The Edmonton Eskimos didn’t just lose the 2019 Labour Day Classic, they’ve lost confidence.
While that may or may not hold true for those inside the locker-room, there isn’t much belief in the team coming from the outside right now.
On the biggest stage of the regular season in front of a near-capacity crowd of the enemy territory that is McMahon Stadium, everyone showed up, it seemed, but the Eskimos. They suffered back-to-back losses for the first time this season, falling 25-9 to the Calgary Stampeders in the return of quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, who appeared more than a little rusty after sitting out seven games with a pectoral injury.
And the Eskimos made him look good. While they still have their heads above water with a 6-5 record, they fell to fourth place in a West Division where they have yet to beat anyone ahead of them in the standings.
And although they get another crack at their provincial rivals, at home this time, in Saturday’s rematch, their second bye week can’t come soon enough before getting back in action with a visit from the first-place Hamilton Tiger-Cats. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves on the way to a bleak horizon, here is what we learned from Edmonton’s eighth straight Labour Day loss:
These Eskimos are not a good road team. Not in the slightest.
In the six away games they’ve played outside of the friendly confines of Commonwealth Stadium — where they are 4-1 on the year — four have now resulted in a loss. And incredibly, half of those six trips have seen them lose while getting completely shut out of the end zone.
Once is understandable.
Twice becomes concerning.
But three times? That’s nothing short of a full-on disturbing trend for a team that has led the league all year with most net offensive yards earned and fewest allowed but hasn’t backed up those numbers in the standings.
2. Dead zone
A big part of Edmonton’s scoring troubles has been an inability to convert red-zone opportunities into touchdowns.
After going 0-for-3 in the red zone during a loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers one week earlier, the Eskimos failed on both chances Monday in Calgary, dropping their yearly total to 14 touchdowns in 32 opportunities inside the opposing 20 yard-line. In golf, the saying is drive for show, putt for dough.
Well, the Eskimos are obviously a few ingredients shy of a bakery when it comes to their short game, and opposing defences know it.
3. Penalty progress?
If for nothing else, the Eskimos need to be commended for getting a handle on a penalty problem that was almost spiralling out of control early in the season.
After starting out the season averaging 13 penalties for 129 yards over their first four games, the Eskimos got down to 10 penalties for 86 yards over the next four, and have enjoyed their lowest penalty totals over the past two games, surrendering a season-low six for 53 yards last week and seven for 72 yards on Monday.
Of course, those fewest flags line up with their only consecutive losses of the season, begging the question: Has the increase in discipline come at a cost of a decrease in whatever edge they have previously played with?
Defensively, there might very well be something to the theory after giving up a season-high 461 yards of net offence Monday.
4. Defensive difficulties
Besides losing the sack battle Monday, scoring zero quarterback takedowns behind the line of scrimmage for just the second time all season, the Eskimos defence hasn’t been the brick wall it was over the first nine games.
Now tied for the lead with 33 sacks on the season with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, an Edmonton squad that also saw their grip slip on the lead for surrendering the fewest points coming into Labour Day, is all of a sudden unable to stop the run, giving up 189 rushing yards to Winnipeg and 201 to Calgary in their last two games.
It was a different story when Edmonton’s staunch defence could carry the load whenever the offence was floundering.
5. Rah-rah return
It didn’t end up counting, but Christion Jones’s 92-yard punt return into the end zone to open the second quarter provided the closest thing to a glimmer of hope for an otherwise uninspired effort by the other two phases of the Eskimos’ game Monday.
The former Saskatchewan Roughriders return man, who was brought in via trade for veteran receiver Kenny Stafford one month ago, lined up for his patented jump-into-the-ball maneuver, retrieving the punt with a full head of steam already built up as he skirted his way through Calgary’s coverage team.
The excitement was short-lived, however, as not one but two flags flew for holding on the Eskimos, complements of linebacker Christophe Mulumba-Tshimanga and safety Jordan Beaulieu, which negated the game’s first touchdown that could have put the Eskimos ahead 10-6 and kickstarted the offence and defence into gear.
It was still the closest thing the Eskimos have sniffed, touchdown-return-wise, in years and might still provide some momentum yet.
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge
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