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Friday’s Eskimos-Stampeders clash could well be another close one

Kerry Joseph and the Eskimos face the Stamps again Friday.The Calgary Stampeders and Edmonton Eskimos will face off Friday night (9 p.m. Eastern, TSN/ESPN3) in a rematch of their close Labour Day battle, and there's more on the line than just bragging rights. Both teams are 5-4 heading into this one and are tied for second place in the CFL's West Division. However, they've made it to that point in rather different fashion. Calgary's put up remarkably solid offensive numbers despite the early-season injury to starting quarterback Drew Tate, while Edmonton's offence has struggled, but has muddled through thanks to their defence's impressive performance. Despite their differing styles, these teams battled until the final play on Labour Day, and CFL fans may be in for another classic Battle of Alberta if they both play well Friday night.

For Edmonton, the crucial question is if they can get some offence to support their impressive defence. On paper, they certainly should be able to; they have three of the league's best running backs in Jerome Messam, Hugh Charles and Cory Boyd, an elite receiver in Fred Stamps, and even their ancient quarterback Kerry Joseph has had moments of brilliance. They haven't done so thus far this year, though; the Eskimos' offence sat last in net offence (311.4 yards per game), last in gain per rush (4.6 yards) and last in passes completed (139) heading into last week's games, and despite a remarkable early performance from Joseph, their offence reverted towards its typically-terrible form as the game went on. Edmonton has to find a way to utilize their offensive strengths, perhaps by rushing more (and by frequently changing running backs to give defences different looks) or by utilizing the mobility of Joseph and fellow quarterback Steven Jyles to a greater extent. It's clear that the current level of offensive performance isn't going to provide wins; the Eskimos have the potential to do more, but the question is if they'll be able to fulfill it.

On the Calgary side, there really isn't one area that stands out as particularly problematic, but there isn't much that stands out as exceptional either. The Stampeders are about average in most offensive and defensive categories on the year. They've found lots of success in the running game lately thanks to the performance of Jon Cornish and the offensive line he criticized earlier in the year, but they haven't always been able to establish the run. Similarly, there are times Kevin Glenn looks superb under centre and his overall stats are reasonably solid, but he has a knack for making terrible decisions and throwing ill-conceived interceptions at precisely the wrong moment. The Stamps have been able to pass reasonably consistently, and their team completion percentage of 67.2 per cent was the second-highest in the league heading into last weekend's action, but they have to reduce the turnovers and put up more points. It's a similar story on the defensive side of the ball, where they've made some spectacular plays but are in the middle or the bottom of the league in most statistical categories. They're not bad, but they're not great either.

This could prove to be a critical game for both the Eskimos and the Stampeders. With the teams tied for second place in the West, any result other than a tie will move one up and one down. Their inability to separate themselves from each other thus far suggests we could be in for a long fight over playoff positioning and home-field advantage in the postseason, so a head-to-head game like this might prove crucial when it's all said and done. Calgary will be out to show that their last-second Labour Day victory was no fluke, while Edmonton will be looking for redemption and a chance to regain positioning at home. We'll see if this comes down to another last-second field goal, but what these teams have done so far this year suggests that it may well be another close Battle of Alberta.

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