Esks defence leads the way

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:16 AM ET

They're Rich Stubler's 'Little Gnats.'

And they're Edmonton's biggest hopes of getting the Eskimos back into a home playoff game for the first time since 2004 and back to the Grey Cup for the first time since the last time they won it in 2005.

You may have noticed that the Eskimos defence is back to playing like they were at the start of the season when they helped stake Edmonton to a 5-0 start.

"Coach Stubler has been trying to get us back to how we were playing at the start of the year when he called us the 'Little Gnats'. That's what we're trying to get back to -- 12 guys going to the ball, 12 guys playing with a lot of speed, 12 guys swarming around," said linebacker Rod Davis.

"You just can't get away. That's the way we were at the start of the season. We're back to that again now."

Stubler is taking his group to Toronto where he was fired as a head coach feeling good about the Eskimos heading down the homestretch in the CFL season where the Eskimos are tied for first and in control of their own destiny.

"We're playing like little gnats again and that makes me feel good. We're flying around again."

That, you could see from the stands in their somewhat surprising (if anything about this gloriously unpredictable season can be considered surprising) 24-10 win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

"The day after the game, on their day off, the entire group showed up to watch film together. Sometimes that will happen with the line or the defensive backs or the linebackers, but this was everybody and they were all watching together. Those things are really important. I really like this group of people.

"I'm excited where we are," says Stubler.

"These guys are young, flying around, impressionable and live on emotion, which is a good thing for a defence.

"If we can keep this group together for four or five years, we're going to have some fun around here."

Statistically the Eskimos are right up there in what Stubler sees as the key categories.

Only the B.C. Lions (322) have given up fewer points than the Eskimos (328).

Edmonton and Montreal are tied in fewest first downs allowed at 82. And Edmonton is third (31) in touchdowns allowed to B.C. (28) and Montreal (30).

Stubler says football can look like a complicated game, but it's not, really. Play hard and fast and swarm to the football was what made his defence good right out of the box. And it's been the story in holding Saskatchewan to one point and Winnipeg to 10 in the last two games.

So what happened in between?

"Well, we played through a lot of injuries. Rod Davis. T.J. Hill. Greg Peach ...

"They're all catalysts for our group. They're all healthy and back big for us.

"I think there was a point where our players were aware that other guys were not there, so they were hesitant to go and chose to survive to play another down," added Stubler of getting away from their own game.

"The communication is finally good and that makes my heart feel good, too."

"This was a different system, a different thought process involving different people," said Stubler of his returning to Edmonton as defensive co-ordinator with a lot of changes in personnel as well.

"It was a big new jigsaw puzzle that we put together but then we lost a few pieces."

Davis said group dynamics on defence is what makes them and breaks them.

"Each of us individually had to come together to get back to just trying to do their part instead of looking around at the injuries we had or whatever when we got trying to do someone else's job. After the injuries it took a while to get all 12 guys responsible and playing together.

"We know what we're capable of here. But we don't know, too. We're not likely to get overconfident about anything. That's a good thing. The sky is the limit," said Davis.

"All 12 guys have bought into this together. We've all come to realize we can have something special."

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones


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