EDMONTON -- The Edmonton Eskimos and Winnipeg Blue Bombers are set to kickoff a home-and-home with major implications for both teams ahead Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium.
Last weekend the Bombers made a major statement to the rest of the CFL, showing why they’re better than often given credit for after earning a hard-earned win against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
In front of a sold-out Investors Group Field crowd, a dominant performance by the defence and a timely kick return touchdown from Will Ford led the Bombers to a 25-13 win over the league’s top-ranked team, giving the team and its fan base renewed optimism in a 2013 campaign didn’t quite start as planned.
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As they now hit the road looking for a second straight victory, suddenly the pressure is on the Eskimos to step up to the plate and find a way to replicate what the Bombers were able to do last weekend.
Much like with Friday night’s counterparts, the Eskimos have seemingly played much better than their record suggests so far this season.
But third-year head coach Kavis Reed remains optimistic, especially given the performance of his team’s defence of late; particularly in last week’s 22-12 loss to the Calgary Stampeders, in which the Esks surrendered just one offensive touchdown while forcing a season-high eight two-and-outs.
"That was the biggest thing is to make certain that you have that cohesion and you have that attitude, and those guys are really in the last two games really getting after it, that’s critically important for the success of this football team,” said Reed of his defence, which until recently hasn’t been able to recapture the dominance it showed throughout the first half of 2012.
"Now if we can get back to scoring the points that we need to score I think we can for once put it all together.”
Before last weekend’s 10-point loss in their Labour Day rematch against rival Calgary, the Eskimos lost five straight games by five points or less in what seemed like one of the unluckiest stretches the league’s ever witnessed.
Even in the last game they had the opportunity to escape with a win until later on in the fourth quarter, trailing at the half by just a single point and sitting just four points back heading into the final frame.
With key pieces of the defence returning to the lineup from injury this week, including Donavan Alexander, JC Sherritt, and Odell Willis, there are no excuses for a club that needs to start winning now in order to get back into the hunt for the playoffs.
Saturday’s game will mark the first time Willis and Marcus Howard have lined up on the defensive line together, which Reed said he hopes will provide a major spark for his team.
"Much like the team we’re facing, you build a team around the defensive line and that’s the way this team has been built, around the defensive line, and those guys literally being a cornerstone of that defensive line,” Reed told Esks.com.
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"Having those two guys healthy and the continual good play of our inside guys, we really feel that can be a catalyst for us,” he continued.
"Those two were highly-touted coming in, we really haven’t seen them work in combination together yet but hopefully this week we’ll have that opportunity.”
Just as promising as the return of those three defensive stalwarts is the improved play of Howard, who seemed unstoppable against the Stamps and was around quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell all night, leading to two sacks and a number of rushed throws.
After recording 11 sacks in his first season with the Esks, the 27-year-old had since failed to meet the lofty expectations placed on his shoulders by management and especially fans, and just now seems to be hitting his stride again.
"Marcus Howard is a difference-maker, he’s a playmaker on defence, he’s a disruptor, he’s a technician, and when that young man is at a stasis health-wise and mentally and emotionally, he is arguably the best in the league,” said Reed.
"We’re seeing that from Marcus, we’re seeing the fact that he is healthy which is something he’s battled all year, and we’re also seeing that attitude he came in with when he first came here two years ago.”
With the defence set to return to its form of old, now the attention will turn to the offence, which cooled down last week after spending time as one of the league’s most explosive unit.
Last week Mike Reilly was held to just 194 yards on 16-26 passing against a stout Stampeder defence, while his team’s struggles in the red zone contributed significantly to the eventual loss.
This week the test won’t get any easier against a Bomber team that, much like the Esks, loves to get after the quarterback.
"They’re a tremendous group, they’re arguably right now the best defensive line,” said Reed of the Bombers. "They’re very explosive, they’re assignment conscious, and I believe they’re number one against the run.”
"They get pressure on you because they’re getting up field. For us we have to make certain scheme-wise, play calling-wise that we account for them and that’s the way we’ve built our offensive game plan is to account for that pass rush, and account for the fact that the run game has to change,” Reed continued.
"We don’t expect to be the team to break the code too much but we expect to be smart as to how we manage those guys.”
|The last time they met|
Thursday, July 26, 2012
Winnipeg 23, Edmonton 22
The Winnipeg Bombers got their first win of the season in front of a fired-up Canad Inns Stadium crowd on Thursday night, overcoming a 10-point second half deficit and holding the Esks to just a single point in the fourth quarter for a thrilling 23-22 win...Read more.
Returning for the Eskimos on the offensive side of the ball will be running back Hugh Charles, who was injured and and in his absence replaced by rookie running back John White. Receiver Cary Koch, on the other hand, likely will be unable to suit up in the Eskimo offence.
Lining up against the Esks on Saturday won’t just be a talented defence and an offence with big-play potential, but a team that is flying high on the heels of its first ever win at Investors Group Stadium.
While the Bomber offence contributed just 18 of the team’s 25 points, a combined effort on all three units led to an impressive win over the surging Roughriders, giving the Blue and Gold an enormous boost of momentum heading into the remaining eight games on the slate.
"I think our game in Saskatchewan gave them the confidence that they knew they can compete with anybody,” Burke told BlueBombers.com following the team’s win in the Banjo Bowl.
"Now they know they can beat anybody, so hopefully we can use that to get us some more wins.”
Once you feel like you can play with anybody, once you really believe that you can go out there and win every game, I think that mind-set changes out much you produce.”
We’ll find out on Saturday whether the Bombers can turn a big win at home over a heated rival into their first winning streak of the season, but what’s clear until then is that this team doesn’t have the mindset of a last-place club.
"Our defence played incredible,” said Justin Goltz after the win, in which he rushed for a pair of touchdowns for the second straight week. Goltz said he believes his team’s performance showed a re-emergence may not be far off, and that the team is beginning to resemble the same one that guided them to an appearance in the 99th Grey Cup.
"This is the team and the defence that held us together a couple of years ago when we made a Grey Cup run,” Goltz told the team’s official site. They’ve been looking for it all year, the guys have been busting their butts and it’s all starting to come together so there’s a lot of optimism in this locker-room right now.”
"I’m so proud of the defence and each individual that stepped up . . . They held us in the game, there are no ifs, ands, or buts about it,” he continued. They kept us rolling in the second half too and when good things weren’t happening, there was never a lull because they were always on the field making plays.”
Just one week after one-win David hurled that rock and hit one-loss Goliath right between the eyes and took the giant down, the Bombers understand quite well that their opponent is just as hungry as they are entering Week 12.
Kickoff is at 6:30 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live via Game Tracker on CFL.ca and CFL Mobile.
- With files from Esks.com/BlueBombers.com