Gregor: Eskimos’ QB decision: Do they go with experience or a hot hand?

 

 
 
 
Who will start? Who should start?

Edmonton head coach Kavis Reed has six days to determine which quarterback will give him the best chance to upset former Eskimos quarterback Ricky Ray and the Toronto Argonauts.

Even with Eric Tillman, who orchestrated the ill-advised Ray trade, out of the picture, this weekend’s matchup is dripping with juicy story lines.

After clinching second place in the East Division, Ray posted on his Facebook page, “Happy to be hosting Eastern semi final in two weeks. I wouldn’t mind facing the Edmonton Eskimos if they make the cross over.”

He got his wish and Ray will start for the Argonauts, but who will Reed counter-punch with, Kerry Joseph or Matt Nichols?

Joseph is 4-1 in the playoffs, but he hasn’t been in the playoffs since winning the 2007 Grey Cup with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Here is a quick look at Joseph’s playoff history:

2006

West Division semifinal: 31-21 win over the Calgary Stampeders, 17 of 31 passing for 180 yards and one touchdown

West final: 45-18 loss to the B.C. Lions, 15 of 23 for 210 yards and one TD

2007

West semi: 26-24 victory over Calgary, 23 of 35 for 391 yards and one TD, plus 109 rushing yards

West final: 26-17 win over B.C., 18 of 35 for 209 yards and two majors.

Grey Cup: 23-19 win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, 13 of 34 for 181 yards and one TD, plus 101 rushing yards

Joseph was incredible in the 2007 West semifinal; however, despite his impressive 4-1 record, he has only completed 54.4 per cent of his passes in the post-season. He also can’t scramble like he did in 2007, so he’ll need to rely upon his arm to beat the Argonauts and, historically, he hasn’t been an accurate passer.

Nichols, on the other hand, is a raw rookie. His two career starts went like this:

Sept. 28 versus Calgary, 14 of 26 for 167 yards and one touchdown, with one interception

Nov. 2 versus Calgary, 18 of 30 for 341 yards and two two TDs with one 1 interception

Nichols looked much more composed and confident in his second start, but the Eskimos didn’t win. Nichol’s game and style of play is eerily similar to Ray. He is a pocket passer who can read the defence.

It is clear that Joseph has more experience, but Nichols has been the better quarterback for the past three weeks. Joseph hasn’t been able to move the ball recently, and outside of victories over the inept Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the struggling Roughriders, he hasn’t moved the ball well all year.

Two weeks ago at B.C., Joseph went six for 24 for 146 yards with one TD and a pick. He completed a measly 25 per cent of his passes. Nichols went four for five for 72 yards.

Last week at Montreal, Joseph produced four points in 50 minutes of play, going 10 of 19 for 116 yards. Nichols came off the bench and torched the Alouettes for three touchdowns on nine of 15 passing for 230 yards.

Nichols’ recent success coming off the bench might have Reed leaning towards starting Joseph and, if he struggles, then bringing in Nichols. That theory makes sense; however, the Eskimos likely won’t be able to overcome a slow start.

The Eskimos are 2-0 against the Argonauts this year, but they won both games without throwing a touchdown pass. Their defence did a great job of containing Ray and the Argos’ offence; but over the past three weeks, Toronto has scored the most points, 106, in the CFL.

Ray has thrown for 688 yards and eight touchdowns while completing 69.9 per cent of his passes in his last two starts. He’s turned Chad Owens into a legitimate receiving threat. In the 14 games Ray started, Owens had 83 catches for 1,237 yards. In the four games Ray didn’t play, Owens had 11 catches for 91 yards.

The Argonauts’ offence is rolling. While the Eskimos’ defence, led by J.C. Sherritt, the best defensive player in the league, did a good job containing the Argos earlier this year, Reed shouldn’t expect it a third time.

This isn’t a quarterback controversy; it’s more a quarterbacking decision. I fully expect Reed to say both will play at some point in the game, mainly to force Toronto to prepare for both quarterbacks, but also to try and squash the debate.

If I was making the decision, I’d go with Nichols. In the past three weeks, the offence has had more energy with the ball in his hands.

You can listen to Gregor weekdays from 2-6 p.m on the TEAM 1260 and read him at oilersnation.com.

twitter.com/jasongregor

 
 
 
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