VANCOUVER — The B.C. Lions might have learned something from their humbling loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who steamrolled them for 393 rushing yards in their last CFL game.
When they face league-leading Montreal at B.C. Place today (TSN, 8:30 p.m.) the Lions plan to take a page or two out of the Bombers playbook by establishing the run themselves — and doing it early and often.
“You have to run the ball well to make life easier for your offence,” centre Angus Reid said after Thursday’s practice. “The key is to be good at it early because in three-down ball it becomes hard to keep running the ball if you get down.”
Wide receiver Paris Jackson, who leads the Lions with 41 catches for 560 yards, said the 7-1 Alouettes have an aggressive defence that has to be kept off balance.
“We’re going to have to mix it up with the run,” Jackson said. “Our running game is going to have to get six yards per carry and we’re going to have to be efficient on offence when we throw the ball.”
Getting most of those rushing yards will fall to rookie tailback Martell Mallett who coach Wally Buono says is still absorbing a steep learning curve.
“We can’t get behind,” said Mallett, well aware of what happened in the 37-10 loss to the Bombers. “We’ve got to stay even or get ahead to stick with our game plan so we can run the football and come out with a win.”
The Lions will face all-purpose back Avon Cobourne who ranks second among CFL rushing leaders while Mallett is fourth with an average of 5.8 yards a carry.
“He’s a great running back and their offence is potent enough in the air to keep you on guard about their running game,” defensive end Brent Johnson said of Cobourne who has 833 yards from scrimmage, second in the CFL.
“I’m very concerned about what Montreal can do on the ground.”
The game is the first of a back-to-back series against Montreal for the 3-5 Lions. The second game is Sept. 13.
The Alouettes haven’t won in Vancouver since 2000 but they are bringing the league’s highest-scoring offence (271 points) and toughest defence (131) to B.C. Place where they lost 36-34 last year on two late Paul McCallum field goals.
Veteran quarterback Anthony Calvillo leads in several categories, including completion percentage and touchdown passes and has a 108.1 rating.
Backup Jarious Jackson will get his second consecutive start for the Lions although Buck Pierce, who suffered a concussion Aug. 14 against Toronto, will dress as the third quarterback.
Jackson is looking to make amends after throwing three interceptions against Winnipeg. He also remembers being unable to score on three tries from the one-yard line in a 30-25 loss at Montreal last season.
“And we haven’t been playing the greatest this year as far as consistency so it’s definitely a thing of redemption in more ways than one,” Jackson said.