MacKinnon: Eskimos defence finally gets its act together
Line, linebackers and secondary worked well in unison for 60 minutes
Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Max Hall gets sandwiched between Edmonton Eskimos defensive ends Odell Willis and Marcus Howard during Saturday’s Canadian Football League game at Commonwealth Stadium.
Photograph by: Bruce Edwards, Edmonton Journal
EDMONTON - There have been a number of constants this Canadian Football League season with the 2-9 Edmonton Eskimos, some of them linked in a cause-and-effect relationship.
As much as anything, uneven play by a defensive unit that was meant to be a relative rock of stability on a rebuilding team helped beget that eight-game losing streak, for example.
Conversely, a rock-solid performance by the defence, from start to finish, anchored the Eskimos’ 25-7 victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Saturday. Not to diminish quarterback Mike Reilly’s CFL offensive-player-of-the-week award-winning performance, but it did obscure 60 minutes of dominance by the defence.
That unit yielded no touchdowns, just a pair of field goals and a rouge. Reilly and the offence, keep in mind, made all their noise in the first half, building a 24-3 lead.
“We played a lot better than we have,” said Eskimos defensive co-ordinator Greg Marshall. “The thing we did the best job of is we sustained it, we didn’t play in spurts.
“We played pretty consistent throughout the game. I’d like to see us a little cleaner on a couple things in the fourth quarter, but overall, we played our best game.”
By that point of Saturday’s game, the Blue Bombers had inserted Max Hall at quarterback to relieve starter Justin Goltz. Hall had some success moving the Bombers offence, which is noteworthy since head coach Tim Burke has announced that the rookie will start on Friday at Winnipeg.
So there’s always something to adjust to, but the Eskimos defence provided the team with a big jolt of confidence with its near-spotless play. Not to mention something to build on.
“This is the best game we’ve had in that when the guys have covered, the D-line has got the rush to go with it, to complement it to put pressure on the quarterback,” Marshall said. “When the guys have got the rush, the coverage has been there to complement it.
“There have been times this year when we had a great rush but bad coverage. Other times, we’ve had great coverage but no rush. So that doesn’t mesh.”
Meshing, gelling, call it what you will, the moving parts fit together into a cohesive whole for the Eskimos defence against the Blue Bombers. And individual players made plays, whether it was linebacker Rennie Curran with his seven tackles and a quarterback sack; Damaso Munoz with five tackles and a sack; Donovan Alexander with four tackles and a forced fumble, on and on.
One of the playmakers was defensive back Chris Thompson, who snared his CFL leading third interception. Thompson made a memorable contribution to that failed comeback in the Labour Day game at Calgary, taking off with a recovered fumble to set the Eskimos up for one of four late fourth-quarter majors.
“I’m just taking what’s available to me,” the 31-year-old CFL veteran said. “When a play’s available to make, I make it. It’s been helping us on defence and that’s what we need.”
For much of the season, the defence has sabotaged itself, Thompson said, with a “mistake here, a mistake there, but this week we played a full game.”
The challenge now is to replicate that complete effort or come close. How do they accomplish that, head coach Kavis Reed was asked.
“It starts with up front,” Reed said. “We saw those guys really get off the ball with a lot of alacrity, (they) were explosive, they were at the point of attack a number of times in terms of handoffs, in terms of play action (QB-option) situations.”
The defence includes a cluster of new faces, such as Curran, rush end Odell Willis and defensive back Eric Samuels, but Reed reckons adjusting to a new defensive system under Marshall, who replaced Mark Nelson as defensive co-ordinator, has taken some time.
“You would expect there would be some hiccups,” Reed said. “You would hope we’d have solved it a little bit earlier, but no time is ever too late when you have an opportunity.”
The opportunity is there for the first time since a Week 2 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for the Eskimos to pile one victory on top of another, to build on success. He believes an adjustment in approach was key on Saturday, will be again this Friday, if the Eskimos apply the same sort of pressure.
“We’re more explosive,” Reed said. “We’re out there. we’re running around. And when you’re running around as a defence, you’re going to be disruptive. And when you’re disruptive, the offence has to execute under duress and that’s what’s happening.”
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