Argos-Eskimos Game Day

Edmonton Eskimos quarterback Kerry Joseph (DAVID BLOOM/QMI Agency)

Edmonton Eskimos quarterback Kerry Joseph (DAVID BLOOM/QMI Agency)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:09 PM ET

EASTERN SEMIFINAL


Edmonton Eskimos (7-11) vs. Toronto Argonauts (9-9)

1 p.m. at Rogers Centre

TV: TSN

Radio: 1050 TSN


TURF BITS

  • Edmonton's inability to score on its opening series is well documented, going an entire season without producing a single touchdown on its first possession; since 1996, the year following the league's expansion into the U.S., the team scoring first in Eastern playoff games have actually posted a losing record, 15-17.
  • In the long and distinguished history of Eskimos football, it's very rare for the franchise to enter the playoffs with a losing record; this year marks only the third time Edmonton advanced to football's second season with a losing mark and just the second time since 1967; the Esks lost three in a row to close out the 2012 season.
  • Only the Eskimos (49) created more turnovers than the Argos (43), a team that lost the turnover battle in losing the two-game season series to Edmonton; in the second half of the regular season, no team forced more fumbles than the Argos (12); starting corner Patrick Watkins produced five interceptions and forced two fumbles.
  • Cory Boyd started for the Argos in the season opener in Edmonton, but it was Chad Kackert who took over when Boyd was released; when Edmonton paid a visit in late August, Kackert averaged 7.3 yards a carry, but only had eight attempts given how the Argos were forced to play catch up.

FIVE THINGS WORTH WATCHING

1. Turning the page

Football is very much a game of turnovers and the team that commits the fewest amount of turnovers usually wins; it becomes even more pronounced in the post-season, a time when it's virtually impossible to advance when a team finds itself in negative territory; field position is always big, but turnovers decide playoff games; in the two-game season series, the Eskimos won both times by emerging with a plus-2 in the takeaway/giveaway category.

2. Disciples of discipline

The Argos enter the day having the biggest advantage in the form of Ricky Ray, but Ray does not line up on defence, a unit that has shown a tendency to commit far too many careless penalties; over-anxiousness gets manifested in offside calls, being mentally disengaged shows up in pass interference when players take a glance into the offensive backfield; there are many first-year players on Toronto's defence and how they react will determine a lot.

3. Run for their money

Unless Kerry Joseph is somehow able to turn back the clock, the veteran will be asked to manage Edmonton's offence, make throws to move the chains, use his feet when flushed out of the pocket or on designed run plays; the key for Edmonton's offence is to establish the line of scrimmage and run the football, which, if successful, will free up play action and the occasional boot-leg action.

4. Airing it out

The Argos have established a vertical game in the two games since Ray returned to the lineup; it'll be put to the test because the Eskimos are likely to play a lot of what's known as Tampa Two defence, help over the top that forces teams to be patient and go with underneath packages; the Argos will try to spread the field and there are enough playmakers, namely Andre Durie and Chad Owens capable of big things if matched up in man coverage.

5. Home cookin'

The Argos spent Saturday night in a downtown hotel to get away from any distractions; the team ended the year with a losing record at home (4-5) and it'll be interesting to see the crowd that shows up for Toronto's first home playoff date since 2007, the year the Argos would lose the East final to Winnipeg; Edmonton has never been a good draw, but tickets have been selling at a pace some within the Argos organization figure may come close to a turnstile total approaching 30,000.


POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN

Quarterbacks

Very much a contrast in philosophy, a battle between Ricky Ray, who will be asked to make plays, mainly through the air, and Kerry Joseph, who will asked to manage Edmonton's offence; Joseph cannot be taken for granted and he clearly has a score to settle at a venue where he once helped lead Saskatchewan to a Grey Cup title; the Argos are going to try to take away the run, force Joseph to stay in the pocket and have the veteran beat them with his arm; the Argos are fast on defence, but they must be contain conscious when Joseph decides to take off with the football; Edmonton had Ray's number in the two-game series, but he's a different quarterback and the Argos have now introduced a more vertical look on offence; Ray won't get rattled, that much is sure, and he'll spread the ball to whomever is open; if Edmonton decides to play a lot of zone, which most teams do against Ray, then it's incumbent on Ray to take when Edmonton gives him.

Edge: Argos

Backs and Receivers

There's versatility and options with Edmonton, a scatback-type player in Hugh Charles, who can run and be used as a receiving threat, and a downhill runner in Cory Boyd; no one has Chad Kackert's burst and the Argos need to establish some kind of balance, at worse stay away from second and long situations; no receiver enters the post-season hotter than Fred Stamps, who will have to deal with some zone looks and the predictable press man coverage when the Argos come with full-out blitz packages; with Ray now in complete control, he makes every receiver better on the Argos, who can push it deep with a healthy Dontrelle Inman and go underneath with Chad Owens and Andre Durie.

Edge: Argos

Offensive line

Another area where the Ray factor comes into play, a group that will be without Wayne Smith, who tore his triceps in last week's season finale against Hamilton; protection will be huge with the Argos, opening holes for the run game to operate for the Eskimos; if Edmonton can control the line of scrimmage, it'll make Joseph's job that much easier; if the Argos, with the help of Kackert in blitz pickup, gives Ray time to go through his progression, Toronto's offence has the potential to be very dynamic.

Edge: Even

Front Seven

Whether it's J.C. Sherritt, Damaso Munoz, Brandon Isaac or a Marcus Ball, the game features some pretty athletic and ball-hawking linebackers who will make plays; upfront, there's some strong and stout linemen who will be asked to provide a push up the middle; health has been a concern with Edmonton, while the Argos had the luxury of resting some incumbents last week; discipline has been an issue with the Argos, who simply must be assignment sound and poised.

Edge: Edmonton

Secondary

Eight players who will line up in the back end of both defences ended the regular season with at least four interceptions, led by Esks corner Joe Burnett, the CFL leader with six; Edmonton will not win if it does not force turnovers and the Argos won't win if this unit yields big plays; Argos halfback Ahmad Carroll will be tested because the Esks feel he's vulnerable in man coverage; the Argos used Pat Watkins at halfback last week, moving him from his normal corner slot; Jordan Younger, Toronto's starting free safety, is as mentally tough as any player in the CFL.

Edge: Edmonton

Special Teams

There's no post-season experience to speak of when mentioning the likes of Swayze Waters and Grant Shaw, whose leg strength can't be questioned; the key will be veteran Noel Prefontaine, who isn't afraid to roll the dice if a third-down gamble in a punting formation presents itself; Chad Owens can score on any return, but the fact remains he did not produce a single return TD all season and has now gone more than one full calendar year without a special teams major.

Edge: Toronto


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