Esks come up well short against Ticats; thoughts on the East Final

I’m not sure a single surprising thing happened.

Actually, check that, Jason Maas won a pass interference challenge. Otherwise though, it was the same script we’ve seen for months.

Some good, more bad as the Esks drop the East Final to the Ticats 36-16. Can’t say I expected anything different.

For the last time in 2019, some thoughts:

– Edmonton got outplayed in virtually every way, let’s make that clear at the start. It wasn’t a surprise, but it’s deeply disappointing to be so badly outclassed no matter who you’re playing. The one exception is Trevor Harris maintains an edge over Dane Evans, but especially as evidenced by the last off-season the quarterback is important but still only one player. There’s no question that Hamilton is the better team, top to bottom, and they are deserving Grey Cup favourites with one step to go.

I’ve been very firm in my belief in Edmonton’s personnel – one for one, they stack up well even to the Ticats. But relative to Hamilton, the Esks’ whole is so much worse than the sum of its parts. If there aren’t staffing changes this winter, I imagine it’ll be hard to expect anything different next season.

For example, when you continue to hand off to a running back with fewer than three yards per carry into the third and fourth quarters down multiple touchdowns, I can’t help you.

– The biggest difference between the teams – we knew it coming in, and sure enough – was their defensive secondaries. Last week I outlined Edmonton’s injury difficulties, but you play with who you have. Good for Harris getting over 300 against a very tough unit, but Evans sliced up the Esks for almost 400 yards on only 21 completions. Just before halftime it was eight completions for 208 yards. I lost count of the times we expressed disbelief at how wide open a Ticat was (and no, I don’t know why it kept being a surprise).

Yet another thing we’ve seen before: in Montreal last week there were a myriad of big plays against. The Ticats took it to another level, not unexpectedly with the likes of Brandon Banks and Bralon Addison available.

A bit difficult to assign fault to players versus co-ordinator; both obviously take their share. Hamilton’s ‘max protect’ tendencies on offence are a bad matchup for the blitz-happy Esks on a good week, and indeed they only managed to sack Evans once – with a defensive back. Phillip Lolley’s group found themselves incapable of keeping up. It would really be something if DeVone Claybrooks were willing to take a defensive co-ordinator job.

– The Eskimo defence flipped between two styles for much of the latter part of the season: the one that allows Addison seven catches on eight targets for 130 yards and the one that holds Banks to four catches on nine targets but for 100 yards and a touchdown. At least their run defence was steady for solid lengths of time, but simply not good enough.

– It was a very long first eight minutes on the way to 10-0 down. Add in a shanked Hugh O’Neill punt that netted one yard and it was effectively three turnovers. They were lucky to only be down 13-0, but generally ball movement on offence wasn’t a major struggle and 23-13 at half was right at expectation. The Esks deserved their results, but things like a tipped interception in back-to-back weeks indicate Lady Luck wasn’t in a helping mood.

– Edmonton’s sports specialty is “well if they score…!” and then not scoring; they do /just/ enough to keep you interested, but it /will/ turn out like always.

“If they score they’re still in it.”

“If they can control the big plays they have a chance.”

Too many ‘ifs’, and when you keep saying it, that’s a hint that maybe you’re not good enough.

– That’s about right. The defence forced two big ones but the team committed more, and nobody did well with them. The best word for the day is ‘sloppy’.

– For the offence, it was something like ‘frustratingly decent’, good but not good enough. Harris, as mentioned, got over 300 and trend-breakingly made big use of his legs on two occasions. But in annoying Esks fashion their biggest play was 31 yards and the game plan was a bad combination of uninspiring and ineffective compared to last week’s brilliance. A natural consequence of playing a better team, but that doesn’t make it acceptable.

DaVaris Daniels had the big day, going seven of eight for 109 yards and a TD, while Greg Ellingson did what he does with a seven for 73 performance. (Fun fact: Ellingson played 16 regular season games and collected 1,170 yards. That’s 73.125 yards per game – spot on.) Ricky Collins had a tough day with zeros until the last minute. Nationals Natey Adjei and Tevaun Smith were good contributors.

Then there’s the run game, which was quite seriously banging their heads against a wall. Shaq Cooper getting hurt took away some of the electricity from the semi-final, and even more than a non-factor it became harmful, rarely doing better than wasting a down and setting up a second and long.

Failing to get things rolling and failing to keep the big threats in check – inertia in full effect. There’s your summary.

– Brandon Banks pushed off. And for the nothing it’s worth, Smith absolutely did not. You know which one got called. #ConsistentFootballLeague

– Evidently the CFL no longer penalizes a flag-throwing gesture by player. Both of Hamilton and Edmonton were ‘guilty’ of it in the first 10 minutes after Montreal last week, never penalized. Not important, but of note.

– Special shoutout to Sean Whyte, the one consistent good thing over the season. Three-for-three including a 49-yarder, plus a convert.

Well, that’s that. If that’s it for Maas, I can’t say I’ll be too sad to see him go. He oversaw some pretty good teams, with three division finals in four years, but they were never able to take the big step to ‘great’ – obviously, they went 0-10 against legitimately good teams in 2019.

The motto I’ve started repeating – ‘some good, more bad’ – is a nice summary of his latest years. I’m always inclined to wonder about various misfortunes, but it’s been trends rather than instances. Most of the East teams would love to average 10-8 but in the West that isn’t what you want to be your definition as a team, and it has become just about that.

The Esks are .500, and .500 is the Esks. Maas’s contract has one more year on it – we’ll see what happens.

Enjoy Grey Cup week, and thanks for reading!

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