NEWS
07/29/2011 05:35 EDT | Updated 09/28/2011 05:12 EDT

Small mistakes causing big problems as Lions struggle with 0-5 start to season

SURREY, B.C. - Wally Buono watched the play unfold over and over on the television screen in his office.

It showed B.C. Lions' running back Jamal Robertson releasing a Winnipeg Blue Bomber defender just a fraction of a second too early on a chip block, resulting in a sack of quarterback Travis Lulay.

Dropped balls, overthrown passes, missed tackles are easy to see. But it's the small mistakes that are digging the Lions (0-5) into a deep hole.

"The thing we all know about football is you must make the plays at critical times," Buono, the Lions' coach and general manager, said Friday.

"We make one throw, one catch, one stop on defence. That's the thing. We don't make one."

The Lions showed improvement in their running game in a 25-20 road loss to Winnipeg on Thursday. The defence was more aggressive. The Lions even led 13-6 after 30 minutes, the first time this season they held a lead at halftime.

Still, B.C. allowed Winnipeg backup quarterback Alex Brink to come off the bench and beat them with some big plays. Given the chance to salvage a victory in the dying minutes, Lulay either couldn't find open receivers, or the ones he found dropped catchable passes.

"The ability to execute under pressure at critical times is the difference between winning and losing," sighed Buono, who had watched a replay of the game twice by the time the team arrived back at their training facility.

"It seems like you address an area, it improves. But we haven't been able to find the formula that allows us to make that critical play at a critical time to win."

It's not like the Lions have been chewed up and spit out this season. It's more like they are been nibbled to death. Three of B.C.'s losses have been by five points or less.

Buono hinted he will be making some personnel changes before next Friday's game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Empire Field.

"It's going to be critical for the coaches and myself, over the next day or so, to look at how we can improve this club," he said.

Tad Kornegay, the former Saskatchewan Roughrider defensive back-linebacker, will work out with the Lions on Saturday, Buono said. Just how he fits into B.C.'s scheme has yet to be determined.

"What I've always liked about Tad is the fact he is a good, hardnosed football player," Buono said. "He plays hard, he plays fast, he's good on teams. In the Saskatchewan system he was very good, but he played more of a kind of rover, not really linebacker, not really defensive back."

Additions usually mean subtractions. But who?

Davis Sanchez, the Lions' 36-year-old Canadian safety, looks to have lost a step. Defensive back Korey Banks, 31, has disappeared some games.

Rookie wide receiver Dobson Collins continued a trend and dropped three catches against the Bombers. He also was flagged for objectionable conduct after making a catch.

"That's concerning," said Buono.

More puzzling is the performance of second-year slotback Shawn Gore. He had seven catches for 83 yards, but also let a ball slip through his hands on a key drive late in the game.

"Some personnel you have to be patient with," said Buono. "Shawn Gore still caught seven balls. If he catches one more, he has a monster game.

"He has been productive (then) he has that glitch. There is a drop that always seems to be the highlight of the performance."

Buono bristled as the suggestion inexperience could be a problem for his receivers.

"He's open, the ball is thrown to him," he said. "Why is that inexperience?"

The latest defeat wrote some unwelcome history for Buono. The coach whose 243 victories is the most in the CFL also has the most losses with 237.

"I've always said that's what longevity gives you," he shrugged. "It gives you a piece of history in the positive, the negative and the neutral."

This is the first time in his 22-year career that Buono has coached a team to a 0-5 start. His previous worst was 0-4 in 2002, his last season in Calgary.

The Lions haven't started 0-5 since 1996. They were 0-6 in 1969 but the worst ever start was 0-10 back in 1958.

The Lions started 1-7 last season but rallied to make the playoffs with a 8-10 record.

The Grey Cup game will be played in Vancouver this November.

Watching the film from the previous night's game one more time, Buono still believes his team can make the playoffs.

"The film shows we can improve," he said. "The film shows we have improved. The film shows there are opportunities to make plays and the film shows that to win you must make those plays.