Before the 2013 season began, you could have probably predicted a few things about the Edmonton Eskimos.
First, their offence would probably have some trouble led by quarterback Mike Reilly who is developing into a sure-fire starter in the Canadian Football League.
The other prediction is the Eskimos defence would have been the strength of the team, especially in the front seven.
Most of the money in the off-season was spent on the defence.
J.C. Sherritt, T.J. Hill and Marcus Howard were all re-signed; while Odell Willis was the prized free-agent acquisition of the off-season for the Eskimos.
The defence was supposed to give the offence some breathing room so they could gel as best and as fast as they could.
Six games into the regular season and the Eskimos defence hasn’t lived up to its pre-season expectations.
On the ground, the Eskimos have allowed a league-worst 145 rushing yards per game. Opposing teams have run 151 times against the Eskimos defence, the most among any other team in the league.
Not coincidentally, the Eskimos have surrendered the most first downs rushing and the most first downs overall.
Head coach Kavis Reed and the rest of the coaching staff did a self-study of the entire team’s performance through the first six games of the season during the bye week. He says he noticed an alarming trend.
“The number that sticks out is 6.5 yards (given up) on first down,” Reed explained. “We need to live in the world of second and seven plus.”
Defences are supposed to be reactionary and anticipate scenarios. When defences face second and medium-to-short on a consistent basis, a reactionary defence becomes a thinking defence.
The advantage goes to the offensive coordinator because his playbook is wide open. It’s very difficult to pass rush on second and short-to-medium. On second-and-long however, defences can pin their ears back and rush.
Reed says his front seven must get back to the basics of football.
“If six gaps are available to you, be in your gap, get off a block and make a play,” Reed said. “You can’t get in your gap if you don’t align properly. We have to be intensive about making certain guys are aligned properly, be where they are supposed to be. It’s simple, we just need to focus on the fundamental thing of getting lined up and no matter what they are doing visually to you, all the cross-motions, there are six gaps.”
Coming into this week, the Eskimos are the lowest scoring team in the CFL with just 128 points, averaging 21.3 points per game.
In the last three games, the Eskimos have scored 77 points which is an average of 25 points through that time span. The glaring criticism of the offence is they are very slow starters.
Twenty two of those 77 points have been scored in the first half. However, when the offence becomes hot in the second half, the defence can’t get off the field. Overall, offence must help the defence and vice-versa.
It won’t get any easier for the Eskimos as Sherritt is out for two to six weeks with a broken thumb. Former University of Georgia star Rennie Curran will make his debut in his place. The Eskimos also lost their best defensive back in rookie Aaron Grymes who suffered an internal organ injury in practice this week.
The next four games will be extremely tough as the Eskimos face the Argonauts, the Riders, and the Stampeders twice.
Not a good combination for a team trying to build for success. The Eskimos have only lost their last two games by six points. Teams who lose close games tend to either start winning them or they just fall off.
The defence can go a long way in helping the Eskimos win those close games.
NOTES: The Eskimos will shuffle their offensive line vs. Toronto. Right tackle Branden Curry is out of the lineup with a lower-body injury. Matt O’Donnell will move to right tackle from left guard. New import lineman Miles Mason will make his CFL debut at left guard. The same position he played at the University of Utah for his first two seasons. Expect Alexander Krausnick to make his Eskimos debut playing at centre. He’s recovered from a knee injury which occurred back in training camp. The Eskimos have won four straight regular season games in Toronto which includes their 2010 game in Moncton where Toronto was designated the home team.
Dave Campbell has been on the Eskimos beat since 2004. He’s entering his seventh season as the Eskimo colour analyst for 630 CHED broadcasts. He also hosts The Points After Show, an openline post-game show. Follow Dave on Twitter @Dave_CHED.