The Edmonton Eskimos did everything they promised to do. Well, almost everything. Once again, they forgot to screw their helmets on straight when it came to discipline.
The Eskimos brought the physical play, found the emotion, produced the passion, scored from the red zone early and put themselves in perfect position to put their foot on the throat of the Calgary Stampeders’ throat early.
Just when it looked like they were about to re-enter the race in the CFL West, however, they once again failed phenomenally to fix their continuing discipline problem under head coach Jason Maas.
As a result of that and an injury to starting quarterback Trevor Harris, the Eskimos lost their third in a row, fifth in five games against the top teams in the CFL and second straight at home. And they did so despite announcing the largest crowd count in the CFL this year at 40,113 with a 50-50 of $105,505, the first six-figure payout of the season.
Taking eight penalties for 88 yards in the first half and ending up with more than a hundred yards against, Edmonton ended up being swept yet again in the home-and-home series.
The Esks basically allowed the Stamps to throw a perfect game at them. Calgary gave up zero turnovers, didn’t allow a single sack, led from start to finish, held a wide edge in field position, drew fewer penalties and out-gained their northern rivals 461 yards to 265.
Changes? Yeah, you might want to make a few.
But here’s the deal. In a back-to-back situation like this, how many changes can you really make? And how much of the game plan do you figure would have worked if the damn team had shown up, played physical football, made their tackles and not have had two guys taking two separate holding penalties on the same guy on the same play? That actually happened with Christophe Mulumba-Tshimanga and Jordan Beaulieu the guilty parties.
“You should never take a penalty on a double team. Two guys should be able to block one guy without taking a holding penalty. Two situations like that cost us 140 yards on punt returns including a touchdown return,” said head coach Jason Maas.
“When you only have one practice, it’s hard to put a brand new game plan in. Obviously there are game plan things we need to get to. But when you watch the film, there’s not as much as you might think.”
On defence when you give up more than 200 yards rushing, you know it has to be back to the drawing board.
“Sure we can scheme things differently and we will scheme some things differently,” said Mass.
“Adjustments have to be made in terms of gap control, setting an edge, being more physical on the perimeter and all those things but there’s more involved than that.
Maas points out that on the first catch by Reggie Begelton, the problem wasn’t the Xs and Os.
“We had Larry Dean and Vontae Diggs who are both very good at tackling people both miss their tackles. How do you stop that? I don’t know. You put two guys by him that are tackle machines and you should be able to tackle him, easy. Make the tackle,” said Maas.
As much as you go through all of that, let’s not beat around the bush here. First and foremost, quarterback Harris has to return to his CFL Most Outstanding Player form from the first half of the season and get past his Calgary thing and do it head-to-head against last year’s MOP Bo Levi Mitchell.
Harris has never been able to beat the Stampeders as a starter. Zero wins. Eight losses. Two ties.
And that doesn’t include the Grey Cup losses.
His most career regular-season interceptions (11) have come against Calgary. His lowest career completion percentage has been versus the Stampeders. And his career pass efficiency, which has averaged 103.5, bottoms out at 90.6 against the Stamps.
If you remember, Mike Reilley had the same problem going into this game in 2015. He won it, beat the Stampeders in a regular season game that followed and beat them again in the West Final en route to winning the Grey Cup.
Harris doesn’t choose to see this as himself against Calgary. He sees it more as Edmonton versus Edmonton.
“It’s not really a battle against them. It’s a battle against ourselves. If we can look ourselves in the mirror at the end of the day and know we put everything on the line for each other, that’s really what we need to focus on.”
First Harris must beat his current crisis of not being able to score from the red zone. He’s 14 for 32 from 20 yards in and a combined 0-8 against Calgary and Winnipeg.
Harris said the red zone thing isn’t a worry.
“I consider myself a good red zone quarterback. We had a struggle last year in Ottawa but the fact of the matter is that at the end of the year we turned it on and I led the league in touchdowns.
“I’ve been a good red zone quarterback my whole life. What’s happened this year is kind of a new deal. You just turn that out and keep executing. The things that have been happening are correctable.
“We have to fix it NOW. It’s not one of those things where ‘It’s OK. We’ll be fine.’ We have to have a sense of urgency to fix it. Trust me, we’re very urgently trying to do everything we can. At the same time we don’t want to put too much emphasis on it because we might pucker up a little bit and struggle.”
Uh, I’d say right now you couldn’t possibly be much more puckered up.