Running on empty: 6 thoughts on the Edmonton Elks falling to 0-7

Photo: Timothy Matwey/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

11 straight regular-season losses. Seven losses to start the 2023 season. The Edmonton Elks continue to search for a win after falling 28-14 to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Thursday night.

Here are my thoughts on the game.

This Is The Song That Never Ends

The Elks were able to keep it close through the first half with excellent defensive play but the offence could only provide enough run support to salvage a tie at halftime. As has been the trend this season, the halftime adjustments favoured the opponent.

“Once again, we have a tied ball game,” head coach Chris Jones noted post-game on the inconsistency between halves. “We didn’t tackle very well in the second half and we gave up the big explosion on the double move and couldn’t regain momentum after that.”

Teams, including the Bombers on this night, continue to pull away in the third quarter and have little to worry about with a gassed Elks defence on the field in the fourth.

Defence Starts Well

I admit that I thought this would be a tough game for the defence with the losses of both defensive tackle J-Min Pelley and middle linebacker Nyles Morgan. Against those odds, they still came out strong. Rookie Tony Jones, from Texas Tech, had a particularly good game with seven tackles as he stepped in for Morgan.

On Winnipeg’s first drive, the Elks stopped Dakota Prukop on short yardage to force the three-and-out. New defensive back, Marcus Lewis, intercepted Zach Collaros on the next Bomber drive. The start was enormous.

On the Bombers’ third offensive series, Edmonton had them pinned with a second-and-six at the Winnipeg 15-yard line. Kenny Lawler, playing in his first game this season, made what looked to be a spectacular catch for 28 yards against his old team. The drive should have stopped there with a review showing an incomplete pass, but the Bomber offence got to the line quickly and started another play before Jones could challenge. A savvy move that turned that drive into 6 points — the only stumble for the Elks’ defence in the first half.

The second half, of course, was not as fruitful. There was a 70-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Nick Demski in the third quarter and plenty of breakdowns in the secondary for Collaros to pick his way downfield with intermediate passes. The nail in the coffin was running back Brady Oliveira, who took over in the fourth quarter to produce 80 of his 110 yards rushing.

The defence had a lot of guys with hands on their hips as the time of possession battle leaned heavily in favour of the Bombers. There is only so much a player can do.

Offence is Offensive

The struggles of Taylor Cornelius have been much publicized. For all the good plays that hecano produce, there is always a miss that rears its ugly head shortly after. Early in this game, Cornelius used his legs three times to run for 22, 12 and 21 yards. In that same span, he threw three passes behind the intended target, with one turning into yet another interception in the red zone.

Cornelius’ play is a conundrum to me. I’ve seen the perfect 35-yard ball downfield, but he is just as likely to attempt a flip pass that hits the dirt. I see signs that he is taking steps in his game, but he seems to be moving forward by inches, not yards.

Edmonton’s offensive line was not a big help to Cornelius in this game either. Winnipeg brought a lot of blitz pressure, running cover zero on many an occasion, and the Elks had no answers for it. Losing fullback Mario Villamizar early in the game did not help matters.

Cornelius has a hard time with pressure, which may have contributed to some of his throws being misaligned. It definitely contributed to the intentional grounding penalty from the endzone, which gave the Bombers a safety in the third quarter.

I’ll also give some credit to Bomber fans as Edmonton receivers went offside — way offside — twice in the game as they could not hear the snap count.

With an average starting position of their own 38-yard line, Edmonton was placed in a competitive spot. The finish is just not there right now.

More Like the Dillon Mitchell We Know

Receiver Dillon Mitchell had his best game of the season on Thursday, snagging four passes for 115 yards. That included a massive 80-yard reception for a touchdown in the third quarter.

Fans have been waiting for him to take the top off a defence ever since his preseason promise to hit 2,000 yards receiving. It hasn’t happened very often. After a stellar final six games last year, I hope this is the start of a major run for him.

Faithfully Field Goals

36-year-old rookie kicker Dean Faithfull had another good game, going two-for-two on field goals. I don’t want to keep bringing up his age but I am happy that a guy closer in age to me than my kids is a rookie in the league.

Faithfull has gone five-for-five in the last two games, restoring the “faith” in the kicking game. I now play the Journey song “Faithfully” after every field goal. I’d encourage the Commonwealth Stadium sound mixer to follow suit.

If I did have a question here, it is that I don’t understand why the Elks so often go for the shorter kick on kickoffs. They did have the two onside recoveries last week, but it seems odd to give up that field position. I think Faithfull can pound it down the field and they are going shorter as a tactic more than anything.

Congrats to Coach O

With the victory, Mike O’Shea moved into second place on the list of all-time winningest coaches in Winnipeg history, passing Cal Murphy for sole possession of that spot. Next up is legendary coach Bud Grant. Congrats to Coach O’Shea on all his success.

The Elks, meanwhile, have an extended time between games with eight days to prepare to take on the B.C. Lions at home.

“We have to get the kid’s legs back that’s for sure,” Jones said. “Get them away from the building a bit, then get back into this thing. We played a good strong first half against (B.C.) in their building. It will be good to sit and watch somebody play and we got to find a way to play better football in the second half.”

Edmonton could set a new pro sports record for consecutive home losses at 21 in that game. There’s a long road ahead to find a way back to winning.

Andrew Hoskins is a lifelong Edmonton resident and the host of the Turf District Podcast.