The Edmonton Eskimos hope a 39-year-old quarterback and a depleted defence can find a way to stop the high-flying Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Mired in a five-game losing streak, the Eskimos made moves this week to try to stabilize their struggling, inconsistent offence. Edmonton declared Kerry Joseph their starting quarterback for the rest of the season and ended the merry-go-round at running back by naming Hugh Charles their No. 1 man.
Putting the team's fate in the hands of Joseph is ironic, given that the team traded away 32-year-old Ricky Ray because of his age and to give the club's young quarterbacks a chance to develop.
That experiment is proving to be a failure as Steven Jyles, in his second stint with the Eskimos, hasn't been inconsistent and third-stringer Matt Nichols basically sat on the bench until recently.
With the offence last or second-last in most statistics, head coach Kavis Reed this week took over as offensive co-ordinator and decided to end the uncertainly at quarterback and running back.
"Now we're going back to square one, like we started at the beginning of the season and hopefully it works out," said Charles, who has had more than 10 carries only once since the team added Cory Boyd and Jerome Messam to solidify the running back situation.
"We tried something new," Charles said. "Cory got released and found a new home here and we tried that formula and the rotation was OK for a bit. Then you had Messam come and you have it in the back of your head ... you have to play these guys. We tried the formula and it just didn't quite work out."
The Jyles experiment also hasn't worked out so Joseph, who hasn't been a regular starter since 2009, will carry the team's fading playoff hopes. A win tonight is vital since the Eskimos would be fighting Hamilton for a playoff spot in the CFL's cross-over format. Both teams are 5-8.
"My main focus, to be honest, is to win this week," Joseph said of the opportunity. "I haven't thought about it anywhere beyond that. I'm just looking at this game because I know it's a very important game for us."
Joseph said stability at quarterback isn't a big issue despite the constant rotating, because the players haven't worried about who was in the position
"Whoever lines up on the field, we all play hard, we all play together so that has no effect on us," he said. "We just want to get together on the field and go win games."
But Charles said rotating the running backs was a problem.
"It keeps everyone guessing and not really knowing when their time is going to be, or what they should prepare for," he said.
"In this game there's a lot of mental process that goes through your head, whether you're playing or not, and whenever you have a guessing game, three great running backs all doing the same job, you just can't be in the same mind frame as when you know you're the guy."
'Starting to come together'
The revamped offence will be going up against a Ticat defence that has had struggles of its own this season. But Hamilton defensive lineman Eddie Steele said the unit has started to overcome early growing pains.
"We're starting to come together as a unit," Steele said. "We were a little shaky at the beginning of the year with new system, new schemes but we're starting to understand it, getting guys in the right spots and it's really falling together properly."
On defence, the injury bug continued to hit the Eskimos with middle linebacker J.C. Sherritt, the league's top tackler, out with foot and knee problems. His replacement, Simoni Lawrence wasn't even on the roster the first two weeks of the season.
The depleted defence will have to try and contain a Ticats offence that has put up big numbers this season.
"We've got the most talented group in the league, on offence and the skill position," Ticats quarterback Henry Burris said. "Those guys make plays all day. I've thankful to have those guys on my side. I look forward to getting out there each game just seeing what the next big play those guys are going to make and how easy and effortless they make it look sometimes."
Lawrence seemed ready for the daunting challenge.
"I'm real comfortable," he said. "The whole year you fill in, you practice, this is week 13 and I'm really comfortable with the guys, they trust you."
And the Tiger Cats, he said, aren't the type of offence that's going to try to trick the defence.
"They're one of the most basic type of offences," he said. "They do a couple of things and they do them very well. They don't try to cover things up as much. They're pretty straight forward. They're not going to try to trick you.
"That's why they're so efficient, they do a couple of things and they do them well."
The Ticats went through their own five-game losing streak earlier this season, so they can empathize with what Edmonton's going through right now.
"Honestly when you're in a streak like that you just have to keep showing up for work and keep trying to do the right things," Steele said. "Keep working hard in practice and eventually good things will happen."