Game Preview: Revenge, redemption at stake as Eskimos take on Argos

FBO CFL Argonauts Eskimos 20150627

The Toronto Argonauts couldn’t really visit Commonwealth Stadium at a better time for the Edmonton Eskimos.

Fresh off a disappointing loss at home to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the Eskimos need to redeem themselves, and who better to do so against than the team who last embarrassed them back in week one while knocking out their starting quarterback?

Revenge for the 26-11 week one loss and redemption for last week’s stinker will be on the line once the ball is kicked off tonight at 7:00pm MT. Both teams are playing for first place in their respective divisions, as the Esks, 5-3, will share the top spot with Calgary if they win, and the Argos, 6-2, would stand alone atop the East since the Tiger-Cats dropped their week 10 game last night. This is a big game for both clubs.

Injury Report- Who’s in, who’s out?

The following Eskimos are not expected to play:

LT Tony Washington (1-game)

RB Chad Simpson (1-game)

Alex Krausnick (1-game)

WR Shamawd Chambers (6-game)

WR Nate Coehoorn (6-game)

WR Skye Dawson (6-game)

RB Aaron Milton (6-game)

QB Mike Reilly (6-game)

G Simeon Rottier (6-game)

RB John White (6-game)

G Greg Wojt (6-game)

Scouting report- Toronto Argonauts:

Dubbed the ‘cardiac kids’, the Argos are notorious for their second half comebacks this season. Despite boasting an impressive 6-2 record, they’ve only led once after the first half. On offence, the Argos operate one of the most efficient units in the league- the usual under head coach Scott Milanovich. Trevor Harris has been outstanding throughout the opening eight games of the season, leading all quarterbacks with a superb 115.7 efficiency rating. The Double Blue utilize a plethora of pre-snap motion during Harris’ cadence to, ideally, cause confusion for the defense, then often throw short passes to allow their play makers- which they have plenty of- to make plays in the open field. Their run game has been rather hit or miss, with Argos’ running backs averaging a pedestrian 4.8 yards-per-carry. Understandably, the Argos rush the ball on a league-low 29-percent of their offensive plays.

Toronto’s defence surrenders a fourth-worst 376.1 yards-per-game, with most of the issues stemming from a lackluster ability to defend the pass. While their secondary is very inexperienced with four of their five starting defensive backs being rookies, they often don’t receive enough support from their pass-rush, which remains a work in progress. Inside linebackers Greg Jones and Cory Greenwood have been excellent at filling gabs and occupying zones in coverage, while defensive tackles Cleyon Laing and Euclid Cummings might just be the most underrated duo in the CFL. One halfback I really like in their secondary is Devin Smith, who’s quietly been a shutdown defender while teammates AJ Jefferson and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah receive much of the praise.

Five things to look for: 

1. How will James Franklin look in his debut? 

After seeing Matt Nichols struggle week after week, the Esks will hand the reigns of the offence over to rookie quarterback James Franklin, marking his first career start at the professional level. Franklin has frequently been used to spark Edmonton’s offence this season, recording 533 passing yards on 42/67 attempts, five touchdowns and a single interception.

I’m somewhat worried about Franklin trying to do too much; holding the ball longer than he should and repeatedly getting sacked or picked off. He’s surrounded by a great group of receivers and a slippery running back to make all the needed plays for him- just deliver them the football.

The Argos have some experience defending unknown, rookie quarterbacks like Franklin. Only two weeks ago, they were up against another mobile gunslinger in Winnipeg’s Robert Marve, who was also making his first career start. While they evidently made some adjustments at halftime and tightened up in the second half, the Argos let Robert Marve run too many times and probably didn’t blitz as much as they should’ve. Expect Franklin to do just fine in his debut if the Argos choose to sit back in coverage and play a conservative defence.

2. Edmonton’s cornerbacks versus Toronto’s wide receivers

This is truly a formidable matchup as both Edmonton’s corners, Patrick Watkins and John Ojo, along with Toronto’s wide outs, Vidal Hazelton and Tori Gurley, are arguable the best duos at their respective positions. Gurley, who stands tall at six-foot-four, and Hazelton, listed at six-foot-three, are two outstanding first year pass-catchers who’ve combined for 853 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. While Hazelton has drawn much of the attention, Gurley has put up exceptional statistics for a field-side wide receiver. He’s been a force in the red-zone, using his size and skill to haul in six touchdowns. Impressively, Watkins (six-foot-five) and Ojo (six-foot-three) match-up very well in size, and they’ve combined for a stellar 7 interceptions. The victorious side of this even matchup will largely dictate the final score of this ball game.

It’ll also be interesting to see how Edmonton’s secondary as a unit will respond after their poor showing last week against Hamilton. They were beat with both the short pass and the long pass, didn’t tackle well and let Hamilton score three touchdowns through the air. This was their worst performance since they played these same Argonauts in week one, when Trevor Harris torched them for 347 yards and three touchdowns, only tossing a trio of incompletions along the way. While I don’t expect a repeat of this, the Eskimos’ back-end has to put together one of their best performances of the season to hold the Argos’ passing attack in check.

3. Can Shakir Bell have a rebound performance?

Edmonton’s tailback has struggled with fumbles thus far in his rookie season, putting the ball on the turf five times and losing three of them. Bell only carried the ball eight times for 24 yards against a stout Hamilton run defence, so getting the first-year runner more touches should definitely be apart of Edmonton’s game plan with a rookie at quarterback. He’ll have to hang onto the ball, too, as Toronto’s offence will turn turnovers into points.

4. Kendial Lawrence returning Swayze Waters’ booming kicks:

Swayze Waters is, undoubtedly, the best kicker/punter in the CFL. He played a major role in Toronto’s victory over the Redblacks last week, continually ruining his opponent’s field position with terrific punts that averaged over 50 yards in distance. Kendial Lawrence, meanwhile, has quietly been one of the league’s top returners, leading the league in kick return yards with 306, while ranking near the top of the leaderboard with his 11.3-yard punt return average. Lawrence will need to consistently compile returns above his average to limit the impact of Waters, otherwise his offence will be facing a much larger field than they’d like.

5. Will Dexter McCoil have his breakout game?

Eskimos’ weak-side linebacker Dexter McCoil has been relatively quiet in 2015. That’s not to say the second-year player from Tulsa hasn’t been effective; he just hasn’t been outstanding. Toronto’s short-pass offence will be a big test for McCoil, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he recorded his first interception of the season on Friday considering how often he’ll be targeted. McCoil will also have his hands full covering Toronto’s running backs out of the back-field, which he struggled with back in week one. We could see 2014’s version of McCoil in this game, as he’ll be asked to do a lot. The Esks will need his presence to be felt.

Eric Matthews

Eric Matthews

Eric is a CFL fanatic and season ticket holder in Winnipeg who puts his support for the league and its nine teams first before anything else.
Eric Matthews

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Eric is a CFL fanatic and season ticket holder in Winnipeg who puts his support for the league and its nine teams first before anything else.