What we have to do:
• Protect the football. I can’t stress this enough. Unlike Toronto, whose offense is a joke, B.C. will make us pay if we throw picks or fumble the ball. Calvillo has to make the right reads, take what the defence gives him, and not force the ball into traffic, because Barron Miles is a ball hawk who will make A.C. pay.
• Look off the DBs. Calvillo did a good job of this against the Argos, but it’s not enough. He’s got to do it on any medium or long pass.
• Get every receiver involved. Yes, that includes my least favourite Alouette Thyron Anderson. Dave Ritchie is going to throw a blanket over Ben Cahoon, so it’s up to Anderson, Stala, Watkins, and T. Edwards to step up, get open, and make the catches.
• No drops. Forget about yards after catch — if you don’t catch the ball, YAC don’t mean a thing. Watkins especially has to hang onto the pigskin.
• Stick with the running game, even if it doesn’t work early on. The Lions have a ferocious run defence, but we can’t abandon the run. If we do, they’ll just pin their ears back and tee off on Calvillo. Edwards is a big, bruising back who gets stronger as the game goes on and he gets more touches. Give him the rock early and often. If the Lions start cheating off their defensive assignments to stuff the run, the passing game will open up.
• Predictable = death, a.k.a. Mix up the playcalling. We started hot against Toronto because we confused them with a great play scheme: running screens and sideline routes with Edwards and the fullback, then busting it up the gut when they were spread out. In the second half, though, Calvillo and Strasser fell into the safe, predictable pattern we’ve seen all year: draw play on first down, medium pass on second down. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work, and we almost paid for it. We have got to keep the Lions off-balance and unsure of what we’re going to do on any given down, or we won’t have any success. Use Edwards and Lapointe in a two-back formation with misdirection. Get Vilimek or Piercy involved in fullback screens. Try reverses with Watkins as the ‘running back’. Turn Edwards into a receiver and get him loose with the ball in open space. Let’s see Anwar Stewart line up a few times at tight end. Let’s see Calvillo scramble here and there. Hell, bust out the ol’ flea-flicker and see if you can’t catch the Lions’ DBs napping.
• Bring pressure early and often. Dickenson is a great QB, but he’s human like anyone else, and fragile too. Hit him thunderously (but cleanly) early on to disrupt his rhythm. If he’s more worried about avoiding the hit from Philion, Stewart, et al., he won’t be focused on finding his receivers, which will mean incompletions and maybe even INTs.
• Disguise formations. Dickenson is probably the best quarterback in the league at reading coverage and finding the seam, so our D has to disguise its packages effectively and have him uncertain about when and how we’re blitzing, when we’re dropping into coverage, and how we’re disguising our schemes. If we just line up eight men on the line of scrimmage and try to get to him quickly, we’ll get killed.
• No blown coverage. Bishop burned us for TDs in the final because our DBs got crossed up and confused about their assignments. This is unacceptable, especially when the other team is threatening our end zone. Geroy Simon is already dangerous enough without us handing him gift touchdowns because of blown coverage assignments.
• Win the one-on-one battles. Forget about how the team is doing: each player is responsible for what he does. If your assignment is to beat the left guard and get to the quarterback, focus solely on that, and not on what the rest of the team is doing. Don’t look at the scoreboard.
• Stick to the script. Our kick coverage has been very good all year, but last week we were burned for big yardage. Ian Smart will want to show us that we made a mistake cutting him, so we’ve got to contain him and limit his returns. The last thing we want to do is give Dickenson great field position to start his drives.
• Secure the football. If Cobourne hadn’t fumbled last week, the score really wouldn’t have been close. This week, it could spell disaster for us if he can’t hang onto the ball.
• Better blocking for Cobourne. We need all the help we can get, and field position is key, so let’s help our offense out by putting them in a good position when they start their drives. If we can do this, we should win the field-position battle, given that Duval is a better punter for my money than McCallum.
• Minimize penalties, especially the procedure, offside, and facemasking infractions. All three are completely avoidable penalties in a neutral city like Winnipeg where the crowd won’t be completely partisan to one team. Facemasking is pure boneheadedness. Offside, at this point in the season, is unforgivable. Taking a procedure call because your own QB’s hard count confused you is equally unforgivable (I’m looking at you, Okeke).
The bottom line is that the B.C. Lions are a better team than the Montreal Alouettes in every phase of the game. So how do we win? By playing above our heads and executing at a higher level. We don’t have a precision passer like Dickenson, a cadre of elite receivers, or a ball-hawking secondary, so dammit, we just have to find the will to win somehow, someway. This is crunch time, folks. GO ALS GO!