October 20, 2017

Game Preview | Lions Host Eskimos

Perhaps more so than other athletes, football players are creatures of habit. And with only one chance per week to show what they can do, the pride never stops. Although the BC Lions (6-9-0) are officially eliminated from playoff contention for the first time since 1996, Jeremiah Johnson insists he and his teammates won’t pack it in. Facing the stingy Edmonton Eskimos (9-6-0) is all the motivation they need.

“New team, new week. We have to pull our pants up, tighten up our ties a little more and let it loose,” explained Johnson.

“I know we have more than enough guys on this team to finish this thing off 3-0. We’re professionals. Any competitor doesn’t want to go out with a bad taste in their mouth, whether it’s for a playoff spot or different.”

 

Edmonton won both previous meetings this season, including a 33-30 result here at BC Place in the opener on June 24th. They have since welcomed back a couple of old faces from the NFL, namely receiver Derel Walker and defensive back Aaron Grymes, and have recovered to win two straight following a six-game losing streak.

“We have to exploit those DBs in the back end,” said Johnson of the Eskimos’ defence.

“Once we do that, we protect JJ and make sure he’s getting that ball away comfortably. Without JJ throwing the ball, we’re not going to go far. We’re going to keep on riding, running that ball, trying to get guys off balance and do what we do.”

The Eskimos’ offence starts and ends with Reilly, the 2015 Grey Cup Most Valuable Player and current CFL passing leader.

The product of Central Washington has thrown for 727 yards in the two wins against his former team this season. Ronnie Yell and the secondary look forward to tackling this challenge head on.

“I always love going against Mike because we know he’s going to give us a couple of shots,” said Yell.

“He’s going to throw that ball in the air, he’s confident in his receivers and it’s our job to contain those guys and lock him down. We’re going to have a big test this week at home. They beat us the first time earlier this season; so we owe them a little get back. We’re excited to play Mike, we’re excited to face the receivers and we’re excited for the task.”

 

Brandon Zylstra leads the entire CFL in receiving yards, while Walker has hauled in 35 passes for 408 yards since returning to the six weeks ago.

In a surprising move, the Eskimos are starting LaDarius Perkins at running back ahead of the recently acquired CJ Gable.

Yell agrees with the notion that last week’s defensive effort in the loss to Winnipeg is a perfect template to follow.

“That’s what we’re expected to do. We come in every week and prepare the right way. Going out there with a performance like that is not surprising to us and it shouldn’t be surprising to the rest of the league.

Although it may seem like a tall order, not allowing an offensive touchdown for a second straight week would likely set them up pretty nicely.

The Matchup

Edmonton Eskimos (9-6-0) at BC Lions (6-9-0)

Saturday, October 21st

7:00 PM PT

BC Place Stadium

TSN 1040/TSN 1/ESPN 3

Game day forecast: 90 percent chance of rain with a high of nine degrees Celsius.

Most recent meeting: Edmonton prevailed 37-26 at Commonwealth Stadium on July 28th.

Vegas Line: the Lions are favoured by two and a half points

Big Battles Up Front

This is an area where Edmonton had the clear upper hand in those two earlier matchups and quarterback Jonathon Jennings is always more dangerous when he has time in the pocket. Hunter Steward knows he and the offensive line need to have a performance on par with some of the better ones they have had this season, especially when you consider the likes of Odell Willis, Almondo Sewell and John Chick are on the other side.

“They have some all-stars across the board there, everybody knows that,” said Steward.

“They have had a good d-line forever, but I think we’re a pretty darn good o-line too. You just have to go in there and play physical. The rest will take care of itself. You always want to give any quarterback as much time as you possible can, so that’s what we’re going to do. Edmonton rushes four, because they have a good group of four guys, so we’re going to block them up and I believe Jennings is going to get the job done.”

Steward and the entire offence looked sharp in practice, despite the fact heavy rain conditions cut drills short and made things a bit more difficult the later the week went on. All part of football he insists.

“If it ain’t raining, you ain’t training. You just have to embrace it, “ explained the veteran guard.

“We’re not made of sugar. We like to think that. You think rain is going to melt you, but it’s not. You just have to accept it, get to it and grind it.”

Willis and company have recorded five sacks against the Lions this season, four of them coming with Travis Lulay at the helm on July 28th.

Willis’ streak of appearing 76 consecutive games ending last week when he was a healthy scratch in the 30-27 win over the Toronto. Head coach Jason Maas elected to rest him in order to be healthy for the stretch drive and playoffs.

 

On the other side of this battle, David Menard has been practicing at Craig Roh’s end spot all week. Roh was a late scratch in Winnipeg due to a calf injury and did not participate at all this week. This means both Bryant Turner Jr. and Mich’ael Brooks will play in the interior of a defensive line that knows it will be in for a good battle themselves.

“It’s going to be a combination of things and should be fun, ” said Brooks of his unit’s mission.

“If you can disrupt Reilly, you can win.”

Final Quotables

“We haven’t got enough turnovers. The last four games, as I was told, we haven’t gotten a turnover. Not that we haven’t had opportunities, we just haven’t had a turnover. And our field position from our return game has been marginal. (We’re) not making big plays. Does that mean you have to revamp everybody? Who is going to make a big play? We’ve got big play players. We really do. But when there is an opportunity to make an interception and you drop it, or when the ball is on the ground and they get it, when there is an opportunity to get a sack and we miss it, those are things that cost you games.”- Wally Buono on the difference in recent losses.

“They’re led by one of the best ever in Wally. He’s going to have them ready to play. They’ve been trying to have the playoff mentality the last couple weeks, just like us. We’re going to attack the game the same way, either way. Regardless of they’re playing for, we know what we’re playing for and that’s to get the momentum on our side and get us playing our best football going into the post-season. It’s always a tough place to play, going over to BC Place.”- Reilly speaking to Edmonton media this week.

“I don’t care to be quite honest with you. We’re going in there with a laser focus, ready to play ball. I could care less if they have anything to play for or nothing to play for; I’m pretty sure Wally will get their guys ready to play, and the guys that play will play hard against us. That’s all we’re focused on, is beating them in there place.- Eskimos head coach Jason Maas.

Three Keys To Victory

Limit the big plays– doing just that was a big reason for the defensive effort kept Winnipeg’s offence out of the end zone last week. On the flip side, Reilly was able to exploit the Lions’ secondary in key moments during those two previous meetings.

Protect the quarterback– as mentioned; Edmonton won the line of scrimmage battle by a wide margin when these teams last met. If Jennings can have a couple of seconds more to operate, it would open things up for the offence in a big way.

Start fast– always an important element of the game, but this team has been chasing far too much in the second half of the season. It is time to play with a lead…. And keep it.

Extra Yardage

Stats of the week: another thing Reilly and the Eskimos have done all year is convert second downs. They are first in the CFL in that category at 54.8 percent. By comparison, the Lions are fourth overall at 48.6 percent. Let’s talk possession analysis: the Lions have scored a touchdown on 18 percent of their drives this season, fifth overall and one point above the league average. Edmonton is at 20 percent, which was tied for first with Calgary and Saskatchewan going into this week.

On defence, the Lions have allowed touchdowns 17 percent of the time, which is tied with Toronto for fourth overall and matches the league average. Edmonton’s defence is ranked seventh at 19 percent.

Milestone watch: Emmanuel Arceneaux is 49 receiving yards shy of 1,000 for the season. Arceneaux has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark three times in his CFL career.

Solomon Elimimian needs 24 defensive tackles over the final three games to break his own all-time CFL record of 143.

Cha-Cha-Cha-Changes on offence: Nick Moore will dress at receiver for the first time since September 13th in Calgary. The veteran had previously been the odd man out in order to dress another international at offensive line. Free agent addition Chris Williams will be the odd man out as the club will once again start four Americans on the offensive line.

On special teams and defence: linebacker Dyshawn Davis takes the spot of the departed Tony Burnett. The Syracuse Orange product has spent all but one game on the practice squad this season. He also suited up for one game in 2016. Rookie Dakota Brush takes the spot of Alex Ogbongbemiga. Download the entire roster and depth chart HERE.

Some more praise for Ty Long: courtesy CFL stats ace Steve Daniel; the kicker has made 13 consecutive field goals- the longest streak of his young career. In addition, Long has been money on attempts inside the 40, making 21 of 22 attempts.

With Shaun Whyte out for the season due to injury, Swayze Waters has emerged as placekicker in Edmonton. He has hit eight of 11 field goals in three games since. The Lions signed Waters early in 2017 free agency before an injury in training camp gave the upper hand to Long.

TSN 1040 has you covered; beginning with the pre-game show at 5:00 PM. Bob Marjanovich and Giulio Caravatta have the call at 7:00PM. Viewers can watch on TSN 1 and Lions fans south of the border can see the action on ESPN 3.

 Matt Baker: mbaker@bclions.com