EDMONTON — It’s early days, but the 2-0 Edmonton Eskimos’ mad-dog defence is setting the tone for takeaways in the 2014 CFL season.
Under new head coach Chris Jones, the Eskimos are off the charts in the CFL’s takeaway/giveaway chart at plus-seven. Four other teams are a distant second at plus-one.
Of the 18 interceptions in the league after week two, seven have been by the Eskimos.
“Those are momentum changers,” said defensive back Aaron Grymes, who is tied for the team lead with two interceptions.
“It’s more than a stat. Those help you win games.”
It’s also a far cry from last season, when the Eskimos were second worst in the league at minus-15 en route to a 4-14 record and the fourth missed playoff opportunity in eight seasons.
The defence credits Jones’s up-tempo practices that so far have the Eskimos finding a second gear in the fourth quarter while their opponents are running on fumes.
Grymes said ball security and takeaways are emphasized by Jones in practice drills given that turnovers have a psychological as well as a tactical impact.
That philosophy was highlighted in last week’s 28-24 Edmonton win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, when Eskimo defensive back Patrick Watkins literally took the ball away. Midway through the fourth quarter, with the Ticats up 24-14, Watkins grabbed a hold of scrambling quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.
One second Masoli was running one direction, the next second Watkins had the ball and was racing 50 yards the other way for a touchdown.
“Once we got that score it did kind of put us on a roll,” said Jones.
“It’s pretty tough for the offence when the opposing team’s offence doesn’t have to come on the field and they get a score. That’s tough, mentally.”
Grymes said pressure upfield from the Eskimos’ defensive line is bringing hurried throws, over-throws and interceptions downfield.
“Our D-line does that every game, every series,” said Grymes.
“I tell them that on the sideline. When I come off, I say ’D-line, you make it easy on us. Keep making it easy on us and we’ll return the favour.’
The Eskimos are second in the league with eight sacks. Defensive lineman Odell Willis has three and defensive tackle Almondo Sewell has two.
Grymes and Watkins also credit schemes hatched by Jones and his coaching staff, leaving opposing quarterbacks unsure where the pressure is coming from.
Against Hamilton, Ticats quarterback Zach Collaros was hammered in tandem by Grymes and linebacker Eric Samuels coming off the left end, while a defensive lineman dropped off into coverage on the far side.
Watkins said while the Eskimos are off to a good start, that’s all it is.
“We have to be consistent. Just because we’re good one week, two weeks doesn’t mean anything. This is a game where you’ve got to put together runs (of wins),” said Watkins.
The Eskimos will try to go 3-0 when they host the Ottawa Redblacks on Friday night at Commonwealth Stadium.