EDMONTON — If the lowly 2-7 Edmonton Eskimos are going to pull off the miracle win of the 2010 CFL season Friday by beating the 8-1 Calgary Stampeders, they have to figure out the punishing, befuddling schemes of Calgary defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones.
Jones’ multiple sets, one of which featured just a single down lineman, allowed the Stamps headhunters to throw Edmonton confused quarterback Ricky Ray around like a rag doll and hold the Esks to just five yards rushing in a 52-5 butt-kicking on Labour Day Monday.
At one point the confusion prompted Ray to hand the ball off to running back Pascal Fils, then try to take it back, causing a fumble.
The two teams clash again today at Commonwealth Stadium (TSN, 7 p.m.) and Eskimo centre Aaron Fiacconi predicted Jones will have something new to throw at them. “It’s pick your poison,” said Fiacconi.
“They seem to do a good job week in and week out of throwing a new wrinkle in, changing the scheme, showing something different that’s going to make it tough for an offensive line to adjust.
“They challenge you to the point you’re either going to throw out the white flag or you’re going to give up hits and sacks, or be on your heels and not know what to do.
“It seemed to have happened two times down there in Calgary, where we lacked answers and didn’t have a way to counterpunch their defence. It leaves you with a real empty feeling.”
The Edmonton offensive line has been pilloried this season as the weakest spot on a very weak team, particularly on pass protection, with the guards and centre likened to pylons and the tackles becoming turnstiles.
The squad, which canned line coach Jeff Bleamer and released veteran Joe McGrath last month, juggled the starters again this week. Veteran tackle Calvin Armstrong was cut — a victim of poor play and his coveted import status. Tackle Jeremy Parquet will move to the left side on Friday to protect Ray’s back while second-year man Greg Wojt will get a start on the right side. Patrick Kabongo and Kyle Koch remain in the guard spots.
Adding injury to Monday’s insult, starting running back Arkee Whitlock will not play Friday due to an ankle injury. Import Brad Lester, signed as a free agent just over two weeks ago, will start in his place.
That mean’s Lester, 24, got one day of practice this week on a wider field than he’s used to in order to play the best defence in the league.
“Hey, stuff happens,” said Lester, who spent 2009 on the New Orleans Saints practice roster.
“You just have to show up to play when the ball’s snapped.”
He said the team attitude toward Calgary has changed since Monday: “They’re coming to our house and there’s no way they’re going to do that in our house,” he said. “It’s about pride and giving everything you have and not laying down.”
It’s the final meeting of the year between the two teams and Edmonton will be happy to have the red and white in its rear view mirror. The 2010 Battle of Alberta has become the Debacle of Alberta. The Stamps have outscored Edmonton 108-20 in two one-sided beatdowns.
The team is now being compared to the woeful double-E squads of the 1960s. Some critics have gone even further, labelling them the worst group ever to suit up in green and gold.
The turmoil has reached deep into the front office. The Esks have already fired general manager Danny Maciocia. The team’s board of directors had planned to wait until the off-season to replace him, but has now moved the timetable up to immediately given Monday’s collapse. In seven losses this year, three have been blowouts, and one was a last-minute defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.
“This has been the toughest season I’ve gone through in my professional career, but you just keep looking forward. That’s all you can do is live in the moment,” said Ray.
“It’s my ninth season and I’ve never seen a year this tumultuous,” he said. “Our organization, it’s a sick organization right now. We’re troubled (but) we have the power to heal it.”