The most important facet of the B.C. Lions’ game plan for Saturday’s Western Division semifinal against the Calgary Stampeders can be broken down into three little words and 10 letters.
Stop the run.
Looking at the game from a season-wide picture, the Lions (12-6) have to be significant favourites to beat the Stampeders (6-12) at B.C. Place and advance to face the host Winnipeg Blue Bombers (14-4) in the Western finale the following weekend.
Seeing the match-up through a more recent lens, though, and B.C. dropped a 41-16 decision to Stampeders in their last regular season game on Oct 20, a night at B.C. Place in which the Stampeders rushed for 213 yards on 31 carries.
The Lions had a bye last week, while the Stampeders fell 36-13 to Winnipeg on Friday to finish off their league play slate.
The Lions gave up over the century mark along the ground in their final three games, averaging 147 yards against in the trio. In their first 15 games of the season, they had allowed 90 yards rushing per contest.
“Twelve guys have to stop the run. Period,” Lions head coach Rick Campbell said after practice on Monday. “When they attach people to the box, we need to attach people to the box.
“We need to be able to stop the run anytime, but it becomes a total different deal if we’re down a couple of touchdowns. If they’re just going to flat out run the ball it becomes a different game.
“It’s our defence that has to stop the run but our whole football team can play complementary football and put ourselves in a good position to help that.”
An early lead would certainly help.
B.C. was up 13-3 at halftime at Calgary in the season opener on June 8 and Calgary ran the ball just 13 times for 95 yards in what became a 25-15 Lions win. The Lions were up 27-6 at halftime and Calgary ran 21 times for 69 yards in what wound up a 37-9 Lions triumph on Aug. 12 at B.C. Place.
“We want to start fast. It becomes a different game if we’re playing behind on the scoreboard,” Campbell said. “We need to be able to do that if it happens, but, at the same time, if it’s even or we’re ahead early, it usually bodes much better for both our offence and our defence. It’s a focus for us to try to start fast and we’ll try to have a game plan ready to be able to do that.”
Linebacker Ben Hladik was quick to point out, though, that getting that early lead doesn’t simply fall on quarterback Vernon Adams, Jr., and the rest of that crew.
“We have to get stops. We have to get the ball back to the offence,” he continued. “We have to put the offence in a good situation.
“We have to play our best football right from the start.”
Campbell added: “We know they’re a good team. They’ve been a good team for a long time. They’ve got good players and good coaches and you have play really well to beat them.”
Hladik said the defence needs to tighten up against both the inside and outside runs. It’s the collective unit, he maintains.
Peyton Williams ran eight times for 105 yards, with one touchdown, for Calgary against the Lions. Ka’Deem Carey ran 15 times for 88 yards.
“We have to play sound football like we have all year before,” he added. “We’ve played good football all year. We can’t let that one game get us down. We watched the game film. We need to improve where we can improve and play our best football in the playoffs.”
Hladik says the bye week gave the Lions extra time to prepare for Calgary, as well as allowed he and his teammates to rest up even more. He, too, is keen on the fact that the game is being played on home field.
“B.C. Place gets loud and it’s going to be a good turnout. I love on defence when I can’t hear the guy right beside and we have to yell at each other,” Hladik said. “I love playing in that atmosphere and I’m excited to do it again this week.”