July 17, 2019

Morris: Eskimos’ defence showing off dog mentality

Jason Halstead/CFL.ca

Of the Edmonton Eskimos’ 16 quarterback sacks this year, 12 have come against BC Lions quarterback Mike Reilly.

Although that’s an impressive stat, it’s also sort of a double-edged sword. While the Eskimos seem to have Reilly in the crosshairs, can they find the same success against other quarterbacks in the CFL?

Defensive end Kwaku Boateng didn’t hesitate when asked about putting the bite on quarterbacks other than his former teammate.

“I don’t think we have his number. I think our defence is programmed to attack the offence, period,” said the Wilfrid Laurier product, who’s playing in his third season with Edmonton. “It doesn’t really matter who is holding the ball, who is carrying the ball, who is running with the ball. We have a whole bunch of dogs across the board. Our one and only goal is to get after whoever has the ball.”

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The Edmonton defence will be on the prowl again Saturday when the Eskimos (3-1) head East for a matchup with the Montreal Alouettes (2-2), who are coming off back-to-back wins against Hamilton and Ottawa.

“The mindset we’ve got is we’ve got to keep attacking, the same way we attacked against BC,” said defensive end Jesse Joseph, who spent four years with Montreal before joining the Esks as a free agent in May. “The more the season goes, the more we just keep clicking together.”

The Eskimos sacked Reilly seven times in a 39-23 win at Commonwealth Stadium in June. In last weekend’s rematch at BC Place, Edmonton had five first-half sacks in a 33-6 victory. The Lions were limited to 157 passing yards and just 177 yards of net offence.

The Edmonton defence, which leads the CFL in allowing an average 222 yards of net offence a game, is second in sacks and third in giving up an average of 20.5 points a game.

“Physically, our guys just get after people,” said head coach Jason Maas. “That’s been our moniker all year.

“They are tenacious, all of them. Our secondary is doing their job too, so it’s making the quarterback hold it a bit. When he’s doing that, and our guys are efforting the way they are, good things happen.”

Boateng, Joseph, and defensive tackle Mike Moore all had sacks in the latest game. Also getting to Reilly was safety Jordan Hoover and defensive halfback Forrest Hightower, who had an interception as well.

“That’s the beauty of our defence,” said Boateng. “The O-line and the quarterback can’t just focus on the D-line getting there. They also have to be ready for the DBs, the linebackers. Everybody is ready to hit the quarterback, and everyone is willing to make that sacrifice.

“We have dogs across the board.”

Edmonton Eskimos linebacker Larry Dean celebrates following a defensive stop against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Jason Halstead/CFL.ca)

The Eskimos are creative in disguising who will rush the quarterback and where the pressure will come from.

“We talked about it at the beginning of the year,” said Maas. “Our defence was going to be known for hustling and then trying to affect the quarterback. How do you affect the quarterback? By doing creative things.”

Constantly changing the look of a defence hinders a quarterback’s ability to read what’s coming.

“Generally, if you show a quarterback the same things over and over again, he understands what’s happening and generally can get rid of the ball,” said Maas. “But when he doesn’t know where it’s coming from, you put stress on O-lines blocking schemes.

“When you have physical talent, which I think we do have, and you have guys that have a tenacity about them and align that with good schemes, that’s a good combination of things. When you can put pressure on any quarterback, it makes it much harder to have an offence that can score points.”

Some sacks are the result of solid play in the secondary preventing a quarterback from finding an open man.

“It’s complementary football in that sense,” said Boateng. “If you have a D-line that is getting after the quarterback and the DBs are left out to dry, it’s going to be a long day. And vice-versa. If there are wide-open receivers, it’s going to be a long day for the D-line. That’s why it’s so important to play as a team and for all of us to be on the same page and be aggressive.”

The Eskimo players have contributed to a pot of money which will be claimed by whoever has the most sacks at the end of the season. Currently, tackle Mike Moore leads with three.

“We’re trying to be the best D-line out here. We’re out here just trying to eat every day,” said Moore. “I’ve been hitting these guys up all off-season and about how we’re going to get off the ball, how we’re going to get there. We’re just making it work.”

“Everybody is ready to hit the quarterback, and everyone is willing to make that sacrifice. We have dogs across the board.”

Kwaku Boateng

The Eskimos feel good about themselves but realize there’s still a long road ahead. Edmonton was 7-5 and sitting second in the West last year before losing four of the final six games and missing the playoffs.

“It’s a new year but everybody knows the CFL is a very long season,” said Hightower. “The best thing is for us to stick with what you know and make sure you are always grinding, no matter what. If we continue to grind every single week, the results will handle themselves.”

The Eskimos are still guilty of mental mistakes and lead the league in penalties.

“This is not our final form,” Boateng said. “This is premature. We are working on it and there are a lot of things we need to fix.

“We have a lot of new pieces. Each game we are going to get better and closer, and the closer we get, the better we are going to be on the field.”