In the dread zone

Defensive lineman Robert Brown has laugh with teammates during an Edmonton Eskimos practice at...

Defensive lineman Robert Brown has laugh with teammates during an Edmonton Eskimos practice at Clarke Park on Monday afternoon. (Edmonton Sun/Jason Franson)

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

According to Edmonton Eskimos head coach Danny Maciocia, it should be easier.

Yet, offensively, nothing has been easy for the club this season.

And down inside their opponents' 20-yard line is where it has been toughest for the defending Grey Cup champions.

"It wouldn't surprise me if this weekend we bring just one play when we get inside the 20," Maciocia said yesterday. "It's reached that point where we have to find a way to get that football into the end zone."

The Eskimos began preparing for the B.C. Lions yesterday. The two teams meet in Vancouver on Friday night.

INABILITY TO CONVERT

One of the Eskimos' biggest concerns heading into the contest has been their inability to convert when they get into the red zone.

"When you get inside the 20, in my opinion, it should be easier, because there are only so many things you can do defensively," said Maciocia.

"You can't have the attitude - where we're going to bend but not break - because you're running out of real estate, you can't afford to bend any more.

"It should get easier, but in our case, it's getting more difficult.

"I don't know whether we're over-thinking when we're down there. I don't know if it's the fact that we're getting down there and saying to ourselves 'We have to score,' instead of doing the things that we naturally do to get down there."

The Eskimos have scored fewer points than any other team in the CFL so far this season. However, they have the most yards passing, most completed passes and best completion percentage in the league.

Ricky Ray is the only quarterback in the league to have thrown for more than 2,000 yards this year. And he's averaging a league-best 9.1 yards per completion.

So what's the deal?

"We just have to be more aggressive down there," said Ray of converting in the red zone. "We have to continue to mix things up. I think we've been too worried about getting too many completions, picking up yards and staying out of second and long that we've gotten too conservative."

Last week against Montreal, the Eskimos were only able to score one touchdown.

This despite earning over 300 yards on offence.

"Defences right now, I don't even think they have to line up when we get inside the 20," Maciocia said. "We could go up against air and we may not complete the ball. Or we might get a false start up front."

Inopportune penalties have hurt the Eskimos this season on both sides of the ball. But defensively, the Eskimos are playing well enough to win. They've allowed the fewest points in the West this season.

LACK OF OFFENCE HAS ESKS AT 2-4

The lack of offence is the reason the Eskimos are 2-4 and at the bottom of the West standings.

"We're competing. The last two weeks we've competed and we've competed quite hard," Maciocia said. "But when we get to certain areas of the field, I almost feel like we should just have the quarterback draw up a play on the ground.

"That's our problem right now. We're going to have to find a way to shorten the field even at practice and work down there. The other thing that you have to be careful of, is if you bang and bang away at it real hard, mentally it's going to take its toll."

While their lack of offensive production is a concern, the Eskimos believe they have the tools to turn things around. For them, it's a matter of going out there and playing with confidence.

"I think we've kind of got conservative on first down a little bit," Ray said. "We're trying to get our passing game to replace our running game and are throwing underneath quite a bit. It hasn't been working for us. We need to stretch the field a little bit more, run the ball when we need to, and take some shots."


Photos