Another day, another ‘L’ for the Elks & eight more thoughts

Photo courtesy: Liam Richards/Saskatchewan Roughriders

At least this week it took a little extra for the Edmonton Elks to lose, dropping a 29-24 decision to the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Mosaic Stadium.

The only possible justification for the late pass interference call on Jonathan Rose that negated his interception is that he and Kian Schaffer-Baker’s feet made contact, but I doubt it, not least because it would’ve been “accidental pass interference” in that case.

No, it was just a terrible call that took away a massive play from Rose and an excellent chance for Edmonton to win their first game since Labour Day. Instead they take their eighth straight loss. Oof.

They had a lead!

Going through the play-by-plays from the season, I’m pretty sure that Edmonton’s early 7-0 lead was their first lead of more than four points since their 32-20 Labour Day win in Calgary. They held a double-digit lead for the final 3:04 of that game, as well as a significant lead for 4:38 in the second quarter.

Other than that, they only held a big lead for 14:42 against the Lions in Week 3. That’s it for the entire season.

Against the Riders, their seven-point lead lasted 62 seconds.

The rascally special teams

They finally made a big play, recovering a Jamal Morrow fumble to set up Edmonton’s first touchdown. Well, they gave it all back by allowing an 82-yard kick return immediately after. The unit also took five more penalties, including a drive-extending too-many-men at the very beginning, and let Morrow break out over and over throughout the game.

At least Sean Whyte was perfect at what he was asked to do: a 38-yard field goal and three converts.

The little things

Saturday saw some good and some bad from head coach Jaime Elizondo. He conceded yet another safety from their eight-yard line, and Saskatchewan got the ball at exactly midfield anyways to go with their two points. I know there was some wind, but not enough for that to be the correct decision.

I will give him props for leaving the offence out to convert a third-and-three just before halftime. It was a great surprise to see him break from his ultra-conventional style and it worked perfectly: they earned a first-and-goal and threw a touchdown to Tanner Green on the next play.

It was bad luck that he was unable to challenge the late pass interference call against Rose, so I’m not going to criticize that.

Cornelius

Taylor Cornelius looked competent. That’s a nice step up. He wasn’t perfect, obviously, but he played a pretty clean game and seemed to take better care of the football than he has in the past. Hopefully that means long-term improvement rather than one good game.

And while three touchdowns is great, 224 yards on 30 attempts isn’t more than OK and the offence still only managed 5.2 yards per play. I’m glad he had a decent day but as one example of why to pump the brakes: two of Edmonton’s three touchdown drives started in Saskatchewan territory.

The third consisted of five Walter Fletcher carries for 41 yards, a 15-yard facemask bonus, 15 yards on two Fletcher catch-and-runs with zero air yards past the line of scrimmage, and just one other pass for five yards. Unfortunately that isn’t what a quarterback-driven drive looks like.

I don’t fault Cornelius too much for the final interception, as it was clearly desperation time, even as you wish he could have made a slightly better decision. Cutting down his turnovers was and is the biggest thing he can do to earn regular playing time in the future.

Speaking of the future…

I don’t think there’s any reason for the Elks not to rotate through as many guys in the organization as possible in their last two games. They end up having a postseason of their own, only it’s a preseason, just… post-season. They might as well take advantage of the situation and see what everyone can do.

Yes, I’m saying that includes Dakota Prukop and Nick Arbuckle. At least give them each a half.

This thought is largely inspired by Fletcher, who I don’t think could physically play all three-games-in-seven-days as running back if James Wilder remains out. Even in Saturday’s game, he had a really good first half with 11 carries for 66 yards but by the end his performance had slown down to under 4.5 yards per carry at 20 attempts for 88 yards total. He also dropped from four first half receptions to one in the second half.

The pass catchers

Jalen Tolliver is making a case for being a full-time starter next year. I had him pegged as the sixth receiver at worst, and his performance of five catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns makes that look conservative. He’s clearly the best Edmonton had available, and aside from Greg Ellingson is arguably the season-long best too.

Everyone else was quiet on Saturday. Shai Ross checked in as the second receiver with two catches and two nasty drops on five targets. 30 of his 35 yards came on a big play in crunch time.

Meanwhile, Armanti Edwards only turned six targets into four catches for 15 yards, which is partly due to scheme and partly on him. And Earnest Edwards was the only other receiver to make a catch, as Tevaun Smith continues to be nearly invisible in this offence.

‘D’ is a passing grade

Well, the defence earned a bit more than a ‘D.’ They gave up 29 points, but Saskatchewan got ten of it on scoring drives that started at Edmonton’s eight and 47-yard lines. The roughest part was allowing a six-minute, 10-play, 77-yard drive for the Riders’ winning points.

Duke Williams was far and away the biggest problem, making eight catches for 146 yards and a touchdown. It was more about taking advantage of coverage busts than beating a defender one-on-one, and it was actually surprising the total stopped as low as 146. Incredibly, he only had one target later than mid-third quarter.

Of the defensive backs, I want to highlight rookie Nafees Lyon again. He was slow to intervene on Schaffer-Baker’s touchdown but held his own against the likes of Williams and Shaq Evans and intercepted Cody Fajardo for the second straight week on a wayward pass. Among others, we’ll be watching the trio of him, Tolliver, and Fletcher.

Two sacks and 306 total yards allowed — that sounds like a solid B-minus.

Almost done

Brock Sunderland has had his contract extended early multiple times in his Elks tenure, which I’ve thought is clever from him to generate leverage. Possibly the Elks highest-ups deserve criticism for agreeing to that, as Sunderland is currently signed through 2023 and clearly fans do not have two more years of patience in them.

There are only two games and six days left in this miserable season. Stay strong, Elks 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.