of the run. I got to work on stiff-arming guys; on being a beast. I fumbled today. I’m a great player but I got to show it.”

Minutes later, as reality began to take hold after a loss to the team with the worst record in the CFL, more reflection and a different approach to time off.

“Luckily we have a bye week. Hopefully guys don’t just go home and do nothing. I hope all of our minds are on football,” receiver Bryan Burnham said. “We don’t have time to waste.We owe it ourselves and the fans to be better. It’s embarrassing.” Burnham’s words were a picture of what rock-bottom might sound like.

Lowell Ullrich

Lowell Ullrich

Lowell Ullrich has covered the Lions since 1999 and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2014. He is also a contributor to TSN1040.
Lowell Ullrich
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Lowell Ullrich
About Lowell Ullrich (150 Articles)
Lowell Ullrich has covered the Lions since 1999 and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2014. He is also a contributor to TSN1040.

24 Comments on Mourning after: Lessons learned from Lions latest loss

  1. white stallion in red // September 23, 2017 at 2:44 pm //

    As a western rival, I am no fan of the BC Lions but I got to say I worry about the future of this team. They seem lost with Jennings, Lulay doesn’t seem like an opinion anymore and Buono sounds like he may retire. Where does this leave them. For a team that was always a contentor under him it would seem dark days are ahead in the west coast.

  2. A loss for the Lions doesn’t assist their cause. Worse still a home loss vs the Tiger Cats is getting worse. Now, what about the Attendance at BC Place — going from bad to worse.

  3. Once again a TD pass to wide open receiver. Not only is coverage spotty, tackling in secondary is worse. No pads in practice leads to appalling habits.

  4. You want people out how about not starting a game at 8pm at night. There is a reason why eastern teams rarely win when coming to BC and it doesn’t have everything to do with how good the Lions are. Try performing your best at 11pm at night? Also to me it makes more sense to lower ticket costs and get more people in the building. More people means more parking sales, more food sales and a louder crowd. It is the same theory bars have with wing night. Loss leader, get people in and they will spend money. Oh and I live in BC and I’m a Ticats fan, 1 game a year my team is here and I stayed home and watched it on tv because of those reasons. Too late a start and too much money for decent seats. Oh and parking at $20 plus for an event is ridiculous.

    • Wally B. looks tired and outdated on the sidelines. There seems to me to be just a whiff of “I really don’t give a shit anymore” coming from him. As in just going through the motions. I hope he retires and the team sells. Time to clear out at the top and bring in some fresh blood. It seems the talent is there and has been for a while. But Wally can’t get the talent to perform up to par. As far as going to games goes, count me out. If you want a decent seat you have to pay around 100 bucks. food is something like 10 bucks for a shitty hotdog and 8 bucks for small coke. Forget it! Add in $25 for the inflated game night parking and all the drunk idiots spilling beer and pissing their pants, and I’d rather stay home – thanks.

  5. Might have at point there

    • Wally´s time in BC is done. Sure, he´s done a lot of good things but recently (past few years) his decisions are suspect. Time to retire and please take Jennings with you. Hope Lulay gets healthy, even at his age, I believe Lulay can still make a difference.

  6. Parking actually is $25 in the vicinity of B.C. Place Stadium, not $20. As for the theory of lowering ticket prices to get more people to “spend” at the game, the Lions receive no revenue from parking and concessions. All that revenue goes to the government corporation which runs the facility. What the Lions do receive is a sweetheart rental deal from PavCo, the stadium landlord, which virtually guarantees they won’t lose money, even when the building is 1/4 full. And it’s getting to that point.
    Vancouver is not only the most expensive housing market in Canada, it has the highest cost of living as well. Disposal income is becoming an issue for many cash-strapped families in the Lions’ constituency. Many of them live in the outlying areas because Vancouver itself is unaffordable. And those who live in the decently populated areas near the stadium have many other entertainment options at their disposal nearby. Lions plain and simply have lost the “cool factor” which was resurrected during the regime of late president Bob Ackles.
    Coupled with an absentee owner, David Braley (who consistently talks about selling the team but consistently never does) and a head coach and GM (Wally Buono) who appears headed to retirement after the 2017 season, you have a lame-duck situation, over and above the team’s disappointing in-field performance.
    As well, the Seattle Seahawks are just two hours’ drive south of the Canadian border and are a more riveting spectacle in the eyes of many football fans, particularly those from the millennial demographic.
    Where it’s all leading to nobody knows. But the CFL product in Vancouver is not registering with many people — this in a front-running town where fans don’t live and die with their sports teams, unless they’re championship calibre.

  7. More to it than that … PavCo’s chosen concessions contractor (Centerplate) is terrible which doesn’t help ($4.50 for a 250ml bottled water?? F*** me) … and there’s too many games like last night’s, just a dreadful and boring football game and a big part of that is the awful officiating and combined with the buzzkill in-game presentation and the TV timeout every third play for about half of each quarter. When the game on the field is already boring (last night’s not the product as a whole) all that stuff sucks the life out of the experience and makes it hard for people to want to come back.

    Why are the Seahawks more compelling? Because being in the crowd is more fun. Why is it more fun? Because the fans are engaged. What do the Lions do instead of engaging the fans? Every trick they can think of to kill any genuine fan experience.

    • Agree. Prices are over inflated and service sucks as well. They also run out of things before the 4th quarter even starts.

  8. Regarding the attendance issues I really believe that it is time for the CFL and the individual teams to do more to reach out and connect with new Canadians. It is obvious in the big markets of Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver…and now to a lesser extent Calgary. Yes, that’s right, Calgary. The demographics out here have REALLY changed in the last 15 years (contrary to what people think and assume about Alberta). Canada is changing rapidly, and so is the sports buying consumer. The CFL fan base as a percentage of the population is getting smaller. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it means that marketing and the message must be different. New Canadians are coming here with no knowledge or interest in football at all, much less the CFL. It will take alot of work, but connect with the minority communities, and you have a strong league. If you don’t, CFL football will die a slow death (and may already be). How should this be done? Well, that is why they are paying Ambrosie and the CFL board of governors the big bucks.

    • Garcia98 makes a good point. The demographics of cities such as Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary are changing rapidly, containing an influx of new Canadians who did not grow up with football and don’t understand the game. I’m thinking this is different than Regina or Winnipeg, where the fan base is less diverse and more traditional in make-up. On top of that, crowds at B.C. Lions games skew to an older audience. Interest in the team is generational.
      Connecting with new Canadians — and younger Canadians — is the league’s big challenge. But none of this is a revelation.

      • It’s all marketing folks. Each Canadian City/Province need to get on board with the league and the teams and promote a more attractive product. Make attending a football game fun again and have a good look at some of these start times.

  9. Buono to take the blame. He is the gm and coach.The Lions going down hill since Cameron Wake left a few years ago. They didn’t bother looking for better players and upgrade. You can have the best receivers and qb, but offensive line is no good the qb don’t have time to throw the ball,it’s useless. They also need to upgrade the defensive line and the dbs. They need to find another Cameron Wake! Also they need to fire Khari Jones and Mark Washington

    • Wow, they’ve had no good new players since Cam Wake left? I’m guessing you are one of the fans that no longer follows the game?

    • I think Ken wins the Rip Van Winkle Award hands down with this remark: “The Lions going down hill since Cameron Wake left a few years ago.”
      Wake left for the NFL after the 2008 season.
      All the Lions did in 2011 was win the Grey Cup after starting 1-6. They virtually were unbeatable down the stretch in a season in which Travis Lulay was named the league’s most outstanding player.
      I don’t think the Lions’ on-field performance is the central issue, since the team has qualified for the playoffs every year since 1996. Clearly, there are other factors in play which have affected their relevance in the Vancouver market.

  10. Need ESPN as the CFL’s main broadcaster , Yes its American – but isn’t 1/2 the CFL

    Broadcaster needs more professionalism and needs to flood the Sports markets with CFL ads , it will get noticed

    • I don’t think we need a new broadcaster. We need new broadcaster employees doing the Lions radio shows. No passion, little interest (they stray off on to other topics) no insider info like we used to get on the radio shows – these guys seem barely interested and Chris Burns has stated several times “I have no loyalty to the BC Lions” and “I can’t say I even like the Lions” or something close to that. Then why is he there? He stutters and stumbles and shows up unprepared to do the show. He’s a disaster and so is The MO or The Moj or whatever the other guy calls himself. Keep Caravetta and dump the rest in favor of some ex Lions or real Lions fans who have played. I can no longer get through an entire post and pre game shows and the only reason I tune in at all is to hear Caravetta. Also I hope they interview someone interesting and passionate about the Lions like Angus Reid or some other ex player who really cares and can speak with insider knowledge and without stuttering.

  11. B.C. like the Argos suffer from the ” too many options for the entertainment dollar ” that is created in Canada’s two largest metropolises…. the Argos are more of a problem as they have a decent team this year but are still unable to draw fans, the 12,000 plus reported at Saturday night’s game is a joke, more like 7,000 – 8,000 in the stands….so what to do ? … connect with new Canadians somehow for one would be a good start , and stop ripping fans off at the game for concessions….prices as stated are ridiculous and do nothing to promote fans coming to the game…. do a few promotions, recently in Hamilton when the Labour Day was delayed by several hours and many fans went home they offered everyone who bought tickets a free ticket to a choice of three remaining games, that was a great business by an organization that tries to reward fans for their loyalty…. but this is Hamilton not Vancouver or Toronto where maybe the business side doesn’t try and connect with the fan base nearly as much… too bad because the CFL is losing it’s appeal in major markets….

    • Don’t know about that one buddy. I live (or should I say, try to survive) in this over rated and over priced place…and for me my options are limited. Canucks? Pfft…don’t think so…they’re still holding on to the Sedins and trying to invoke some 2011 magic. Whitecaps? Perhaps. Vancouver Canadians…maybe…if you like “minor league”. As for the Lions, well, they’ve been more than competitive the last few years and now they are on the down cycle. The other option of course is to go across the border, like many of these Vancouver wannabes do, and go watch the Seahawks, but they too are starting to suck.

  12. Cutbacks on all fronts from the Lions over the years and the fans are responding as expected – not showing up. For entertainment during all the game stoppages, at least the Felions were performing and separated into 4 groups with one group at each end of the sidelines on both sides of the field – now only 2 groups. Some of them also used to come around in the stands to mingle and sell their calendars. Fans cannot go onto the field after the game unlike other stadiums. At least that dummy on-field host Tim Donovan that used to yell “Make Some Noise” has been muzzled.

    • Yeah, the “make some noise” guy…glad he was muzzled…they should try to do that to the guy with the drum as well.

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