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THE MOJ: Controlling line of scrimmage the focus as B.C. preps for playoffs

‘Don’t flinch’ front-of-mind as the Lions try to reclaim their edge on defence against Calgary
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Lions head coach Rick Campbell watches over practice at BC Place as his team prepares for Saturday’s playoff game against the Calgary Stampeders. Steven Chang, B.C. Lions

“Why do you want to talk about the line of scrimmage?” B.C. Lions head coach Rick Campbell chuckles as he walks away to a media scrum after being notified by this agent that he’d like to speak to him on that topic after he’s done with the main group.

While the skill players are front-and-centre when it comes to the highlight reels, make no mistake about it, it all starts on the line.

Without winning the battle on the LOS, you’re chances of winning are severely impacted and it’s something that has not gone unnoticed by Campbell and his team as they get set to take on the Calgary Stampeders Saturday in the Western Division Semi-Final at BC Place Stadium (3:30 p.m. kickoff; TV - TSN / Radio - AM 730).

“It’s always big in any football game - especially in the playoffs. Both running the ball and pass protection, it’s big. If you can get to the quarterback pass rushing without having to dial up blitzes, that’s obviously a huge bonus for the defense. Then the same thing running the ball and trying to get some movement up front and creating space for running backs. It’s a huge part of the game,” explains Campbell.

Winning the battle of the line of scrimmage was one of the reasons why the Lions defense was amongst the CFL’s best in the first half of the season, but as pointed out by TSN’s Farhan Lalji on ‘X’ this week, the defence has regressed to the bottom of the pack since Aug. 1. The Lions’ defence has allowed 376 yards per game (7th), 29.7 points per game (8th), 265 opponents 1st downs (9th), 52.7% second down conversions (9th), 46 penalties (9th) and has only 15 takeaways (8th).

When the Stampeders visited Vancouver two weeks ago, they rushed for a whopping 213 yards enroute to a 41-16 win.

Not all of the aforementioned statistics are result of losing the battle at the LOS on a consistent basis but it starts there and the Lions are aware of it.

“Absolutely,” responds defensive tackle Josh Banks when asked if he knows about the second half numbers. “We see that. We remind ourselves every chance we get. It’s about watching film and learning from it because we’re capable. We can’t let the season bear down on us like it has. We have to step up and do what we’re capable of.”

As Campbell is quick to point out, stopping the run game is a responsibility of the entire defensive unit. Win up front and then hope that the linebackers and secondary can execute their assignments and make tackles.

For Banks, it’s about the defensive unit playing with an edge that they had in the early part of the season – and something that they have apparently lost in the last couple of months.

“We have to be physical. (Linebackers) coach Travis (Brown) said ‘don’t flinch’. The first time we met (Calgary), we didn’t flinch and the last time we did flinch. I think it’s just not flinching and being prepared and knowing what’s coming because we play Calgary multiple times a year - every year. We know what they do and what’s expected. We’ve got to execute,” added Banks.

Asked to define ‘flinching’ Banks said it was playing aggressively and with confidence rather than playing with hesitation.

“I would agree about not overthinking. Sometimes you have a tendency to do so. We, especially as coaches in this business, tend to overthink things and overanalyze things. I think he (Banks) is right about knowing your job and playing fast and doing it to the best of your ability. I think we have enough talent that when we got 12 guys doing that on that side of the ball that we’re going be pretty good,” said Campbell when told of Banks’ comments.

It’s also about playing complimentary football. When the offense puts points on the board, it helps the defense as opposing teams become one-dimensional. Same goes with special teams. Pin a team deep in their own territory and it’s like sharks to blood for a defense. When a team starts a drive at midfield, the defense feels pressure of knowing one first down will probably result in at least three points.

Campbell is hopeful that the defense can regain the form that they showed in the first half of the season but is hoping the two other facets of the team can help them out as well.

“I believe so. I do. Number one, it’s on the defence. The second part of it is our whole football team making each other look good - our offense, defense and special teams. All three of them can make each other look good. When you’re playing a game from behind, all those stats get skewed. If everyone’s functioning at a high level, all of a sudden everybody looks really good. It’s on the defense to be better and it’s on our football team as a whole to be better and help each other out,” explained Campbell.

EXTRA POINTS

* The Lions practiced at BC Place this week in anticipation of the game.

* Adrian Greene will return from a knee injury and start at safety. That will help defending the run game as Quincy Mauger can now be freed up to help in the box and allow Manny Rugamba to be utilised in passing situations. Running back Smoke Mizzell (maintenance) will also return as the starting running back. The only Lion out due to injury is cornerback Jalon Edwards-Cooper (shoulder), who will be replaced by Mike Jones.

* Defensive end Sione Teuhema is appealing a one-game suspension and the club should know his status within 24 hours.

* Based on the reps at practice, it appears that Justin McInnis will start ahead of veteran Lucky Whitehead at receiver. Ironically enough, it was Whitehead who called a team meeting during the bye week to get everyone on the same page after the season-ending loss to Calgary.

* The club also announced on Tuesday that the upper bowl at BC Place will be open as they crowd is expected to be in the 30,000 range.

Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media.

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