Unfortunately, my first post for 3DownNation follows a disappointing loss for Eskimos.
Like many others, I took some extra time off to wrap my head around the debacle that took place on Friday Night at Commonwealth Stadium. This was something we hadn’t seen since 2013, and the first time ever under Chris Jones.
The Eskimos were mauled by the Tiger-Cats at home, losing by a convincing score of 49-20.
It was an uncharacteristic performance from the Green and Gold. They took too many penalties, were whooped in the turnover battle and allowed an opposing quarterback to pick apart their defence in a rather nonchalant fashion. We could look at the penalties and turnovers and say the team imploded, but this wasn’t the Eskimos beating themselves. This was the Eskimos being dominated by the better team. They didn’t resemble a team coached by Chris Jones. They didn’t play Eskimo football.
The effort was there. The opportunities were there. The execution wasn’t.
Against a team like Hamilton, the Esks needed to receive production and execution from every unit on the team. While the defence left much to be desired, the majority of the blame should fall on the offence. No team will ever keep the score respectable – let alone win the game – when the offence turns the ball over an absurd eight times. Offensive coordinator Stephen McAdoo appeared to put together a solid game plan, mixing in the right amount of short routes to beat Hamilton’s blitz-heavy attack (Edmonton gave up one sack), while also targeting certain match ups in the secondary but, again, the execution wasn’t there.
It starts at quarterback, where Matt Nichols put together another underwhelming performance. In just under one half of work, he completed 12 of his 19 passes for 138 yards with an interception. While his stats certainly don’t appear terrible, as they rarely have, Nichols was pulled for simply not putting the offence in enough scoring positions. He’ll complete a good amount of his passes, but far too many of them don’t bode well with the situation; he’ll throw a four-yard speed-out on second-and-long, for example. And Nichols made the same mistakes he made against Montreal and in the week before that, often pre-determining where he’s going with the ball pre-snap and locking into receivers once the play begins. The offence just doesn’t run efficiently with Nichols at the controls.
James Franklin made his share of mistakes in relief of Nichols, but, as far as I’m concerned, did enough to warrant what would be his first career next week. The offence seemed to run with more life under the Missouri product, playing with pace and with urgency. And while Franklin did see a slightly different look from the Ti-Cats due to the score and situation, the playbook really appeared to open up and better suit his skill-set. Starting the rookie pivot, who went 22/36 for 254 yards with a pair of touchdowns and a pick, will undoubtedly come with inevitable growing pains. But as long as he continues to improve, Franklin’s growing pains, which should decrease, are worth it.
Though they have their differences, both quarterbacks know it’s a smart move to get the ball to the newest playmaker in the offence, Derel Walker. The rookie wide out from Texas A&M had his second monster game in the same amount of appearances, catching a whopping 14 passes for 183 yards. The Esks already have Kenny Stafford starting to establish himself as a respectable no.2 target, and with Walker, who’s had two consecutive spectacular games, amassing 24 catches and 308 yards, terrorizing defences, the Esks have a slew of weapons to take the attention off Adarius Bowman. Walker’s position in McAdoo’s scheme draws a lot of one-on-one coverage; a match-up the 24-year old seems to win more often than not. Unfortunately, his performance was nearly the only bright spot for the Green and Gold on offence.
As alluded to earlier, this was an uncharacteristic performance from, formerly, the league’s top defence. It was uncharacteristic (though completely understandable) from their opening series on when the Eskimos gave up their first offensive touchdown at home in the 2015 season. But it got much, much worse from there, with other notable strengths on this side of the ball failing to produce after weeks of unleashing dominance on their opponents. The Tiger-Cats had the answer for every stunt Chris Jones tried to pull, with Zach Collaros slicing-n-dicing on route to throwing for 300 yards and three touchdowns.
While many will place much of the blame on the defensive line for failing to generate a single sack, I’d be quick to point fingers at the secondary. Jones’ blitz-heavy schemes place a lot of pressure on his defensive backs in man-coverage, and they lost too many match-ups, getting consistently beat off the line courtesy of short routes such as slants, curls and the occasional seam. And after a plethora of short completions, they’d get beat on the deep ball, a rare feat the ‘Cats accomplished numerous times against this stout secondary.
That’s not to say the D-line played great – they lost contain far too many times – but they did often hurry Collaros and knocked him to the turf an unhealthy amount of times. I could call out players individually, like Marcell Young, who was embarrassed by Terell Sinkfield, however it was a total failure as a unit from both the secondary and, overall, as a defence, including the usually dominant pass-rush.
Sometimes after a bad loss, it’s best to burn the tape and move on to the next opponent. While obviously a sarcastic recommendation, this might be the right idea for the Esks. The game wasn’t necessarily lost on bad mistakes and an incompetent game plan. The Eskimos fell to 5-3 because the Tiger-Cats simply outplayed them in every quarter, on every side of the ball.
Dubbed a potential Grey Cup preview, Friday’s game was a showdown of two powerhouses that wasn’t. It wasn’t quite the same without Mike Reilly, anyway, but the loss did prove that the Eskimos still aren’t where they need to be, even if we all know they’re far better than the home team that was embarrassed by Hamilton.