When the Eskimos played the Hamilton Tiger-Cats two weeks ago, they initially got bedazzled by the “eye candy,” as defensive back Josh Johnson called it.
“They come in certain funky formations and try to show you different eye candy to get you to jump certain routes,” Johnson said. “They’ll distract you with one guy and bring the other guy back around.”
That strategy worked like a charm for 15 minutes. The Ti-Cats passed for touchdowns of 42, 41 and 76 yards on three consecutive plays in the first quarter to jump out to a commanding 21-0 lead. Two of the scoring plays were all yards after catch (YAC) while the middle one came on a pass to a wide-open receiver in the end zone.
The Eskimos also gave up a 26-yard pass play with 25 seconds remaining to allow Hamilton to get to the Edmonton 45-yard line and eventually kick a game-winning field goal on the last play of the game.
“You’ve got to be true to your reads and don’t try to do too much,” said Johnson, who will shift from the field (wide-side) cornerback position to boundary (short-side) corner to replace the injured Anthony Orange when the Eskimos, 7-7, take on the Tiger-Cats, 11-3, again at 5 p.m. Friday at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton (TSN, 630 CHED).
“That’s when you hurt yourself,” Johnson added. “But if you just believe in your technique and trust when 86 (Bralon Addison) is getting the ball and when 16 (Brandon Banks) is getting the ball, just run fast, rally and tackle the ball carrier. … Just be in the right place at the right time.”
The Eskimos settled down after that first quarter against the Ti-Cats and limited Hamilton to just three field goals during the final 45 minutes of the game while rallying to tie the score twice at 24-24 and 27-27.
The key adjustment on the Eskimos pass coverage, according to Johnson, was to “stay high on your routes, keep our eyes true to what we see and then break on the ball and make the play when it comes to you.”
In the last game, the Tiger-Cats receivers got behind the Edmonton defensive backs a few times with double moves.
Meanwhile, the Eskimos extended their streak of not allowing a touchdown to six consecutive quarters before the Ottawa RedBlacks finally punched the ball into the end zone with a one-yard quarterback sneak halfway through the fourth quarter last Saturday.
“We’re trying to get back to our DNA,” Johnson said. “We were big on not giving up the big plays and being No. 1 at not giving up touchdowns (earlier this season).”
The Eskimos will try to contain the Ticats’ razzle-dazzle plays with a revamped secondary this week. Besides Johnson switching to the opposite cornerback spot, first-year Eskimos DB Tyquwan Glass comes off the practice roster to start at field corner.
It will be the third different position that Glass will start at in the secondary this season. The 25-year-old Pasadena, Calif., native has already made a combined six starts at the two defensive halfback slots. He has been the starter in seven of his 10 games this season.
“We’ve got certain guys playing different positions, so we’ve just got to jell as one and have a lot of communication and let’s build that chemistry back up,” Johnson said.
Nothing changes on the defensive line, which has manufactured seven of the Eskimos’ 10 quarterback sacks over the last two games after getting shut out in both ends of the home-and-home series with the Calgary Stampeders in early September.
“It can be a little confusing,” defensive tackle Mike Moore said about Hamilton’s multiple-option plays, “but we prepare for that. We know they’re going to try the trick stuff. We know they’re going to move people around. They have a lot of those little receivers who can move and run pretty fast.
“We don’t let that get to us. If they’re moving around, we still have our heads aimed for the quarterback, and we’re taking our steps to try to get there.”
The Eskimos sacked Hamilton QB Dane Evans four times two weeks ago and added six more sacks against Ottawa, including back-to-back sacks by Moore and back-to-back games with a sack for rookie defensive end Mathieu Betts.
“It’s great to see when a rookie like Betts comes in midway through the year and is accepted,” Head Coach Jason Maas said about the Eskimos’ first-round draft pick this year. “Mathieu is only going to get better as this year progresses.
“Ultimately, next year, he’s going to be right up there with all of them. He’s a hard worker. He’s got a lot of athletic ability. He’s smart. He’s picked up our (defensive assignments), and he’s fit in. He did a great job of coming in, not saying too much, just feeling the room out. But now he fits in and he gets it.”
Moore said it’s important for the defensive line to get after Hamilton’s quarterback early in the game because their energy rubs off on the rest of the team.
“We know we have to get after the quarterback if we want to get the offence and defence going,” he said. “Just us getting going gets everybody else going.”
Kilgore has seen this show before
It won’t exactly be contempt, but Eskimos quarterback Logan Kilgore is hoping that the familiarity of having played the Tiger-Cats less than two weeks ago could be helpful for him as he makes his third consecutive start in place of an injured Trevor Harris (throwing arm) on Friday.
“When you’re watching film of other teams, sometimes it’s hard to say, ‘OK, this is how they played it, but are they playing it that way because of this quarterback’s strengths?’ ” Kilgore said. “Some (quarterbacks) are better runners, or some are better pocket passers.
“But when you’ve just played them two weeks ago, you kind of have a good idea about what they are going to do, especially about what they were successful with.”
On the other hand, the Ti-Cats have the best record in the CFL, so “when you’re going against a great opponent like that, it’s not going to make it easier by any chance,” Kilgore pointed out.
Mackie defends Hamilton (the city)
Eskimos defensive lineman Mark Mackie stood up at the recent Eskimos Annual Dinner, presented by Postmedia Solutions, after a couple of cheapshot comments were taken at Hamilton.
“It got pummelled a little bit,” Mackie about the city. “I don’t care too much for the team, but the city – I went to school there for five years at McMaster (University). When they were beating it up, I said, ‘Well, hold on. It’s not that bad.’
“I just left out that it’s the waterfall capital of the world so they should have gone and seen some waterfalls,” Mackie added.
The Eskimos have spent the last few days in Hamilton during the second half of their two-game Ontario road trip. They also played in Ottawa last Saturday.
For Mackie, it was fun to be practising this week on the same football field he used to play on and to see some former teammates and coaches again.
“I also know a couple of spots in Hamilton to check out,” he said.
Of course, Alex Bazzie pointed out: “We’re on a trip, but we also like to remind ourselves that we’re on a business trip. It’s an important game, especially for the standings.”
The Eskimos can clinch at least a crossover playoff berth in the East Division with a victory over Hamilton and stay in the mix for a possible playoff berth in the West Division.
Calgary and the Saskatchewan Roughriders both have 9-4 records and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers currently sit at 9-5 in the West, but all three teams play each other during the final few weeks of the regular season. The Stampeders have two games against the Bombers and one each against the Riders, Montreal Alouettes and BC Lions while Saskatchewan has two games against the Eskimos and one each against Winnipeg, Calgary and BC Besides their two games with the Stamps and one with the Riders, Winnipeg also plays Montreal, which sits in second place in the East Division with a 7-6 record.
Both Calgary and Winnipeg have already won the season series with the Eskimos and would get the higher place in the standings should the teams finish the regular season with identical records.
Besides Glass returning to the lineup, fullback Tanner Green and weakside linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox were also activated to the game roster. Santos-Knox, who was signed on the opening day of free agency in February, has spent the entire season on the injured list trying to recover from a foot injury he suffered at the end of the 2018 season with the Blue Bombers.
Orange and backup linebacker/special teams player Christophe Mulumba-Tshimanga were both placed on the six-game injured list while backup running back Shaq Cooper was moved back to the practice roster.
Did you know?
Veteran fullback Calvin McCarty will play his 200th CFL game on Friday night. McCarty, 34, in his 13th season with the team after being drafted in the fourth round, 27th overall, in 2007.
Sean Whyte has made each of his last 18 field goal attempts. It’s his longest streak of the season, having previously kicked 17 three-pointers in a row before missing his last two attempts at Montreal on July 20th.
Rookie linebacker Vontae Diggs has led the Eskimos in defensive tackles each of the last two games. He had seven defensive tackles last Saturday in Ottawa.
Running back CJ Gable (50 rushing yards) plus receivers Ricky Collins, Jr. (75 receiving yards) and Greg Ellingson (79 receiving yards) are all closing in on 1,000-yard seasons.
The Eskimos have lost their last three games with the Tiger-Cats after sweeping the two-game series in 2017.