Crucial battle

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:03 PM ET

Mookie Mitchell doesn't mince words when it comes to tonight's tilt with the Calgary Stampeders.

"It's a must win," said the Eskimos' veteran receiver.

Considering it's only Week 2 in the CFL, that might be a surprising statement to some football observers - but for the defending Grey Cup champions, that's the cold hard truth.

After bumbling and stumbling their way to a 24-14 loss to the Stamps last weekend to start the regular season, the Esks are in an unenviable position already.

FOUR POINTS BACK WITH A LOSS

If the Esks lose tonight, they'll be four points off the pacesetting Stamps in the West Division.

"It's a four-point game (tonight) and we can't afford to be two games down to Calgary this early in the season, especially if you get into those tie-breaking situations at the end of the year," said Edmonton centre Tim Bakker.

Falling four points behind the Stamps means the Esks would have to sweep the Labour Day series and be ahead on point differential to have the tie-breaking edge over their arch rivals to the south.

And in the West Division this year, a single point or the tie-breaking formula could determine the final playoff spot.

BACK TO THE BASICS

"But the coach made it simple this week," added Bakker. "Football is about running, tackling and blocking - and we got back to the basics this week."

Here are the three basics the Esks must master tonight if they want to win:

1. Win the turnover battle - Edmonton had seven turnovers last week compared to Calgary's one. When Danny Maciocia's crew was ahead on the turnover ratio last year - having less than the other team - they were unbeatable, going 7-0.

2. Win the running battle - For some strange reason, Maciocia didn't feed running back Troy Davis a steady diet of pigskin last Saturday. Although he had an excellent 6.3-yard average, he only touched the ball eight times. On the other hand, the Stamps repeatedly fed Joffrey Reynolds and he produced 153 yards. Overall, Davis has a great track record against the Stampeders - 184 yards in two games combined to end last year.

3. Stay disciplined - Through two pre-season games and last week's regular-season opener, the Eskimos are averaging 135 yards in penalties per game. Maciocia would love to cut that number in half.


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