Kory Sheets and the Saskatchewan Roughriders trampled the Eskimos Saturday.For Edmonton Eskimos' fans, the 2013 season started about as badly as it could have. The Eskimos fell 39-18 at home to the Saskatchewan Roughriders Saturday, and just about everything imaginable went wrong for them. Highly-touted new quarterback Mike Reilly underwhelmed, the defence couldn't stop a slowly-rolling beach ball, and the Eskimos' vaunted ground game was almost nonexistent. It's just one game, and we've already discussed how that isn't enough of a sample size to panic over, but this certainly isn't good news for Edmonton. If the team doesn't improve in those crucial areas, it could be a long year for Eskimos' fans.
Reilly's play may be the most notable element here, as his acquisition was thought to be one move that might potentially help the Eskimos turn the corner. They struggled all over the board in 2012, but the poor quarterback play they received from Steven Jyles, Kerry Joseph and Matt Nichols certainly didn't help. When Reilly was brought in, and particularly when Nichols went down with a torn ACL, the thinking was that he would be the man to lead them to a capable passing offence. That didn't happen Saturday, though, as Reilly completed just 17 of his 35 passes (48.6 per cent) with three interceptions. He did throw for 259 yards and a touchdown, so he shouldn't completely be written off, especially as this was only one game, but it certainly wasn't an auspicious start for him.
The Eskimos' defensive struggles are also concerning, though. They said they were going to be far better on that side of the ball this year, but they allowed 24 points in the first half. To be fair, 7 of those came off a return of an ill-advised Reilly interception in the dying seconds of the half, so the defence wasn't on the field for that, but they didn't look all that good when they were playing. They weren't able to get much pressure on Saskatchewan quarterback Darian Durant (who threw for three touchdowns without an interception, even if he only put up 171 passing yards), only recording one sack all day (from superstar linebacker J.C. Sherritt) and they were torched for 131 yards and a touchdown by Riders' running back Kory Sheets (an average 7.7 yards per carry). That defence will have to be a lot better if this team's going to get anywhere.
The run game's absence matters too. The offseason saw a lot of talk about Eskimos' running back Hugh Charles and his skills, but he didn't really impress Saturday. Charles finished with just 22 rushing yards on five carries (4.4 yards per carry), while John White added 26 more on five carries of his own (5.2 yards per carry). The team's rushing leader was Reilly, who picked up 37 yards on four scrambles, and that's simply not sustainable. This element of Edmonton's game isn't good enough to carry them at the moment.
It's not completely dire straits for Edmonton, as this is still just their first game of the season. It's easy to turn things around in the CFL, as the Toronto Argonauts demonstrated last year when they turned a 9-9 season into a substantial playoff run (including an East semi-final win over the Eskimos) and a Grey Cup championships, and Edmonton does have lots of talent. However, there are significant questions about the makeup of this current Eskimos' team: they may have character and hopes of fulfilling glory, but how much football skill they have is debatable. Skill may show up later in the year, but it certainly wasn't present Friday night.