EDMONTON -- The Eskimos and Lions are set to renew hostilities at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday night, for the first time since a whirlwind affair back in July.
It’s a familiar situation for the Green and Gold, no stranger to being the underdog this season.
|Related: Lions at Eskimos|
One of Edmonton’s greatest triumphs this season came against these very same Lions in Week 4 at BC Place. And with a the playoff picture slowly taking shape, the Esks know they’ll need another inspired performance.
The good news is they’ll have two key defensive players in the lineup, as defensive end Marcus Howard and middle linebacker JC Sherritt made it through the week in practice and are expected to play.
Sherritt, who leads the Canadian Football League in tackles with 93, hurt his foot last week against the Tiger-Cats in Hamilton and sat out practice on both Tuesday and Wednesday.
“I felt good about both,” Eskimos head coach Kavis Reed said of Sherritt and Howard. “Marcus practiced all week. We monitored the reps that he had and (Thursday) was a very important day. He did well.”
The Eskimos will also welcome back defensive halfback Weldon Brown, who missed the last three games with the same groin injury that kept him out of Weeks 4 and 5. He has 16 tackles and one quarterback sack this season.
“Weldon is a go and it’s very encouraging to have him back,” Reed said. “He’s arguably one of our top defensive backs, if not the top defensive back, and the young man brings a presence in terms of having another coach on the field.
“We sorely missed him while he was out. We had three guys trying to rotate into that position and those guys did a good job while he was out, but they’re not at Weldon’s level yet.”
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Suddenly, the Esks are putting the pieces of their prized defensive unit back together – the same unit that allowed just 56 points in the opening four games of the season, for an average of 14 points per game.
Yet it’s also the same unit that was part of a 51-8 loss to the Ticats in Hamilton a week ago. Now the Eskimos have given up the second most points in the West Division, as a part of their team that was once their bread and butter has struggled in recent weeks.
Getting key names like Brown and Howard back in the lineup, while also keeping the league’s top player in Sherritt at middle linebacker should be helpful for that unit, as they look to get back on track with a difficult test at home.
Things are going a little more smoothly for the Lions, who have bounced back from a loss in Montreal three weeks ago with consecutive wins over the East’s top two teams at BC Place.
That concluded with a 28-23 win over the surging Argos last week that came down to a big stop on third down deep in their own territory with Ricky Ray threatening. And while it was a little close for comfort for the Lions, one thing they’ll be happy about is the performance of their star pivot, Travis Lulay.
The 28-year-old was unflappable against the league’s top pass defence in 2012, throwing for 390 yards and a pair of touchdowns to lead the Lions to their sixth win in seven games.
|The last time they met|
Friday, July 20, 2012
Eskimos 27, Lions 14
With Travis Lulay threatening to put the Lions ahead, Esks' defensive back Joe Burnett returned an interception 106 yards for a touchdown to give the Double E a two-score lead in the fourth quarter. The Esks never looked back, en-route to a 27-14 win over the powerhouse BC Lions in an early-season statement game. Hugh Charles had 179 yards from scrimmage for the Esks with a touchdown, while Jyles completed 10 of 16 attempts for 150 yards in the win. Lions back Andrew Harris had 185 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown, in a game dominated by defence and rushing.
Lulay’s performance earned him Offensive Player of the Week honours, while also extending his streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass to 22. But heading into a key divisional battle on Saturday, it’s not something last year’s Most Outstanding Player is really focused on.
“If you’re focusing on [throwing touchdowns] then you’re thinking about the wrong stuff and it’s probably not going to happen,” said Lulay. “I don’t think about it. I’m not trying to keep it alive. All it is, is a reflection of a certain level of consistency.”
The quarterback also admits that some luck has been involved. Indeed, a sting of games lasting more than a year while playing a game where there is more than one way to score touchdowns requires some good fortune.
It took an amazing balancing act by Shawn Gore to get the ball into the end zone on Lulay’s first score Saturday, and Arland Bruce had to make a superior adjustment to catch Lulay’s second six-pointer.
Any number of other throws over the last 22 games could have been scoring runs, and vice versa.
Some numbers, Lulay said, are easier to grasp than others. He threw only two touchdowns Saturday in the Lions’ 28-23 win over the Toronto Argonauts, for example, but his 390 yards passing was the second-best outing of his blossoming Lions career.
So to dwell on a record when Lulay would be just as satisfied if the Lions scored rushing touchdowns the rest of the season, given a positive outcome, is pointless, he said, not to mention potentially counter-productive.
Saturday’s game brings with it a number of other key storylines as well, that are sure to be watched closely. Linebacker Solomon Elimimian will suit up for the first time this season, after returning from an NFL tryout.
His role though is still up in the air, as his old position continues to be manned by one of the league’s top defensive performers this season in Adam Bighill.
The biggest spotlight coming into this one might not be on any quarterback or linebacker at all though, but instead, in the trenches – especially when the Eskimos have the ball.
Khalif Mitchell and Simeon Rottier play against each other for the first time since an arm-twisting incident the last time these teams met. Rottier missed weeks of action with the injured limb, while Mitchell was suspended for two games.
“I don’t think any of us will have a hard time getting fired up for the game,” Rottier said Thursday. “We’re aware of what he might do. If it were to happen again it would be ugly.”
Since then Rottier has forgiven the Lions’ defensive lineman, even though he never really apologized. Mitchell expressed some remorse upon completing his penance but other than acknowledging the spotlight will be on him Saturday, said this week he didn’t plan to speak to Rottier.
This week the Esks will turn to Steven Jyles at quarterback, while Matt Nichols suits up as the backup after getting some snaps in Hamilton.
Kickoff is at 7:30 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live via Game Tracker on CFL.ca and CFL Mobile.
- With files from Postmedia
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