The Ottawa Redblacks aren’t looking past the Edmonton Eskimos, but they’re definitely looking ahead.
With just six games remaining in the regular season the Redblacks feel it’s imperative they start playing with a playoff mentality.
“It’s about putting some wins together and raising your level of play when the playoffs start getting more and more near,” said Redblacks quarterback Trevor Harris. “It’s not like early in the season doesn’t matter or you don’t want to play your best football, you want to win all the games, but it starts to get super important now to get better and better each week.”
Ottawa (7-5) hosts the Eskimos (7-5) Saturday afternoon, and Edmonton’s Mike Reilly-led offence should provide a good challenge for the Redblacks.
“Basically it’s trying to get (Reilly) off his rhythm,” said Ottawa cornerback Jonathan Rose, who had two interceptions last week. “Try to get as many two and outs as possible and then just stay consistent and not let him get us with the one-shot wonder. If he has to, make him have to go down for down and beat us that way.”
Ottawa is coming off a solid 30-25 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders. A significant change for the Redblacks was its ability to release the ball quicker and Harris being much more mobile.
Harris, who suffered an ankle/knee injury in the pre-season, said it’s no coincidence he was moving around more last week.
“I’m at my best when I can move the pocket and run a little bit, use my feet,” said Harris. “When our O-line protects really well, like they did last week, it allows me being able to do that, even if it doesn’t mean rushing yards, it means we can move in the pocket and get myself going.
“The doctors told me it would be a while before the knee and ankle felt like I couldn’t tell the difference between the two and I think it’s getting close to that point.”
The Redblacks and their offensive line had taken significant criticism after Harris was sacked six times by the B.C. Lions, so adjustments were made last week.
“You don’t want to be predictable on anything you do in football, but particularly as an offensive line and quarterback you don’t want to drop back all the time,” said head coach Rick Campbell. “You want to keep the defence guessing through either moving the launch point of the quarterback or running the ball or screens or whatever. You need to be dynamic to make sure you keep the pass rushers off balance.”
Last week the Roughriders were unable to get to Harris, but the Eskimos believe they can make life difficult for the Ottawa quarterback.
“Getting pressure on a quarterback in this league is paramount and we don’t rush a ton of people,” said Eskimos head coach Jason Maas. “We’d like to do that with our four-man front. Those guys are tenacious and get after the quarterback. Ultimately what you want as a team defence are guys that are on the same page that recognize things and play with a lot of confidence and aren’t afraid to make a play.”
While Harris was solid last week, going 27-for-34 for 334 yards and two touchdowns, Ottawa’s running game was just as impressive. William Powell ran for 148 yards, 110 of which came in the second half. Powell, who leads the CFL with 994 yards, needs just six yards for his second straight 1,000-yard season and 33 to surpass his career high of 1,026.
The Eskimos are coming off a bye week, which may not have come at the best time as they were riding high after beating league-leading Calgary 48-42.
Tied with Saskatchewan for second in the West, the Eskimos are also starting to look towards the playoffs.
“The next six games is going to determine the outcome of the year,” said Maas. “We know how tough these last six games are going to be. We’ve put ourselves in this position and we need to play well and capitalize on it.”
The two teams meet again in Edmonton on Oct. 13.