Elks suffer expected outcome & other thoughts on the Edmonton’s fourth home loss

Photo courtesy: George Fourlaris/Edmonton Elks

That was pretty much how you would have imagined it. Although maybe with more points.

It was very fun early in the third quarter when Edmonton took a 16-15 lead on James Wilder Jr.’s second crashing touchdown run. Unfortunately it fell apart almost immediately after and never came back together.

The Elks played ‘fine’ against the league leaders, but walk away with another loss at Commonwealth Stadium, this one by a score of 37-22.

The biggest mistakes

Twice Earnest Edwards decided to return a missed Winnipeg field goal. He got to the nine yard line and – with yet another return penalty – the three yard line. In both cases it set up Taylor Cornelius and the offence for disaster. Like, it literally could not have gone worse.

The first time, a deep ball to Derel Walker went awry on first and five. Then Cornelius threw a very poor ball to Walker on the short side that was picked off by DeAundre Alford and trotted into the endzone.

On the second, a one-yard run was followed by Cornelius bouncing around the pocket and being caught in a spot where he couldn’t really throw and he clearly knew a run wouldn’t get more than a couple yards. The result was a Jackson Jeffcoat strip-sack on the goal line collected by Adam Bighill for another six points.

Normally, it’s safe to return a missed kick from 50 yards. You should have plenty of room to get to around the 20 yard line. But very evidently in both cases – even when up 16-15 – it would’ve been better to concede the single point.

For the rest of the special teams: they had two nice returns and several bad ones. I’m so tired of the Elks starting inside their 30 after kick returns.

Sean Whyte was money as usual with three field goals from 44, 32, and 20 yards plus a convert. And notably Bombers returner Charles Nelson was kept completely in check, so a positive night for the cover teams too.

New Guy #1

I watched a six minute highlight video of Cornelius on Friday night. It’s linked there, and I encourage you to watch it too – I’ll spotlight the 4:47 and 5:35 marks as my favourite plays.

Of course there’s sampling bias here – it’s a ‘highlight’ video not a ‘lowlight’ video – but I saw a ton of the same stuff on Saturday. Those few minutes of film suggested that Cornelius’s problem wouldn’t be making the throws, but possibly choosing which ones to make.

He’s excellent at navigating the pocket and making a downfield throw from basically any angle, so much so that against Winnipeg of all teams he was taken down zero times, though with the one fumble.

I’m in love with his arm strength. He can flick his wrist and the ball flies 50 yards. At the same time, his decision making is still developing. I didn’t think there were many throws to scold, but the interception touchdown stings really, really badly.

His final stat line of 19-for-33 (58 percent), 243 yards with zero touchdowns and three interceptions is definitely harsh. Two of the three picks were largely irrelevant, though the second can still be criticized for almost matching the first. Add in two nice rushes for 23 yards and I’m very intrigued by what Cornelius can become. He’s a vastly different player than Trevor Harris in some ways, yet with several underlying similarities.

New Guy #2

Hard to say exactly how big a role SirVincent Rogers played in it, but as mentioned Cornelius didn’t have too much trouble keeping his feet. That’s a hell of an accomplishment. This was probably Edmonton’s best possible offensive line combo, and they’ve had a different one every week – from left to right: Rogers, rookie Tomas Jack-Kurdyla, David Beard, Matt O’Donnell, and Kyle Saxelid. Let’s hope for health and continuity.

New Guy #3

Derrick Moncrief played his part. He was a contributor on a huge sack-fumble of Zach Collaros that gave Edmonton the ball inside Winnipeg’s ten-yard line and led to their first touchdown. He likely would’ve scored himself had his lineman buddy not fallen on the ball. Other than that, he was fairly quiet, which is a massive improvement on his most recent predecessor. It’s safe to expect he makes more and more noise as he settles in.

Smile? Frown?

Weird game for the defence. Letting Winnipeg drive for two early touchdowns was very uncharacteristic, yet they responded with an interception, forced a two-and-out, and created plus recovered Collaros’ fumble. That let Edmonton fight back to 15-10 at the break. In the second half they were on the field a lot less with Winnipeg’s two defensive scores and again posted some mixed results, though it was much more positive on the whole.

Overall, Andrew Harris came in just shy of 100 yards, along with Nic Demski’s ridiculous touchdown run that I barely need to give him credit for. TSN’s Dustin Nielson counted six missed tackles, I counted seven – whichever! Collaros faced some pressure, but was still able to post a solid night of 19-of-24 (79 percent) for 252 yards, which is all he needs to win with Winnipeg.

Individually, it seemed like Trumaine Washington was a bit high event once again, while Aaron Grymes and Jonathon Mincy were excellent as usual. Top performer Kenny Lawler played mostly against those latter two and only got targeted twice with one catch versus (I believe) Jordan Hoover, that may even have squeaked out and hit the ground.

I put it out there pre-game that Edmonton’s narrow winning formula required one or two deep completions (which never materialized) and the defence to stand tall. Aside from digging themselves a 14 point hole…

My favourite patterns

Two hilarious things have been true for years: Derel Walker roasts Winnipeg, and Darvin Adams roasts Ottawa. You’re probably thinking, “um, Ottawa?” Well, with Ottawa he usually faced Jonathan Rose, who is now an Elk.

I’m talking frequent ‘well over 100 yards and a touchdown’ performances over the course of eight or nine games, for both Walker and Adams. It looked early like Adams would continue his Rose victimization, earning 43 yards and a touchdown behind him in the first eight minutes. He was surprisingly quiet after that. Rose, meanwhile, seemed the good kind of quiet for a long time, but took a pass interference in the endzone at the end to bookend things.

And alas, it did not hold up for Walker, who only caught two of his nine targets. A few of those were totally uncatchable – which is not necessarily to say he couldn’t have run a better route – but he had an early drop where I’m certain he didn’t expect Cornelius’s pass to get to him so quickly, and even on one of his catches he fumbled in Winnipeg territory. We have not seen a ton of the dominating Walker we know and love, so hopefully a game against the Redblacks will help him back into form.

The rest of the offence

Many of the skill players made at least one significant mistake. On three straight drives: to end the third quarter, Shai Ross had his only target bounce off his hands causing a two and out, which is not a good way to stay involved in a crowded receiver room; Winnipeg goes two and out, and the Elks were on a really nice drive down 30-19 but on second and three in the redzone Tevaun Smith ran sideways instead of more or less falling forwards for a first down; after another Winnipeg two and out, Edmonton matched them thanks to Wilder turning the wrong way out of the backfield. At least Wilder was able to make major contributions in other ways.

Greg Ellingson and Mike Jones were the clear leaders of the group, with 58 and 60 yards and probably deserving of way more involvement considering how Walker’s night was going. I don’t fault Jones as much as others for the pass that seemed an inch or two too high to get more than fingertips on, even as if it would’ve been huge to turn a field goal into a first and goal.

Props to third quarterback Dakota Prukop for an epic 44 yard run. Twice he was kept in for another play after a sneak. It looked like there was enough room that the first might’ve worked a lot like the second had he kept the ball, rather than letting Earnest Edwards take it and immediately get flattened.

The subtler things

Jaime Elizondo challenging for offensive pass interference by Darvin Adams on the first touchdown was great, regardless of allowing the score anyways. Calling his first timeout with about four minutes left was also very good, trying to keep as much time as possible however unnecessary it may have ended up being.

I think there’s a bit of concern around the offensive scheming, admittedly with a new quarterback on short notice this week, though the concern isn’t new. The Elks offence has scored more with Cornelius than with Harris at home, which is something I don’t want to think about.

Cornelius looks his best when he’s (calmly) scrambling, making plays on the move.  I know it’s a way-too-early comparison, but I called him “Reilly-lite” before the game. I’m just saying, they both weigh in at 230 and both spent time with the Green Bay Packers…

But seriously, when he can’t find a lot from the pocket I start to wonder if the play designs aren’t amazing – for instance, combining receiver routes to get a guy open – or at least unfriendly to a first time quarterback. The Bombers defence is excellent but not invulnerable, and I’m disappointed at how little Edmonton accomplished downfield. I actually don’t think any completed pass had more than 18 air yards.

I only have two deeper attempts noted. Their clear opportunity to make one count was underthrown to an open Ellingson at the Winnipeg goal line, though Ellingson plus Wilder resulted in a touchdown two plays later. The other was at a bad time, not coming close to Walker on their first and five play right as the implosion began.

The Elks and Bombers had a lot of statistical similarities on offence, turnovers and scoring methods aside. The glaring difference is Edmonton going 6-of-20 (30 percent) on second down compared to Winnipeg’s 10-of-19 (53 percent). I illustrated three to four big second down mistakes above – convert those instead of fail and likely the Elks score at least once more and earn a dramatic finish.

The other games

I picked Calgary – they lost too by the way – but said that Hamilton needed at least one defensive touchdown to win. They got one, and won by six points. Calgary stays tied with the Elks at two wins.

Edmonton’s next rival Lions beat Montreal, who have still only beaten Edmonton and Ottawa. Saskatchewan remains the frontrunner to host the West semi-final, but that could change with a game against B.C. next.

The Bombers were an easy bet, but I also stand by the thought that the Elks might be a good stylistic matchup for Winnipeg. Can they pull out a win in their two remaining contests? It’s too hot a take to have real confidence in, so let’s say “less sure of defeat than most”.

“Guaranteed win night”

Edmonton has a weird half-bye before coming back to face Ottawa on Tuesday, September 28th. It simply cannot be lost.

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.