The ugly ones count too; thoughts on the Eskimos edging the Redblacks

A good day to ask “how many” rather than “how”.

The Eskimos didn’t do it the easy way, but the offence did enough when they needed to with a last-three-minutes touchdown and the defence did JUST enough when they needed allowing some easy yardage but then holding Ottawa to 11.5 yards on third and 12.

A minimum passing grade for a 21-16 win, but the Esks are back to .500 and just half a game behind those oh-so-good Alouettes.

Some thoughts:

– Logan Kilgore could not hit DaVaris Daniels to save his life… until he did! After a few overthrown deep balls to an open Daniels last week, there were two more Saturday before they connected on a beautiful 51-yard pass to set up Edmonton’s go-ahead touchdown.

They followed it up with a clutch second down conversion a couple minutes later that enabled them to kill the clock. It didn’t feel like Daniels even had the seven targets he did, but great players step up when it matters, right? Kilgore was good but unexceptional, especially given the opposition, though his arm seemed to be in better form than last week.

Ricky Collins, meanwhile, ended up the forgotten man. After three catches for 56 yards in the first sixteen minutes, he only got one more ball thrown his way (at the end of the first half). Greg Ellingson, similarly, finished with four catches for 50 yards with none in the last 24 minutes. A few things lacking.

– The big moment: Tevaun Smith’s touchdown catch.

I think “call stands” would be correct based on the call on the field and I’m right there with you: I’m very surprised they announced “call confirmed”. By objective definitions it was close enough to call either way. The ball definitely touched the ground but Smith had his arm around it and you’re left with subjectively deciding if the ground helped. So I’m just glad Edmonton was actually on the good side of a big command centre call.

– C.J. Gable had a peculiar night to continue a peculiar season. He ended up with 20 carries for 90 yards, half of which came on the first drive of the second half. He’s closing in on the 1,000-yard mark again – his 950 yards are good for second in the league. Yet very few people would call him a top three back. He has the body of a power back, but he seems to have the brain of a speed back.

A little less dancing and a little more ‘hit the hole’ would be appreciated, though. Surprisingly enough the Esks lead the league with an 81 percent conversion rate on second and three or less coming into the week. Gable turns 32 in October and his contract expires after this season, so there’s a fair chance this will be his last season in green and gold.

– Many of the same common faults on offence. Checking down on second down for half as many yards as you need. Throwing silly little sideways screens for one yard. Spotty run blocking that failed to create holes for more than an instant. The low point of the night was in the second quarter when Ottawa’s offence got booed off the field, yet Edmonton was trailing 3-1.

Two bits of good news: they came out firing to start the second half. Putting together a near-effortless touchdown drive on which the O-line paved the way for Gable and he took advantage. I’m a little unsure if that was a result of halftime adjustments or something of a fluke, given how they didn’t do much the rest of the way. They also got Christion Jones more involved on offence, which is very encouraging and provides an obvious change of pace to Gable. But it was far too inconsistent to be considered a ‘good’ day.

The way the game was going, the Redblacks may have even been the favourites to win at 14-14 in the fourth quarter, but then Dominique Davis got hurt. Davis isn’t great, but he’s still more inspiring than Jon Jennings.

Edmonton needed seven tries to convert a second down. It was a slow start and it never really picked up, with each team earning under offensive 300 yards.

– I don’t remember seeing Forrest Hightower after he broke up an early pass. That’s the mark of an elite defensive back. Anthony Orange, unfortunately, was front and centre far too often. He was the weak link on Saturday, most obviously giving up a 45-yard completion right before Ottawa scored their touchdown.

The way this defence works seems quite simple: when they don’t give up a big play or two, they’re very, very good. For example, 70 of Ottawa’s 264 yards came on two plays just prior to scoring. “Not giving up big plays is good,” groundbreaking stuff, I know. But the Redblacks got very little going offensively otherwise. It’s less common for the Eskimo defence to give up consistent smaller pieces compared to big chunks. Relatedly, they’ve consistently overwhelmed the bottom three teams while struggling against the top three who will more often make you pay for your mistakes.

– Six sacks from five players, including Mathieu Betts’ second career sack in as many games. Edmonton may or may not have the best front four in the league, but combined with their rotational guys they definitely have my vote as the best top to bottom D-line. Two of those sacks came from linebackers and altogether the front seven held Ottawa to approximately nothing in the running game, with Mossis Madu averaging under two yards per carry.

– Both punters had a very busy afternoon. Hugh O’Neill didn’t miss a beat in his first game back from injury with a 45.9 average and a quartet of pins right around the Ottawa 10-yard line to go with one rouge. That left Sean Whyte to do his thing. A 50 yarder and a 48 yarder 1:15 apart at the end of the first half = $$$.

– The other main special teamer, returner Christion Jones, had a very dandy night. No touchdowns, but 231 combined return yards set up the offence as well as he could. On the other side, neither DeVonte Dedmon nor Stefan Logan dressed yet Ottawa still had a solid day returning kicks. So mixed results, but positive overall.

– I know you love my TSN staff comments. Davis Sanchez was a very nice addition to the panel last year. Henry Burris, less so.

It could be worse – you could be Ottawa or Toronto – but from a properly decent team you really would’ve expected something closer to what Saskatchewan did to the Argos on Saturday or even B.C. to Ottawa twice.

Now the Eskimos will stay out East until Friday when they face the league-leading Tiger-Cats. I’d appreciate not going 0-7 combined against Winnipeg, Calgary and Hamilton, but especially if Trevor Harris isn’t back that’s probably a little too hopeful. 

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Mike Ludwig
Mike Ludwig enjoys math, chess, and football, all of which are kind of related. He lives in Edmonton and does not endorse Rod Black's metaphors. Follow him on twitter at @CityOfChamps14.