Elks self-combust in opener and 10 thoughts on the biggest miracle in a long time

Photo courtesy: Edmonton Elks

Harris and Elizondo. The magic duo! Add in Ellingson, and it’s an incredible trio!

Incredible is the word. Trevor Harris played a shocking game and as a result it’s hard to judge whether Jaime Elizondo was a ton better with the offensive scheme. Greg Ellingson, meanwhile, scraped his way to five targets with a couple late ones, which is baffling in itself.

Ottawa, with 94 net yards in the game, got gifted the biggest miracle in a long time.

(Note to Redblacks fans: I hope I don’t have to defend that winning a CFL game with less than 100 yards of offence is not a regular occurrence, nor is Trevor Harris throwing three interceptions with zero offensive touchdowns.)

The highlight for me was Edmonton targeting fullback James Tuck twice in critical situations, including a check down – yes, a *check down* – with seven seconds left, a touchdown needed, and 17 yards to go. The play before was so-so, earning a chunk of yardage and getting a clock stoppage, but 13 seconds was a huge cost to get it via James Wilder Jr. breaking to the sideline.

Harris described after the game that, on the last play, they had four receivers in the endzone and he was hoping to fire one in to Ellingson on a crosser. But he had to avoid pressure and so dumped it off hoping to have one second left or, an Edmonton miracle, for Tuck to get into the endzone.

It ends up being an unfortunate circumstance – or rather, a BIG play from the Ottawa D-line – that Harris was disrupted. Seven seconds requires an endzone shot, no matter how much you love to check down as a quarterback. If you’re able to take your shot quickly, it was a close enough distance that there’s a chance you’ll get a second one.

But I don’t know if there’s a single player in the league who you expect to score after catching that ball at the 12 yard line. No question Tuck was doing his absolute best to make the most of it, but he did have three seconds to spare if he had gone down immediately. It was a little bit of Murphy’s Law with maximum caught-in-between paralysis.

We spent so much time talking about Ellingson, Derel Walker, Armanti Edwards. Those are the hands you want your fate held by.

Just, wow.

No sure thing

Edmonton was the favourite. As we see every so often, there’s a reason no game can ever be called a lock.

The Elks were in reasonable control until early in the fourth quarter, even if they may have been underwhelming. Then Harris had to evade edge pressure, causing a slightly inaccurate pass to Shai Ross, which caused Ross to lose the ball off his fingertips and see it bounce straight into Abdul Kanneh’s waiting arms.

Then it was about 100 yards of green space.

That, my friends, is a gift. And with Edmonton driving into Ottawa’s red zone it was worth a hell of a lot more than the six points it directly earned.

More bad

Number one. Discussion of clock management. The good side was running three plays for 34 yards in 26 seconds to set up a field goal as the first half ended.

We flip to the concluding drive, where it was all over the place. They did a decent job getting the snaps off – it seemed to take four to five seconds on average. They had 1:12 to go 82 yards – and ultimately they came pretty close – but it is such a facepalm to start with a five yard pass at a hashmark. That’s not worth it, and it started a trend.

Equally bad, Edmonton’s longest of the nine plays were the second last one, 14 yards to Wilder Jr., and the last, 16 yards (one too short) to Tuck. They could have set themselves up so much better by aiming for even 20 yards, where the ‘bad’ outcome is an incompletion, clock stoppage, and another attempt, and Walker and Ellingson are known for making exactly those kinds of plays.

Number two. The three interceptions were disturbingly similar, in that they weren’t great throws or throwing decisions but also the intended targets did not perform ideally.

The first one was a sketchy decision to throw all the way over to the wide side of the field and underthrown, yet as Glen Suitor astutely noted Shai Ross could have done much better to break stride and make a more aggressive play on the ball.

Tuck’s other target was a crossing route earlier in the fourth quarter on another promising Elks drive. A faster player might have been able to at least knock it to earth, but instead it ended up in red and black hands.

And of course there was the gift-wrapped touchdown.

Scary Terry

I’m disappointed the Elks didn’t get Terry Williams more involved on offence. I noticed him take one snap, where he picked up a blitz, and one other huddle where a too many men penalty resulted in a new play not including him.

I think it is critically important for Elizondo and co. to avoid getting caught up in the Wilder glow. He’s a great player who had a fantastically productive game, which I hate to sound like I’m minimizing, but the likes of Walker, Ellingson, and Williams are perhaps even more dynamic and can not be neglected.

Near misses

Edmonton’s first drive was pretty great. They got up to the Ottawa 11 yard line with six plays for 61 yards, but then Mike Jones was a few toes wide of the endzone and they settled for a field goal.

Later in the first half, the Elks were down inside the Redblacks five yard line after a deep Jones completion… except that a very foolish blocking penalty dragged them back and led to another field goal.

And of the three turnovers, two were deep in Ottawa territory, which means Edmonton could reasonably have scored something like 17 to 24 more points. Penalty and turnovers.

Short, long, and in between

There were very few passes that could be called ‘downfield’. Of those, only a couple were successful including one to Walker over the middle moments before disaster struck.

After the pick six I also thought, “hey, at least this means they have to start throwing deeper passes.” Well, they chose not to and it cost them.

Harris is known as an elite short-to-mid passer, but with the weapons they have I hope they don’t pigeonhole themselves into that style, and only that style. I really wish we could see more of the secondary and defensive coverage on T.V. so we could assess how well Ottawa did at limiting what was available. We did see that they created a solid amount of pressure against Edmonton’s banged-up line, earning three sacks and forcing Harris to dodge a few more.

As for the target breakdown, it improved in the second half but at the 30 minute mark Wilder Jr. had seven while Walker, Ellingson, and Edwards COMBINED for six. Meanwhile Jones had four, not counting the one called back. I’m not sure if it was called like that, if Harris wasn’t finding his biggest targets, or if they were somehow that well covered.

Being able to spread the ball around is great, but ‘able to’ implies finding success from it which is up for debate. 12 total targets for Wilder Jr. is cool, but it’s not a sustainable plan no matter how much Harris likes to check down.

Good bits

– I would like to suggest that the result is worse than the game actually was. Obviously they need to cut out the huge blunders to be successful, but Harris going 33 of 44 (75 percent completion) is a positive, even accounting for the 8 of 9 final drive. Ottawa got the full Benevides experience: clenching all the way to the goalline.

– The offence put up 423 yards, including 161 from Wilder Jr. Next step is turning it into points.

– Walker did well to get eight catches for 98 yards out of his ten targets, including a third down conversion. He had one pass drop right off his gloves that he would like back.

– Nothing much happened on special teams. That’s not really a win when Williams is your returner but at least they didn’t allow too much themselves. I have a bit of concern about their average drive start.

– Coach Elizondo won his first challenge, getting a pass interference call on Aaron Grymes overturned. 

– I learned that an offside pass doesn’t result in a penalty – you just can’t advance the ball from where it was thrown.

The magnificent beast

Edmonton’s defence had an awesome game. They deserve more than the one paragraph I’m giving them because of everything else.

Ottawa didn’t manage a first down until their eighth drive, just before halftime. They finished with 10 two-and-outs (plus one ‘two plays into field goal’) on 14 drives. That compares to seven first downs in the whole game.

On top of that: they only managed 2.3 yards per play, converted 3 of 19 (16 percent) second downs, and gave up five sacks. 71 passing yards and 51 rushing yards, 19 of which came on the last drive. Yep, these are full game stats – for now Edmonton has no worries about this unit.

Well done to Noel Thorpe and his lads.

The moneymaker

Sean Whyte was also awesome, hitting field goals from 12, 52, 48, and 43 yards. It looks like receiver Hunter Karl will be the holder this year, which might be a way around their quarantining quarterback shuffle.

The ‘misery loves company’

Calgary lost too.


Next week Edmonton welcomes Montreal into Commonwealth Stadium. One hopes we will see a touchdown or two, preferably from someone in green and gold.

The Harris/Elizondo combo will be better, and not just because they can hardly be worse. If not, it might be panic time for fans.

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.