EDMONTON -- The success of the Edmonton Eskimos pass defence is a mystery wrapped in an enigma.
On one hand, the group has allowed 5,488 passing yards – the second worst total in the league. They’ve also had to deal with a plethora of injuries to their defensive line, as well as other crucial parts on the defensive side of the ball.
The 2012 Eastern Semi-Final matchup is set as the Toronto Argonauts host the Edmonton Eskimos. Here is everything you need to know ahead of Sunday's game.
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On the other, they’ve racked up a league-high 28 interceptions, with DBs Joe Burnett, Chris Thompson and LB JC Sherritt each sitting in the top three in the category.
Simply put, it’s been a season full of bending but not breaking for the Green and Gold.
“We’ve given up a lot of yards, but at the same time we create a lot of turnovers,” said Esks defensive back Chris Thompson, who sits in a four-way tie for second in the league in interceptions with five.
“So we feel like when the opposing offence has the ball, we have a pretty good chance at getting it back from them,” he added.
That, however, might be a case of easier said than done.
The man that the Esks secondary will be aiming to contain during Sunday’s Eastern Semi-Final, Argos QB Ricky Ray, has been on an absolute tear as of late, throwing for a combined 688 yards and eight touchdowns in his last two games.
As a result, Thompson says it’s important to respect the 33-year-old’s abilities.
“I’ve been watching him during the last few weeks and he’s been the Ricky Ray of old,” said Thompson shortly after practice on Wednesday.
“So we have to get our hands on their receivers, disrupt their timing and hopefully our defensive line can get some pressure on him and collapse the pocket on him so we can make some plays on the back end.”
Eskimos Head Coach Kavis Reed, entering his second post-season as the Esks bench boss, also recognizes how critical it is to contain a player of Ray’s stature.
“We have to make certain that we are where we’re supposed to be when we’re supposed to be there and hopefully get pressure on Ricky,” said Reed.
“Obviously Ricky is one of the best deep-ball passers in the league and truly one of the best historically. We have to make sure that our guys are not dropping coverages and that we understand that he has that great touch with the football when he’s going deep,” he added.
The Esks have had their fair share of success in containing Ray this season.
In two games against the Double Blue this year, the Esks have limited the veteran gunslinger to 549 yards, with two touchdown strikes and a pair of interceptions.
They have also sacked him on six occasions.
But those two matchups occurred before the two teams reached the midway marks of their season, and with the way Ray has been playing as of late, the Esks would be wise to not look back on their previous accomplishments as an indication of what’s to come.
Looking at the numbers, the Ray and the Argos have registered 32 ‘big plays’ through the air (passes of 30 or more yards), which is the second most in the East Division. The Esks, meanwhile, have allowed 33, which is the second most in the West.
“Going up against a guy like Ray, we know what he can do, we just have to do our best to stop him,” said Joe Burnett, the league-leader in interceptions.
Simply put, the Green and Gold might be best to go with the same strategy that has got them to this exact point.
Bending, but refusing to break by any means necessary.