Quietly into the sunset: 11 thoughts on the Elks dropping their season finale to the Lions

Photo courtesy: CFL

The Edmonton Elks lost by a score of 31-14 to the B.C. Lions on Friday night. They finish the 2022 season with a 4-14 record, and a negative-245 point differential.

Along with the first part of Friday’s doubleheader, it helped to settle another piece of the playoff picture that will not include them. The game slowly, and then quickly, slipped out of reach, as it has several times during the year.

Here are some thoughts on the green and gold’s finale.

30 minute cook time

As you may recall, the Lions feasted on the Elks in the first half of all three of their meetings this season. Here’s the summary:

Week 1 – eight drives; six touchdowns, two two-and-outs. 42-6 score.

Week 9 – six drives; four touchdowns, one field goal, one turnover on downs on third-and-seven. 37-7 score.

Week 20 – five drives; three touchdowns, one field goal, one punt via procedure on third-and-one. Not counted: B.C. running out 21 seconds before halftime. 24-7 score.

Total – 19 drives; 13 touchdowns, two field goals, four drives not allowing points.

This week included both the longest and shortest drives, with a 5-yard and 98-yard touchdown. Factor in swapping Nathan Rourke for Vernon Adams, and it’s hard to claim improvement within this sample.

The majority of what I comment on regarding the Elks’ staffing choices comes from a concern that there isn’t enough reason to believe this current group is capable of climbing out of the hole they’ve built, especially given the various decisions made throughout the season. The Simpsons reference “No, no, dig up stupid!” comes to mind.

It’s not impossible that they can turn it around but currently, I’m not seeing a likely path.

The fun part

It was exciting to see Tre Ford get more field time. He showed tantalizing flashes but still looked like the raw U-Sports quarterback rookie that he is. His final stat line was 22-of-36 (61 percent) for 242 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions. Ford also rushed eight times for 72 yards.

He started very nicely. Due to the Lions’ dominating possession, Ford only threw four passes in the first quarter, but three of them were complete and one was a very nice arc to where only Dillon Mitchell could catch it.

His incompletion was a hugely impressive contorted throw against the grain to Mitchell 40 yards deep, but it was a little short of where it needed to get to and T.J. Lee was just able to get a paw in and break it out of Mitchell’s hands. Props to Ford for keeping his eyes downfield rather than scrambling at an early opportunity, as young and mobile quarterbacks often do.

Ford came very close to adding more passing touchdowns on four separate occasions. One was in the third quarter, where Garry Peters kept a firm grip of Mitchell’s left hand, so pass interference brought the Elks to the one-yard line. One was in the mid-fourth quarter when Ford overthrew an extremely open Derel Walker at the Lions’ ten-yard line. Walker may have had a walk-in, but it seemed that the quarterback and receiver weren’t quite on the same page.

The third was with two minutes left, where a brilliant effort to evade defenders ended with the ball seemingly rolling somewhat off of Ford’s hand and failing to reach a wide-open Walker in the back of the endzone. It was intercepted by Marcus Sayles instead.

Last was the final offensive play of the season, where Ford threw a strike directly into Kai Locksley’s hands, but it slipped straight through.

That is all to say, there were tons of positives. As expected, there were also some negatives.

The not-quite-as-fun part

Ford had a few recurring mistakes throughout the night. Top of the list was ball security.

His first interception came from lofting the ball over a rushing defender’s reach but also out of Mitchell’s reach. A similar idea had worked earlier in the game, but this time there was another defender too close and too much air under it, and Sayles accepted the gift. Working to the short side of the field seems like it would make that harder to fit in precisely.

Ford also fumbled once rushing, as Jordan Williams had a firm grip on his left arm, making it easier to punch the ball out from his right arm. A couple of times he got a bit lackadaisical and left throws in risky places.

Another common error was checking down too often. There were a few times when Ford seemed to rush through his throwing process a bit, but my focus is on Kevin Brown ending up with eight catches on nine targets. The young passer was too mature for his own good.

Those passes tend not to move the ball all that efficiently. The most egregious case was throwing sideways to Brown on a third and ten, which, predictably, was stopped short of the marker. It was a lapse in situational awareness, though two other moments stood out in that regard.

With less than a minute before halftime, I thought Ford did an excellent job managing the clock — moving quicker than several seasoned CFL veterans — but unfortunately, they didn’t make the necessary yardage gains to get into scoring range.

Then at the very end of the game, he took two seconds to spike the ball with five seconds left. One of the things I picked up in my rewatch was Chris Jones rapidly repeating “clock it” into his microphone, instructing his quarterback to spike it.

TSN’s visuals were messed up at the time, but it was second-and-two. I’m not sure why Jones didn’t use a timeout — I assume the broadcast missed something earlier because he should have had one left — but it wasn’t a perfect moment for a spike, seeing as it left them in third down. That’s the key difference from Taylor Cornelius doing so last week, though without it they likely would only have had time for a single play anyways. Instead, they settled in for one more good try, and technically they could have gotten a first down with a second left as well.

One other thing Ford has to learn is that everyone else on the field is a great athlete too, and going over them is difficult. He tried a couple of times without success.

I find it deeply encouraging that these seem like the mistakes of inexperience, rather than inability.

Help a guy out

Ford could’ve used some extra help from his receivers several times. There was Locksley’s endzone drop, but another pass went straight through fellow rookie receiver Lucky Jackson. A third seemed well-placed in front of Manny Arceneaux, but the veteran couldn’t quite get to it, possibly because of a little tug from the trailing defender.

Mitchell led the receivers with five catches for 60 yards and a touchdown. He was used more out of the backfield, which is a novelty for this season. Walker got up to 56 yards with three late catches, including a third-and-15 conversion over the middle.

Brown had his least productive game on the ground by far, with seven carries for 20 yards and a fumble. The new offensive line combo wasn’t able to pave the way like Brown is used to, though they seemed decent in pass protection — or at the very least, Ford made it work.

D-ficient

Very little stood out well on the defensive side of the ball. The unit never managed to sack Adams. Nobody had amazing tackle numbers.

Brief highlights include Jamie Harry making one good pass breakup at the sideline. The same can be said for Donovan Olumba on a deep pass in the centre of the field. Olumba also came up with the biggest play, intercepting Adams on a miscommunication with Jacob Scarfone. He was a late bright spot in a dark season.

Adams had a highly efficient first half, going 9-of-10 for 127 yards and a touchdown. A quiet second half saw him finish with 214 yards. Edmonton rushed three often, as is their tendency, but it didn’t much help them cover.

James Butler was the star of the evening, getting up to 95 yards and a touchdown in the first half and ending at 141 yards. He was also helped along by a spectacular number of missed tackles. Jones said after the game that, “In the first quarter, it looked like me out there tackling.” It ends a disastrous season of defending the run for the Elks, who will finish last in the league by a mile at 119 yards allowed per game.

The Elks struggled badly to get off the field for three quarters, though they concluded by forcing three straight two-and-outs.

The little things

Coach Jones lost his last challenge of the year, hoping for an incompletion to be changed to an interception. Personally, I couldn’t tell even on replay whether it should have been a turnover or incomplete.

I do disagree with Glen Suitor’s defence that Jones “didn’t know what the [camera] angles showed,” because even if the coach was 100 percent certain it was a turnover from his personal close-up view, challenges aren’t about being right; they’re about getting the call overturned.

If they wanted to win it, he ought to have someone in his ear saying, “Yes, we see it on replay, and we’re confident they’ll change the ruling.” Otherwise, it’s not much more than an impulse challenge, though, given the state of the game, it would be an understandable attempt. Enock Makonzo deserves credit for doing a perfect job preventing Adams from rolling away from his blitz and forcing the errant throw.

Jones’s late-game third-down philosophy was also strange. Down 31-14 in the fourth quarter, he punted on a third and five just inside Elks territory, and shortly after was going to punt on third and six from midfield when a Lions penalty gave them a first down instead. Yet four plays later he went for it on third and ten from B.C.’s 33-yard line — well within field goal range.

It’s good he eventually went for it and did so for the remainder of the game, but there didn’t seem to be sound reasoning behind it. 17 points down is clear “nothing to lose” territory.

Tactics

I’ve commented on Edmonton’s short kickoffs before. On Friday, their opening kickoff was dropped by an unprepared return man, and the Elks recovered. Better yet, they turned it into a touchdown in four plays, led by a 28-yard Ford scamper.

A last positive

Sergio Castillo had a perfect night, making both converts.

The sunset

Jon Ryan has announced his retirement from professional football. He had a long career between the NFL and CFL, and I wish him the best in his next chapter.

Next

The Elks have a bye in Week 21, after which they’ll be watching the playoffs from home. Thank you all for reading the recaps this year, and cheers to dreams of better days ahead.

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.