August 15, 2019

A win on the road would make Eskimos happy

The Eskimos laid an egg – a goose egg, that is! – the last time they played the Toronto Argonauts.

They fashioned their 22nd shutout, and first one since Sept. 26, 2014, by limiting the Argos to 185 yards of net offence with a time of possession of only 21 minutes and 45 seconds when the teams met at The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium last month.

Shutouts are rare in football, so the Eskimos won’t be too worried about how long they can extend the Argos’ scoreless streak of 64:15 against Edmonton, or even the Green and Gold’s current shutout streak of 40:41 from last week’s game against the Ottawa RedBlacks, when Friday’s CFL contest kicks off at 5:30 p.m. at Toronto’s BMO Field (TSN, 630 CHED).

“You can’t really think about that,” said veteran defensive back Josh Johnson, who is tied for the league lead with seven pass knockdowns. “We didn’t really think about getting a shutout going into the (last Toronto) game. It’s just when the coach makes his call, just go out and execute.

“If we can be victorious and come out with a win, we’ll just be happy about that,” Johnson added. “If we get another zero on the board, hey, we’ll be happy about that, also.”

A more pressing concern for the Eskimos is just winning a game on the road. Edmonton is 1-3 this year and 3-10 the past two seasons as the visiting team. The Esks have also lost their last two games in Toronto.

“It’s hard to win on the road,” said Head Coach Jason Maas. “Look across the league. Calgary and Ottawa over the last three years have won more than anybody else and the rest of us are about 44 per cent winning on the road.

“We’re going to change some things up this week,” he continued. “We’re going to do some different things on the road because we feel like we need a change. More focus on ourselves. Do more things that we do more at home, which is play games, have a good time and be there for one another.

“It’s a business trip, but at the end of the day, we need to have fun on the road, too, and be ourselves and that’s what our team is going to do this week.”

The Eskimos, who have been alternating wins and losses since the third week of the season, are in a three-way tie for second place in the West Division with the Calgary Stampeders and Saskatchewan Roughriders at 5-3.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers, in first place in the West with a 6-2 record prior to Thursday night’s game against the B.C. Lions, are the next team to visit The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 23.

“Our defence has been playing fantastic, you know spectacular,” Eskimos safety Jordan Hoover said after the Ottawa game. “The chemistry’s there. There’s been a lot of moving pieces and we’ve been able to plug them in and work effectively together.

“It’s trust. It’s earned trust. It’s not given. You’ve to make the plays and show your team that they can trust you and you just know that your guys are going to make the play. Everyone’s running to the ball. We’ve got great leaders on this defence, great coaches. They’re always encouraging us to be the best players we can be collectively as a unit.

“This is team football,” Hoover pointed out. “It’s not, ‘I want the sack,’ ‘I want the pick,’ ‘I want this,’ it’s team football. It’s ‘Go make the play. I’ve got your back.’ And if you don’t make it, I’ll make it. We’re all just working together very effectively.”

A perfect example of how willing the Eskimos are to sacrifice personal achievements for team success was evident at the end of last week’s game. Defensive co-ordinator Phillip Lolley asked the defensive linemen, who didn’t get a quarterback sack for the first time this season, to pressure RedBlacks quarterback Dominique Davis, but keep him in the pocket at the end of the game when Ottawa was at Edmonton’s 11-yard line.

“We made him have to deliver the ball where we wanted it delivered,” said Lolley, who called the same play three times in a row to win the game. “The third call, I was really going with another call and then I said, ‘No, we’ve stopped them twice doing this. The kids would never let me live it down if I made another call, so we went back with it (a third time).

“We could have probably had a couple of sacks, but we felt like winning the ball game was a lot more important than individual recognition.”

Among the categories the Eskimos defence currently lead the CFL are allowing fewest points (132), touchdowns (13), net offence (an average of 251.6 yards per game), first downs (126) and yards per play (5.2 yards). They have allowed only 62 points during their last five games for the first time since surrendering 58 points over 20 quarters in 2015.

“Lolley’s done a tremendous job since he’s been here of instilling a way of playing defence that breeds confidence,” Maas said. “You play fast, you hustle, you get after the quarterback or try to affect him on every play in different ways.

“They’ve bought into that. Through the course of the game, they just believe. Every game the plan is always just a little bit different, but, ultimately, they believe going in that they’re going to get the job done.”

The offence and special teams play a role in the defence’s success. Good kick returns can give the offence good field position while good coverage on the opponent’s returns can make it easier for the defence to keep the other team hemmed into its own zone.

“If you want to hustle to the ball and play the aggressive style of defence we play, you have to get (the defence) off the field,” said Maas. “The offence has to do a good job of sustaining drives.”

Although the Eskimos offence has scored only 18 and 16 points, respectively, during the last two games, it has generally been sustaining drives for most of the season.

“We’ve already played two more games than they have, if you look at the numbers, offensively and defensively,” said Maas, referring to the offence averaging a league-leading 63 plays while the defence has been on the field for only 48.5 plays per game.

“In order for them to play as well as they do, they’re on the field less than any other defence, too,” Maas continued. “Our offence has done a good job of holding the ball against other teams. It’d be nice if we could start scoring more points so when we do stay on the field that long, the margins are different so our defence can play even more different.

“Right now, our defence is playing at an extremely high level.”