Despite only scoring seven points and having their offence shown up by a jackrabbit, the Edmonton Eskimos were in Monday's Labour Day Classic until the final minutes. They eventually fell 16-7 to Calgary and wasted both a great defensive effort and a comeback from injured quarterback Mike Reilly, and that certainly raises questions about their offence going forward. However, the defensive performance Edmonton turned in against a terrific Calgary offence may be something to build on. The Eskimos will clearly have to get more offensive production than they did this week if they're going to go anywhere this season, but this game suggested that Edmonton's defence may be good enough to keep them in contests even when the offence isn't firing on all cylinders. Eskimos' fans certainly won't be thrilled at losing their 12th-straight game (and their fourth-straight Labour Day Classic) to the Stampeders, but there were some positive signs in this one, and those shouldn't be overlooked despite the less-than-stellar final score.
Calgary has one of this league's most impressive offences, but for most of Monday's game,Edmonton was able to thoroughly hold them in check. Stampeders' quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell completed 24 of 36 passes on the day, 66.7 per cent, but he was held to 251 yards and one touchdown with one interception, and the pressure the Eskimos' defence brought on him was a big part of that. Edmonton only recorded two sacks on the day (from linebacker J.C. Sherritt and defensive tackle Almondo Sewell), but Eskimos' defenders were around Mitchell much of the day, making his life very difficult. The secondary also had a great day, with cornerbacks Patrick Watkins and John Ojo regularly breaking up passes and Watkins recording an interception. Moreover, Edmonton was able to limit Calgary's running game, holding the Stampeders to 49 rushing yards on 16 carries and ensuring that primary running back Matt Walter only collected 26 yards on nine carries. Calgary's lone touchdown came from a remarkable diving catch from Greg Wilson in tight coverage, and the Stampeders were only able to get to 16 points thanks to kicker Rene Paredes drilling all three of his field goals (including a late long-range one to all but ice the game). That kind of defensive effort would lead to a win on most days in this league.
Of course, it didn't lead to a win for the Eskimos Monday, and the offence has to answer some questions as a result of that. Starting quarterback James Franklin was largely ineffective, completing just 13 of 28 passes (46.4 per cent) for 105 yards. Reilly was better once he came in, throwing for 90 yards despite a late start, but his efficiency needed work too; he completed just five of his 12 pass attempts (41.7 per cent). Some of that was on the Edmonton receivers, as there were plenty of questionable drops, but the quarterbacks' accuracy needed work too. Moreover, the Eskimos had no ground game; they collected just 42 rushing yards, with starting running back Chad Simpson picking up just 11 (on four carries) and Reilly and Franklin adding 31 more (25 for Reilly and six for Franklin on three carries each). Playing like that, Edmonton wouldn't even be competitive in most CFL games. They were Monday thanks to a superlative effort from their defence, and that does bode well for them going forward, but unless there's offensive improvement, this team may not get that far.