An offensive offence & nine other thoughts on the Elks’ fifth loss

Photo courtesy: CFL

It’s time to talk about how the Edmonton Elks lost to a Winnipeg Blue Bombers team that went 6-of-17 passing by a score of 24-10.

I was at a family wedding on Friday, so here are my thoughts on the game a day later than usual.

O-bliging versus O-pportunistic

It might not seem like the offences would be especially of interest in a game with 34 total points scored, but there were a lot of intriguing takeaways on Friday.

Whatever mild successes they had, the Elks’ offence set a season-low in yards per play at 4.7. They did run a total of nine quarterback sneaks, including a number on second-and-two, but it doesn’t affect the total much at all — maybe 0.3 of a yard.

Instead, the problem stemmed from a lack of big plays and a high number of incomplete passes. Taylor Cornelius put up a very accurate first-half performance, going 7-of-8 in the first quarter and a respectable 12-of-18 by the mid-way point. However, his second half dropped him to 25-of-42 overall, a 60 percent completion rate.

His completion breakdown was as follows: six between 10 and 20 yards downfield, with a game-high of 20 yards on his first attempt; six between six and 10 yards; and thirteen at five yards or less.

Zach Collaros offered an unbelievable contrast, completing passes at the 40, 27, and 16-yard marks, added a 26-yard touchdown in the back of the endzone, and had only three passes short of ten yards. That resulted in a massive 18.9-yard average depth of target, doubling up Cornelius’s 9.5.

Collaros also narrowly missed an open Dalton Schoen on multiple deep shots, so despite only earning 188 yards on just seven completions, he could have pushed even higher than his 26.9 yards per completion. Greg Ellingson goes out and everything goes wild.

The halftime stats drive home the point: Collaros was four-of-nine for 158 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. Yet the score was 17-6 Winnipeg with a 182 to 136 yards edge despite the 20:40 to 9:20 time of possession lead the Elks held and Edmonton’s 12 to four advantage in terms of first downs.

In summary: big plays matter in the CFL.

Efficiency

This game was a great example of how time of possession only matters insofar as it turns into points.

Normally it does, because more opportunities to score will mean more scoring. That wasn’t the case for Edmonton, who earned decent yards and quite a few first downs but not in such a way as to add to the scoreboard.  First downs matter because they mean moving down the field, but the Elks only did so very slowly. Winnipeg will take that every time.

One area where time of possession isn’t overrated is killing the clock with a lead. The Bombers did just that, with a fourth-quarter drive that lasted 9:34 and earned a touchdown at the end to effectively put the game beyond reach. Nobody will remember the 37:14 to 22:46 possession margin in favour of the green and gold.

O-ther o-ddities

Between the two teams, there were plenty of quarterback mistakes now familiar to Edmonton.

On one occasion, Collaros chose an odd throw with lots of room to run on second down. He also threw one jarring interception to Tobi Antigha with a blitzer right in his face. For his part, Cornelius took two sacks that dragged the Elks out of field goal range, though realistically he had no other choice on one of them.

Based on precedent, both of them should be traded for fourth-round picks in the coming days.

In other news, three Bombers receivers had a catch, compared to eight Elks. That didn’t stop Schoen from netting 146 yards. The first time I saw him in the preseason, I was reminded of Brandon Zylstra — and not just because of the number 83. That is the highest compliment I can pay.

Caleb Holley, who isn’t even a roster regular, got 11 targets for Edmonton to match Kenny Lawler. Derel Walker being out has an impact, but the Elks lack a proper third option to share the load.

The run game isn’t of grand importance, but there is still a non-zero requirement for it. Newly added Maleek Irons got all of four carries for 20 yards and Ante Milanovic-Litre added another to make it five hand-offs out of 69 offensive plays.

Though he’s not currently on offence, Duron Carter was also uninspiring as a returner. He didn’t seem to have any explosiveness. Not being in peak shape would be unsurprising coming off a fairly long injury, so I’m inclined to look at the coach who put him in that position and ask why.

The big man

As has become the standard, Cornelius had a thoroughly mixed performance. It was eyebrow-raising to see him on point in the first half, but some bad habits crept back in later on. While he’s been making mid-range sideline passes for first downs consistently, Cornelius threw a handful either in the dirt or well over-head in the second half.

Throughout the game, he successfully put balls in a lot of tight windows and was sometimes let down by his receivers’ hands. Other times, the accuracy seemed good but the plays were broken up by a well-timed hit by a defender.

As the game went on, Cornelius started leaving his receivers vulnerable to contact. Lawler had to leave once briefly after taking a hit and the biggest missed throw of the game was one well behind Holley in the third quarter that likely would have scored up the middle. Instead, Winston Rose broke it up and kindly did not crush Holley, despite having the opportunity.

Perhaps a good way to describe Cornelius is that he allows the Elks to use a bigger playbook but doesn’t consistently run it at a higher level than other quarterbacks. With that, we need to talk about scrambling.

Credit to Kent Wilson for the well-known analogy with blocked shots in hockey being like killing rats — doing it is better than not, but it’s concerning if you have to do it all the time. Watching the game yesterday, I felt the same could be said for quarterbacks running. It’s a useful talent to have, but if they’re doing it a lot — and Cornelius certainly was — that indicates deeper problems.

Assuming Cornelius used fair judgement in deciding when to take off, it is either a symptom of suspect blocking or receivers not being open. The quarterback can’t make a play under the usual circumstances and has to improvise. I continue to wonder if more needs to be done by the Elks to get receivers open, whether that means redesigning plays or adding different players to the mix.

I thought that Edmonton relied a lot on quick hitters and benefitted from an abundance of yards after the catch, which would make sense with the lack of big plays. They also had to deal with the unmatched ability of Winnipeg’s defensive line to get their hands up in passing lanes. The Bombers earned multiple deflections, including one that resulted in an early interception.

On the last meaningful play of the game, Cornelius unwisely tried to throw through Willie Jefferson once more and had it batted down. However, the reverse angle showed that even if Jefferson hadn’t been there, Adam Bighill was right in front of the intended target and was very likely to intercept it anyways.

Needless mistakes

I had two big notes on head coach Chris Jones’s in-game management. Most strikingly was that he gave the kneel-down order with 31 seconds left in the first half. That’s a massive waste of a possession. We all know how possible it is to move into field goal range from your 40-yard line. It’s extra bad being down 17-6 and needing the boost.

The second was burning a timeout with the team in shotgun formation on third-and-inches, having come up short on a sneak the play before. The Elks appeared to be short a man, but it also left the impression that they didn’t realize they failed to convert.

A different careless error occurred when Edmonton had a 16-yard gain called back due to a no-end penalty in Winnipeg territory. Manny Arceneaux was shown instructing a receiver on the other side to get on the line to no avail. It’s concerning that this seems to be frequently recurring from week to week.

Lastly, Makana Henry took a costly penalty in the fourth quarter when his contacting of the kicker resulted in an extended Bombers’ drive and the eventual game-sealing touchdown.

We’re better than our record

That was the comment from Jones post-game. I don’t agree — the Elks have been blown out of the water twice, lost three more games by seven, ten, and fourteen points, and won twice via double-digit comebacks.

Built into that claim is the assertion that you are better than several other teams around the league, for which there is no strong argument either.

Squeezing every drop

Another week, another occasion to mention that Nick Arbuckle is the only quarterback to win against the Collaros-led Bombers.

Positives

– The defensive front did a reasonable job generating pressure against Collaros, but he is elite at evading the rush and making plays anyways. The defensive play that stood out was Thomas Costigan bursting around the edge and nearly causing a third-quarter fumble, but still earning an incompletion. There were no sacks.

– They didn’t get run over as they frequently have. Brady Oliveira never broke a run beyond 10 yards and even though a 4.8-yard average was his second-highest of the season, it’s not a bad result.

– Sergio Castillo did pretty well, hitting field goals from 52, 44, and 27 yards while missing from 48. Unfortunately, he was pressed into double duty as punter Matt Mengel left early with an injury.

– Great weather:

Next

Edmonton has a Week 8 bye before visiting the Lions in Vancouver B.C. on Saturday, August 6. It’s almost certain they’ll do better than in Week 1 when they lost 59-15.

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.