All trends have to run out eventually, and the Edmonton Eskimos killed one off Saturday with a 37-20 win over Saskatchewan. Hamilton and Winnipeg were under pressure earlier this weekend to improve their playoff position, but failed spectacularly thanks to flat efforts. That left a glorious opportunity for the Eskimos in terms of playoff positioning, and unlike the Tiger-Cats and Blue Bombers, Edmonton proved capable of taking advantage. With the victory, they've solidified their hold on a playoff berth, and they may even be able to entertain thoughts of a higher seed now.
Interestingly enough, the key figure for the Eskimos was running back Hugh Charles, and he took opportunity and ran with it in much the same way his entire team did. Charles performed well earlier this year, but his role was threatened following the acquisitions of two other star tailbacks in Cory Boyd and Jerome Messam, and he didn't seem able to get into as much of a rhythm while actively sharing carries with them. That started to change last week, when Charles picked up 67 yards and a touchdown on just 10 carries, and he did even better this week following Boyd's release and the decision to give him the ball more often. Charles received 17 carries Saturday and took full advantage of them, collecting a ridiculous 152 yards (8.9 yards per carry) and a touchdown while also adding nine yards on a catch and even throwing and completing a pass for 14 yards. Under pressure to perform, he stepped up, as did his team, making them anomalies in the CFL this weekend.
The Eskimos were also aided by quarterback Kerry Joseph's continued resurgence. Most figured Joseph was done for good after Toronto released him in January 2010, and even when Edmonton signed him at the end of the 2010 season, the thinking in most quarters was that he was there to mentor young quarterbacks only. Well, he's proving that he can still play; last week against Hamilton, he threw for 359 yards and three touchdowns with a 61.5 per cent completion rate the day after his 39th birthday (although he did have two interceptions in that game), and he was arguably even more efficient this week, completing 19 of 29 passes (65.5 per cent) for 280 yards and three touchdowns without a turnover. Joseph kept Saskatchewan off balance with his legs, too, frequently forcing the Riders to spy him and rushing three times for 36 yards on the few occasions where they didn't properly contain him.
Perhaps most impressively, Joseph didn't just continually throw to star receiver Fred Stamps this week (Stamps had 204 of the Eskimos' 359 receiving yards against Hamilton). Stamps was utilized and caught three passes for 34 yards, including an incredible touchdown grab, but Joseph also spread the ball around to everyone from Nathan Coehoorn (four catches, 77 yards and a touchdown) to Cary Koch (six catches, 69 yards and a touchdown) and Shamawd Chambers (three catches, 44 yards). This was a remarkable quarterbacking performance, and one that suggests perhaps Joseph can be a capable passer even when his top receiving option is covered. We'll see if he can maintain these levels of play, but this certainly bodes well for Edmonton.
Where do the Eskimos go from here? Well, the win puts them at 7-8 on the year, and when you couple that with 5-10 Hamilton losing Friday and 4-11 Winnipeg falling Saturday, Edmonton's chances of a crossover berth to the East seem very good. The Eskimos only have to finish one game ahead of the third-place Eastern team, so as long as they don't let Hamilton make up two games or Winnipeg make up three in the final three regular-season contests, they'll be in the postseason. They may be able to move up beyond just a crossover berth, though; the Roughriders are now only 8-7, and this win gives Edmonton that season-series tiebreaker, so they'd only need to be one game better than Saskatchewan in the final three to finish ahead of them. Even 9-6 Calgary isn't completely out of striking range (although the Stamps hold that tiebreaker, so the Eskimos would have to win all their remaining games and have Calgary lose all of theirs to pass them). Edmonton can't look too far ahead just yet, but they came through when the chips were down Saturday; that's a very good sign for their playoff prospects.