The B.C. Lions believe they are a better football team than their 6-4 record indicates.
The Lions realize a win against the Montreal Alouettes Sunday at BC Place Stadium would help give some credence to that belief. But the players also know the road to proving themselves isn't going to get any easier as the CFL season progresses.
"We can talk until we're blue in the face but at the end of the day we know that numbers are the only thing that don't lie," defensive end Keron Williams said Saturday after B.C. held a light practice.
'We can talk until we're blue in the face but at the end of the day we know that numbers are the only thing that don't lie.' - Lions defensive end Keron Williams
"We can't keep going up and down the slope. We have to stay on an even keel ... to get on top of that mountain. It's not going to happen with us wavering and teetering."
The Lions, who were beaten 37-29 by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats last weekend, have lost two of their last three games. In their last meeting against Montreal on Aug. 22, the Lions blew a 27-1 half-time lead and lost 39-38.
Nickleback Korey Banks said the Lions have been their own worst enemy.
"Everything that possibly could go wrong went wrong," said Banks, who was involved in a fight with teammate Khreem Smith during practise this week.
"Our quarterback is getting hit. We're messing up on every phase of the game at certain parts of the game. We haven't played a full game yet."
Coach Mike Benevides said his team must "find a level of consistency."
"Now that we are in the second half of the season, we really need to assert ourselves as to who we are and what we want to be," said Benevides.
Football players like to say their next game is the most important of the season. This week it's more than a cliche for the Lions.
Only two of B.C.'s wins this year have come against teams with winning records. The Lions are third in the West behind the Calgary Stampeders and Saskatchewan Roughriders. Heading down the stretch the Lions play Saskatchewan three times and Calgary twice.
Very important game
"This is the biggest game of the season," said veteran halfback Ryan Phillips. "I'm not saying that because it's the next one. I'm saying that because of the scenario that we are in.
"We are behind two teams. These next games are important before we go into that stretch run against those two teams. Its very important for us to take care of the next few games. That way we are on the right track and go into that stretch with confidence.
One player anxious to make a contribution is tailback Andrew Harris. After rushing for 1,112 yards last year, Harris has seen his production drop recently. He had just five carries for 10 yards in the loss against Hamilton. In his last four games Harris has carried the ball 35 times for 123 yards and no touchdowns.
"The last four games have been the worst of my career as far as numbers," said Harris, who has rushed for 582 yards on 118 carries this season. "It's frustrating.
"You want to bounce back and make an impact. That's something I haven't done the last couple of games."
One reason Harris isn't seeing the ball as much is he's been asked to block for quarterback Travis Lulay. Defences have been exposing weaknesses in the B.C. offensive scheme, resulting in the Lions giving up 26 sacks this year compared to 30 all last season.
"We have stuff in place to counteract that stuff," said Lulay. "It's going to be a matter of recognition and execution early in the game.
"It's a group effort in beating that stuff."
Montreal (4-7) is coming off a tough 37-30 loss to Toronto last week but still can climb into a second-place tie with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats with a win over the Lions.
"I expect a very tough ball game," said Jim Popp, Montreal's coach and general manager. "Both teams are better than their records and both teams are still trying to find themselves."
With quarterback Anthony Calvillo still sidelined with a concussion, Tanner Marsh will make his third CFL start. Marsh had a Cinderella performance when he threw for 329 yards after coming on in relief in the comeback win over B.C. Against Toronto last week, the clock struck midnight when he was intercepted three times.
"They (Toronto) took us out of things that worked the last time, like the run game," said Popp. "We still made some big plays, just not consistently. We're still working on that. There's still too many turnovers."
Marsh took the Lions by surprise the first time the teams met. Phillips said that element of surprised is gone.
"When you have film on people you get a better indication of what makes them successful and it gives us opportunities to make big plays on defence," said Phillips, who is tied with Banks for the lead among active CFL players with 37 interceptions.
"You can play toward some people's tendencies and things like that. You get a better read now that they are trying to do things and things they are comfortable doing."
Montreal has chosen a tough place to try to avoid going 4-7 for the first time since they re-entered the league in 1996. The Als are 11-1 in their last 12 visits to Vancouver.