Argos versus Eskimos comes down to possession

Edmonton Eskimos quarterback Kerry Joseph looks to pass the ball against the Alouettes during their...

Edmonton Eskimos quarterback Kerry Joseph looks to pass the ball against the Alouettes during their game in Montreal on Oct. 28. (Olivier Jean/REUTERS)

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:29 PM ET

EDMONTON - TORONTO — There’s a better place to be at 11 a.m. Edmonton time on Remembrance Day.

But that’s when they’ll hold the coin toss for the East Division semifinal. And seldom does a game come along where the coin toss is considered all that crucial.

“If we win the coin toss, we’re going to take the ball,” said Eskimos’ head coach Kavis Reed.

“It’s very important that we get established on offence from the start of the game.”

That’s one thing the Eskimos haven’t done all season.

“That’s been well-documented,” Reed said of his team’s offensive ineptitude in first series , which saw the Eskimos lose eight of their last 10 and three games in a row to end the season.

Edmonton went all 18 regular-season games without scoring a single touchdown on first possession, managing just two field goals and a single while getting outscored 86-59.

The Eskimos were 1-7 when they were down after the first quarter, the Argos 7-2 when they were up after 15 minutes.

“We need to start fast. Kerry Joseph is the best choice for that, with his experience and understanding of the Argos defence,” said Reed, offering that having the 39-year-old starting ahead of hot-hand rookie Matt Nichols is very much based on that.

It’ll be Joseph’s sixth start in the playoffs. He’s 4-1.

But the examination of Edmonton’s starts has been focused on the failure of the offence and was a factor in Reed taking over as offensive co-ordinator from Marcus Crandell after losing all five games in September.

“We’ve struggled. We know that. We need to hit them in the mouth to start the game,” said Joseph, an ex-Argo who’s hoping to “have one to put in my memory bank for the rest of my life” with a win today.

But there’s the other side of the ball as well.

“We have not been very successful when the defence has been on the field for the opposition’s first possession,” said Reed, who figures a good start might make all the difference in the world for his team, which is listed as an 18-1 long shot to win the Grey Cup.

“It’s huge. It’s easy to get on the offence for things like that, but the defence ... we haven’t started well in a while. You look at the Montreal game, it seems like we didn’t wake up until the second half. We have to put our offence in a better position.

“As much as people get on the offence, I think it’s all defence ... because at the end of the day if the other team doesn’t score, they don’t win. When you’re in an away stadium against Ricky (Ray), you’ve got to get your offence in a good position.

“We need to keep Ricky and a high-powered Argos offence off the field.”

On the flip side, the Argos have been a good team in those situations.

“We’ve done fairly well,” said Toronto coach Scott Milanovich.

“We’ve started quick; I don’t know what the numbers are, but we’ve had a lot of touchdowns on first drives.”

Six touchdowns! A total of 49 points on first possessions.

You don’t think the start is important?

Toronto outscored Edmonton 49-7 on first possessions!

Reed has been selling his team, which saw GM Eric Tillman fired the day after the final regular-season game, that this is now next year.

“It’s a new season. We expect to play like a new team,” said receiver Fred Stamps.

“It’s been a difficult year, but the team is prepared physically and mentally to play,” added Reed.

The Eskimos had 76 different players involved in at least one regular-season game this year.

With so many new players, equipment man Dwayne Mandrusiak has been flashing a Grey Cup ring on each hand (2003 and 2005) to make sure everybody knows what they’re playing for.

The 2012 Eskimos are the seventh Western team to make it into the Eastern Division playoffs as a crossover team, and the idea of them spoiling Toronto’s 100th Grey Cup celebrations by becoming the first crossover team to make it to the Grey Cup wasn’t far beneath the surface Saturday.

With that in mind, I put in a request to bodog.ca to quote odds on an Edmonton-Calgary 100th Grey Cup game in Toronto.

They came up with one: 20-to-1.

Call it a hunch. I put down $100.

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca

Twitter@sunterryjones


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