- FREE AGENCY
Some things are easier said than done, like saying you’re going to drop 10 pounds or you’re going to cut down on your Netflix binge watching.
Or saying the Edmonton Eskimos must contain Brandon Banks if they hope to beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Sunday’s CFL Eastern Final.
“You can’t just talk about it,” said Eskimo cornerback Josh Johnson. “You’ve got to actually do it.
“Brandon Banks is that guy. Brandon Banks is the guy they want to get it to, but we’re going to try to limit him and make them beat us with other players.”
Banks, the East nominee as the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player, led the league with 112 catches for 1,550 yards and 13 touchdowns. His 657 yards after the catch was also better than any other receiver.
In Hamilton’s two regular-season wins over the Eskimos he had a combined 13 catches for 153 yards and two touchdowns.
At just five-foot-seven and 150 pounds, what Banks lacks in size he compensates with speed and smarts.
“He likes to slow play you,” said Johnson. “He’ll run at you and once he sees he has his leverage on you, then he’ll explode out of his break really fast. He’s a good tempo guy. He’s a very aggressive player when it comes to wanting the ball.”
Shutting down Banks means taking away his time and space. Make him feel uncomfortable. Don’t allow him to get that extra step or to find any room.
“You have to actually show some body presence, you have to be in front of his way,” said Johnson. “You have to make him redirect.
“You have to do stuff that he’s not comfortable with doing, being in his face, making him actually have to fight to run routes.”
While being focused on Banks, the Eskimos can’t take the lens off the other Hamilton receivers. Bralon Addison had 1,236 yards and seven touchdowns. Jaelon Acklin had over 700 yards while Marcus Tucker and Luke Tasker are capable of burning a team.
“If you are focusing on one guy beating you, then you have trouble,” said Johnson. “We’re not worried just about Banks. We have to worry about the whole team.
“They throw too many different formations. They throw a lot of eye candy at you. You just have to be smart, stay home. Just do your job and depend on everybody else to do their job and we’ll be fine.”
Johnson had three interceptions in Edmonton’s 37-29 win over Montreal in last weekend’s Eastern Semi-Final. He’s the first player to have three picks in a playoff game since Toronto’s Darrell Moir in 1986.
In 17 regular season games the five-foot-10, 200-pound Dade City, Fla., native had 43 tackles, two interceptions and a sack.
Johnson signed as free agent with Edmonton in May after playing nine games with Hamilton last year. He’s been sharing his understanding of the Tiger-Cat offence with his Eskimo teammates.
“My biggest thing . . . is knowing the guys I’m playing against, understanding what they like to do,” he said. “Some things that Hamilton does well is they utilize the guys in the right positions.”
“They will put Banks in a certain position to give him the ball, or they will put him in another position to run you off just to get another guy open.”
Johnson was part of the Tiger-Cat team that lost last year’s Eastern Final 46-27 to the Ottawa REDBLACKS. The emotions of that defeat helped fuel him this year.
“I know the downfall to losing this game,” said Johnson. “You go home, you’re bitter, you want to think about next year.”
Trevor Harris was Ottawa’s quarterback last year. Harris, who signed as a free agent with Edmonton, hasn’t let Johnson forget about the record-setting six touchdowns he threw in that game.
“Trust me, we talk about it all the time,” chuckled Johnson. “He always messes with me a little bit:”
The Eastern Final winner will play either Saskatchewan or Winnipeg in the Grey Cup Nov. 24 in Calgary.
Hamilton goes into Sunday the heavy favourite. The Tiger-Cats’ 15-3 record was the best in the CFL and they were unbeaten at home.
The Ticats led the league in points scored (551) and points allowed (344) — the first time a team did that than 1964 — plus passing yards (5,639).
Hamilton is also resilient. Of the five times the Tiger-Cats trailed at half time this year they battled back for four wins.
Edmonton finished 8-10 in the West and are looking to become the first cross-over team to advance to the final.
The Eskimo defence led the league against the pass, allowing an average 222.9 yards a game, were third in points allowed (400) and tied Saskatchewan with 56 sacks.
Johnson said the Eskimos are an underdog with teeth.
“Everybody has been saying it can’t happen,” he said. “A lot of things we’ve been talking about is just having that positive mentality. We’re just going to go in there believing.
We’re just looking to go out there and upset them. Every one that is there for that game, we just want them to see who the Eskimos actually are.”