Here we go again: nine thoughts on the Elks’ season-opening loss in B.C.

Photo courtesy: Paul Yates/BC Lions

The Edmonton Elks lost 59-15 at BC Place on Saturday night. The Elks organization and all of its fans want to erase memories of the 2021 season, but that game was nothing but flashbacks to last November. Here are some thoughts, before we start pretending the 2022 season actually starts next Saturday.

Whatcha doing Coach?

“My defence gave up 28 points in less than 28 minutes… clearly this is Nick Arbuckle’s fault. Check that, my defence gave up 35 points in 29 minutes. Wait, sorry, my defence gave up 42 points in 29.8 minutes.”

That’s not a real quote, or so I presume, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Chris Jones did actually say that to himself. His decision to swap out Arbuckle for Tre Ford less than a half into the season is deserving of criticism.

If it was entirely an attempt to say, “you know what, we’re down 22 points and need a spark,” then I can get behind that. Given Jones’ rough-handed history with quarterbacks though, it’s hard not to think there was more to it. It would be uncomfortable to stand in front of your players after bailing at the first hurdle and for now, I will assume better of him than that.

Confident, but not confident

Arbuckle’s one obvious first-half error was an interception when, with a free blitzer in his face off the right, he quickly angled left and hurried a throw that was slightly behind his receiver, allowing it to be picked off. Not super egregious as far as interceptions go, but a mistake. A few of his other throws would be graded as a bit dangerous but in general, the offence moved the ball decently with him at the helm, with four total first downs on two field goal-producing drives.

He came back in to start the second half and orchestrated a seven-play, 70-yard touchdown drive almost entirely featuring the receiving duo of Derel Walker and Kenny Lawler. On the very next drive, the Elks netted 55 yards on seven plays and settled for a field goal after a sack.

Another drive was stopped as soon as it started with an 11-yard sack on the first play, followed by another sack to end the following drive. And then a pair of one-play drives more or less took the clock to zero.

The two interceptions at the very end of the game are hard to judge. There is no question that a bit of a ‘force it’ attitude creeps in given the circumstances. Both seemed like riskier throws than he had attempted earlier and they likely shouldn’t have been tried.

He played better than a zero touchdown, three interception stat line, though. The Lions do have exceptional personnel in their defensive secondary, after all. I saw a lot of what I expected: overall Arbuckle was calm and controlled with good huddle management, but not totally free of suspicious choices.

‘O’ dear

The biggest problem on offence had to be the protection. I had real concerns about American offensive line depth coming in and the absence of Tony Washington at left tackle was enough to cause a small disaster. It was not encouraging.

On multiple occasions, free rushers were allowed to take a run at Edmonton’s quarterback, which is hard to grade in one viewing given that the quarterback or running back can often be responsible for picking that up. However, at least twice I noticed on replay that a free rusher actually just beat their man so quickly it seemed like they were unblocked.

Unfortunately, that seemed most often to be backup left tackle Antonio Garcia, and the fact that Sione Teuhema recorded three of the Lions’ four sacks supports the hypothesis of a one-sided problem.

I wonder how Carter O’Donnell is doing?

Off to a Rour-ing start

Nathan Rourke had a nice first quarter, to say the least: eight-of-eight for 69 yards and a touchdown. His second quarter pushed him to 18-of-20 for 179 yards and three touchdowns, plus 48 yards and his first score on the ground by halftime.

Final stat line: 26 of 29 for 282 yards and three touchdowns, plus seven carries for 78 yards and two rushing majors.

With all due respect to Rourke, who had an absolutely splendid performance, a quarterback only does that well with some help from the other team’s defence and the Elks were extremely accommodating. The defensive backs couldn’t cover, the linebackers couldn’t tackle, and the pass rushers couldn’t get home while also being largely unable to tackle themselves.

I’m waiting to see Rourke throw downfield a bit more — his average depth of target was only 5.3 yards, on the complete opposite end of the spectrum from Jeremiah Masoli’s massive 13.9-yard average this week, per etstats –- but obviously what they did against Edmonton worked more than well enough.

In like a Lion, out like a Lion in sheep’s clothing

Lions’ running back James Butler tore apart Edmonton’s defence in the first half, recording six carries for 77 yards and five receptions for 31 yards with two majors of each variety. After B.C.’s fourth touchdown on six drives — or more specifically, Butler’s fourth touchdown on six drives — TSN commentary duo Dustin Nielson and Duane Forde offered the Elks some friendly advice:

Forde: “Here’s a hint: in the red zone? There’s a good chance #24 [Butler] is getting the ball.”

Nielson: “At some point, you might want to try picking him up!”

That comment may have been passed along to the Elks — or possibly they figured it out themselves, hard to say — as in the second half, Butler only added 31 yards on 10 more carries plus one last short catch. Full credit to the B.C. offensive line for embarrassing Edmonton’s defensive front.

My dog ate my homework

True story: my grade seven Social Studies teacher’s dog took a bite out of one of my assignments when he had them at home for grading. But what I’m getting at here is football’s most ubiquitous excuse.

Injuries played a role in this game — probably more than usual for Week 1, if we’re being honest — but a full lineup of most teams’ backups wouldn’t give up 42 points in a half more than one time out of ten.

It’s still highly relevant when a team is already starting a rookie National linebacker and said linebacker, Wesly Appolon, heartbreakingly suffers a non-contact leg injury on the very first play. But to emphasize: 42 points in a half, and 59 overall, is shockingly poor.

For the record, the absences of defensive backs Aaron Grymes and Nafees Lyon on the depth chart pushed me to favour and even bet on the Lions. I was, of course, hoping to lose that money, but alas, I will still be credited with a loss in the weekly 3DownNation picks for having chosen Edmonton there.

Analytics

I was hoping for more of an opportunity to see how the frequent training camp mentions of ‘analytics’ by Coach Jones would translate to in-game situations. Early returns are positive, as he chose to go for two points on their only convert and successfully converted a third and two with a passing play, but both of those have to be taken with a grain of salt given the state of the game.

We’ll likely keep revisiting this over the next few weeks.

One more early concern

The Elks took twelve penalties for 129 yards compared to B.C.’s six for 30 yards. This is not a game where you can grumble about officiating, because a team getting their butts kicked is obviously struggling and more or less has to commit infractions to keep up.

I don’t fault Jones’s late pass interference challenge given the circumstances but even as it looked like interference in live time, I agreed with Forde’s TV summary that “there wasn’t actually much contact.” That seems like a play that, in a closer game, the spotters ought to have told the coach not to challenge.

It goes without saying that this flag differential needs to not be a trend.

The list of positives

As you’d expect, it’s short enough to fit in one paragraph.

– Derel Walker showed signs of his elite self, finishing with six catches on nine targets for 64 yards and missing the endzone by a yard. His partner Lawler caught four of five passes for 72 yards in what was probably an underrated green and gold debut. That sets a nice baseline going forward.

– New kicker Sergio Castillo was a clean three-for-three with field goals from 35, 37, and 30 yards. I hope Jones finds a reasonable punter soon, though, so Castillo doesn’t have to do everything.

Sean Whyte, meanwhile, only had one field goal from 12 yards but nailed all eight of his convert attempts with B.C. That makes me think of his ‘seven-for-seven’ field goal performances in Edmonton but in a weird way.

– Tre Ford got into his first regular-season action and completed a pass. Unfortunately, I can’t say more given the nature of this section.

– The weather was nice in Edmonton and Vancouver.

Good news fans, it can only go up from here. That is, one dearly hopes, not an exaggeration.

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.