Fresh start for Eskimos against CFL-leading Lions
Edmonton's offensively challenged offence focused on league's top defence
With his team mired in a three-game losing streak, veteran Edmonton Eskimos receiver Fred Stamps says now is not the time for panic.
Now, he says, is the time for players to purge their minds of the memory of the last five games — four of them losses — and refocus on the road ahead.
"Those losses, that's behind us," Stamps said as the 5-6 Eskimos prepared this week to meet the CFL west division leading B.C. Lions Saturday. "We have the mentality that it's a new season for us. We're going to take this game versus B.C. And focus on that. Everything else is behind us."
The Eskimos can't afford any distractions against the Lions, who enter the game with a league-best 8-3 record. B.C. has the best defence in the league, leading the CFL in 17 defensive categories and allowing the fewest points, touchdowns and net yards against of any team.
The Lions also boast a dangerous running back in Andrew Harris, and quarterback Travis Lulay is coming off a huge performance in last week's win over Toronto.
Staying focused, however, may be easier said than done, given all that's whirling around the Eskimos these days.
The running game has disappointed despite adding Cory Boyd and Jerome Messam to compliment Hugh Charles.
And except for a few glimpses, none of the three quarterbacks have given the Eskimos the leadership they need. Stephen Jyles has been given the starting assignment again. He missed the first two losses with a calf injury and entered last week's game in relief, only to throw an interception on one of his eight passes.
The offence ranks last or next to last in virtually all offensive statistics.
That prompted team management to bring in veteran offensive coach David Kelly as a consultant, which immediately cast doubt on the future of offensive co-ordinator Marcus Crandell.
"Marcus is our offensive co-ordinator and will be throughout this season," head coach Kavis Reed said, insisting there is no controversy and no need for a vote of confidence. "David will not call a play, David will not be the architect of our offence, David is not the guy here to replace Marcus.
"We're in a valley right now and we're doing everything we need to do to make sure we get out of it very fast. Airlifting people in halfway through the season and having them be decision makers doesn't work in football."
Reed is hoping Kelly's skill in running an up-tempo offence that "utilizes the passing game as a run weapon" will get the Eskimos back to playing a quicker offensive game.
"He will be working closely with Marcus on first-and-10 in terms of the quick passing game and in terms of getting the pass out to receivers as an extended run play. Back to the quick game.
"Run 20 plus times, have a quick passing game and efficient, methodical drives. When we did that we won football games. When we haven't done that we lost games."
Asked whether it was the running game or the quarterbacks who were more disappointing, Reed immediately named the running game because it's important in controlling time of possession and presenting a balanced offence.
With a badly struggling offence, the Eskimos lost back-to-back games to Calgary on last-minute missed field goals and then gave up 51 consecutive points in a humbling 51-8 loss in Hamilton last weekend.
General manager Eric Tillman pointed out the team also suffered through a three-game losing streak last season that ended with a 36-1 loss to the Lions. The Eskimos then won six of their final 10 games to finish tied for first at 11-7.
"When you have an extended season you're going to have situations like this," Reed said. "There's only one team in this league that hasn't gone through a three game losing streak. The proper perspective is we're 5-6, if the playoffs started today we're in the playoffs. We still control our own destiny and I have to do everything I can do as a leader to make certain this franchise gets out of this slump."
The defence has also struggled, giving up 102 points in those three losses. It will get some help with the expected return of explosive defensive end Marcus Howard, who has missed seven games with a hamstring injury, and defensive back Weldon Brown, who has been out three games with a groin injury.
Linebacker J.C. Sherritt, who leads the CFL in tackles with 93, hurt his foot in the Hamilton loss and missed two days of practice but should be ready for the Lions.