Elks keep Elking and more thoughts on getting crushed by Winnipeg

It’s getting harder to watch.

I didn’t have high expectations for Edmonton. None of us did.

But I’ll be honest, I expected more than three points. Actually, earlier in the day I had the exact thought “it won’t actually be 30-3 at halftime.” Haha, well, how about as a final score?

So… uh…

My optimism lasted less than the opening kickoff.

I was glad to see the Elks get the ball to start, given their recent 14-0 deficits. But I had better than the 21 yard line in mind on the return and, oh good, a penalty, so they actually started at their own nine.

It almost could’ve been 30-3 at halftime. Winnipeg left enough on the table that 11-3 was flattering to the Elks. A 19-0 second half is probably harsh to the defence, but the zero was very well-earned.

Does someone get fired?

That’s the big question. I don’t know. I’m sure most of you are familiar with the week’s news out of Edmonton. Usually firing one guy doesn’t fix things but in the Elks’ case, it would be hard to make it worse.

This team has an outrageously talented roster and an outrageously bad on-field resume so sooner or later, it will be tried.

…Trevor?

Hmm? No! No, I’m not talking about Trevor Harris. Even though he got pulled — and yes, he wasn’t good at all — he’s still the guy and TSN spent a few different moments pointing out a possible hand ailment, which would explain at least part of the 9-of-22 for 87 yards performance. Taylor Cornelius was hardly better, coming in for most of the fourth quarter and finishing 6-of-13 for 47 yards and a concluding deep interception – though with one heroic third-and-ten run for 11 yards and a conversion.

As an aside, we can praise Adam Bighill for a great many things, but running across the field to touch a quarterback out of bounds after they’ve gained 11 yards on third-and-ten does not need to be one of them. Although, I wouldn’t blame Glen Suitor for checking out of the game before that point; it didn’t sound like he realized it was third down.

Truly offensive

I badly hope this is rock bottom for the offence. Three points! 159 net yards!

Please note that the above includes a two-yard first quarter. For the full game, the Elks earned 2.8 yards per play, which is the second lowest game total for any team in 2021 ahead of only Ottawa at Edmonton in Week 1 (they earned 2.2). Pause for a big sigh… and we’ll move on.

Greg Ellingson and Jalen Tolliver had a matching three catches on eight targets, and Ellingson led the team with 39 yards. Poor Derel Walker – he’s starting to look outright deflated on the field at times – had three catches on ten targets, but many of them were low percentage deep shots and though he had one or two drops, he seemed to suffer the most from inaccurate passes. In particular, he had a clear step on one of Edmonton’s missed bombs from inside their five-yard line.

That’s a strategy that I don’t mind, though. The downside is it’s risky to choose low percentage attempts from that position, but it pays back huge if you hit and ultimately they didn’t.

What’s been quite shocking in a decent way is how well Edmonton has managed against Winnipeg’s vaunted defensive line. They allowed three sacks but two of those were in garbage time as Cornelius was holding on and trying to push downfield. And that said, James Wilder only managed 43 yards on his 11 carries.

I thought I noticed the quality of offensive line play drop noticeably when SirVincent Rogers left with back spasms. It looked like Matt O’Donnell slid over to cover him at left tackle, but after that the two Elks quarterbacks had almost nothing – not that Harris had much before. One could argue that’s a good reason to swap in the much more mobile Cornelius, but Harris is usually quite good with his pocket presence and evading pressure.

Overall I liked the target distribution way more than recent weeks though it was harder to judge the scheme with so many missed throws and drops. The right plan still only works best if you execute it properly.

Time of possession can be overblown, but almost 37 minutes to 23 does tell a story. Winnipeg gets credit for clearing the very high bar of making Edmonton look the worst they have (so far).

Let’s stop for a second. Was anything good THIS week?

Yes actually! The defence played really well until they got into the 32+ minute range of being on the field. In the last ten minutes of the game Andrew Harris picked up 79 of his 150 yards with two touchdowns – meaning, in the first 50 minutes he had only 71 yards and a meagre 4.4 yard average, which is very solid from the defence when Zach Collaros wasn’t faring any better.

Collaros finished 16-of-27 (59 percent) for 207 yards with one touchdown and one endzone interception. He’s been awesome, but this is a reminder that wins are not a quarterback stat.

Disappointingly the Elks defence didn’t register any sacks once again but they did generate okay pressure and hurry at least a few throws. I especially liked how they seemed fully prepared for Winnipeg’s second-and-two not-so-short-yardage habit, coming the nose of a football (allegedly) away from an interception but still forcing a punt by covering the leaking Winnipeg receivers long enough for two rushers to get home and force a bad throw from Sean McGuire.

Other highlights include: an excellent goal line stand on Winnipeg’s first drive, where the Bombers could only get Sean McGuire’s helmet in on three tries from the three yard line; Darvin Adams only caught one pass on eight (!!) targets; and overall they held the blue and gold to 5.7 yards per play prior to the fourth quarter run-over. Compare that to the 9.1 they managed against the B.C. Lions.

The only distinctly bad moment – beyond the finish – was Nic Demski getting behind Derrick Moncrief early on and safety Jordan Hoover being too far away to impact the catch and touchdown. There were also a few too many missed tackles throughout the game.

The only thing I’ll add to that is I want to see Dakota Prukop as much as Cornelius at this point.

Oh, also Sean Whyte was perfect. One for one!

The specials

They were desperate enough to use Ellingson and Wilder on special teams. And not even as returners.

Jaime Elizondo said post game that they’ve been getting physically overmatched as a unit, and they used more starters there than they ever have. I can’t say it helped much.

The return game sucked, as usual, but at least Janarion Grant was well-contained on the Bombers side. One of Edmonton’s bad field position starts was because a punt bounced into their endzone, but instead of quickly taking it and kneeling, Terry Williams watched as it rolled a few inches back out of the endzone and he had to pick it up and do something.

The teams also let the Bombers unit block a punt. And for the love of everything, stop taking penalties on kicks; five of them – literally over half – were on special teams.

Switching over: until very late, Winnipeg was only flagged once for five yards on an offside. I won’t complain about much – it’s fair to argue that when the game is that lopsided, naturally there won’t be equal penalties – but I am disappointed that one blatant hold of Mike Moore went uncalled right in front of Andrew Harris as he made one of his long runs immediately before a touchdown.

The little things

Three safeties, and three turnovers on downs.

I loved the first two third-down gambles that you could argue mattered. Anytime you’re around midfield like that, with third-and-four or third-and-two, you absolutely cannot punt down 17-3. It’s easier to evaluate in the NFL with so much more data, but lately fourth-down decisions have been one of the hottest topics in football and coaches are going for them more and more. I commend Elizondo’s aggressiveness even though they did not work out.

The safeties, on the other hand… well, I tolerated the first one simply because I am so very tired of abysmal field position, especially against Winnipeg. Seriously: Edmonton started inside their five yard line four times, inside their twenty another three times, and beyond their forty only once, after Hoover’s interception return.

Mathematically, you should pretty much always kick rather than take a knee. This is as good a time as any to revisit why that is, and it’s mostly that teams don’t score as often after a punt as your instinct suggests, but also it’s easy to forget that teams can still score again after giving up the two points and ball.

I suggest following Derek Taylor (@DTonSC on Twitter) for periodic math reminders and exact numbers, but even in this game, we got some concrete examples. The first safety, Winnipeg got the ball at their 42-yard line and drove for a touchdown. The second, they took the ball at their 35-yard line and got to Edmonton’s nine before throwing an interception. The third, they took four plays to get from their 35 into field goal range and missed for a single point. In total, Edmonton yielded 14 points on the three safeties and ensuing drives and narrowly avoided worse – up to 23 points.

A small sample, but compare that 14 to what you expect from punting three times, with a maximum 21 points allowable and three field goals being 9 points. Giving up a free six (two, three times) is a lot, and you usually only gain 20 to 30 yards doing it.

I’m a little curious what the justification sounds like for the simultaneous “go for it” and “give up two” mentalities. I imagine it involves a certain amount of ‘nothing left to lose’.

Today I learned

You can challenge illegal blocks on punt returns. I don’t know if shoulder-to-shoulder is illegal coming backwards, but it was shoulder-to-shoulder. I hope Terry Williams enjoyed the breeze on his face, at least.

It’s been a while since I’ve complained about him not being used on offence.

Use Williams more on offence! We see what DJ Foster can do. And it’s not like you need to ‘save him’ for the return game.

Jalen Tolliver

Deep down the right sideline? It was a catch. Very well done with the trailing toe and good hands.

Next up

John Hodge wrote: “It’s pretty simple: the Blue Bombers are more than the sum of their parts and the Elks are a lot less than the sum of theirs.” Nothing to argue with there.

We’ll do it all again in Edmonton next Friday.

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