Case for the defence

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:18 AM ET

Steve Buratto noticed the change real quickly.

When the Toronto Argonauts offensive co-ordinator was preparing for the Edmonton Eskimos earlier this month, he saw the Green and Gold's different defence.

Gone was Edmonton's more predictable package used in the first half of the season.

CONFUSING

The adjustment to more confusing and effective defensive schemes came in the second half of the Labour Day series.

And the statistics certainly show a significant turnaround.

In the first nine games of the year, the Eskimos defensive unit gave up an average of 29 points a game. In the second half of this regular-season - which started with the Labour Day rematch at Commonwealth Stadium - the Esks' defence is giving up an average of just 18 points a game.

"We mixed it up," said defensive back Stanford Samuels on the changes in the last six games - which is the second half of the season. "We played more zone than we were playing before - just not being predictable.

"Coach Campbell has been doing a great job the last six games of mixing coverages up, keeping the offensive co-ordinators guessing and the offence guessing."

That's Rick Campbell - next to Danny Maciocia, the coach who takes plenty of criticism.

"I don't know how much credit Rick Campbell will ever get in Edmonton just because in 2005 the heart and soul of our team was our defence," said Maciocia. "We led in 16 or 17 categories and it seemed the answer to that was because we had quality players."

Getting some consistency on defence this fall is directly tied to the 2007 defensive turnaround.

In the first nine games, the Esks were without key starters like middle linebacker A.J. Gass for three games, cornerback Omarr Morgan twice, halfback Jason Goss once (dressed as backup) and Samuels for a game.

This all came in addition to several new starters getting used to each other.

In the second half of this season, the foursome of Gass, Goss, Morgan and Samuels missed just one game.

"That just goes to prove some of the things that we have been saying around here for the last little while," continued Maciocia.

"If you give some of these guys an opportunity to stick together for a period of time we think they can be pretty special.

"A longtime Eskimo told me the other night (after) watching the (B.C.) game (last weekend) he thought that defensive performance was as good as any the last 10 to 15 years.

"That says quite a bit."

Edmonton held CFL leading rusher Joe Smith to just 40 yards.

The defence also had two interceptions - one called back on a penalty.

And kept the dangerous B.C. passing attack in check with the exception of a 93-yard reception by Jason Clermont.

"The greatest thing we did from that (Labour Day series) on was (we) kept consistent players," added Gass.

COMFORTABLE

With defensive backs becoming more comfortable together, they can begin to show different looks, which allows the front seven to get more pressure.

"If (the QB) can figure out pre-snap what we are going to do (in the secondary) it is very simple for him to find the open guy and hit it right now," continued Gass. "When he has got to think - that split second - that is when the pressure gets there."

The Eskimos will need another huge defensive effort on Saturday in Vancouver to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.


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