Mad GMs: Eskimos-Bombers clash features two teams desperate to change the conversation

One of the more memorable lines in AMC's Mad Men comes in season three's Love Among The Ruins, where ad executive Don Draper tells one real-estate type annoyed with the negative public reaction to his proposed demolition of Penn Station and construction of Madison Square Garden, "If you don't like what is being said, then change the conversation." Both of the teams in Friday night's CFL clash (9 p.m. Eastern, TSN/ESPN3) are already trying that, as Edmonton Eskimos' general manager Eric Tillman is attempting to take the attention from his team's dismal 17-1 loss last week with comments about regretting the Ricky Ray trade, and Winnipeg general manager Joe Mack is presiding over a team that (along with recent Bombers) is insisting that their 0-2 start isn't reflective of its quality. Spin only gets you so far without results, though; Draper's planned spin on the Madison Square Garden project only helps because the opponents can't stop the change, and the Bombers' and Eskimos' attempts to move conversation away from the negatives will be far more effective if they're able to come out with a victory Friday.

For Edmonton, the crucial element in any victory will be effective quarterback play, and this is where Tillman's tactics are a brilliant move worthy of Draper. His comments about perhaps not making the Ray trade have shifted much of the media focus to the quarterback the Eskimos don't have any more, and they've reduced the spotlight on current quarterbacks Steven Jyles and Kerry Joseph. That's a positive thing, as any light shed on those players exposes harsh flaws; they're about as useful as Freddy Rumsen was to the agency during his alcoholic period. Through two games, Jyles has completed just 31 of 55 passes (56.4 per cent) for 327 yards with no touchdowns and an interception, while Joseph's stint in relief last week was even worse (four completions on eight attempts, 34 yards, no touchdowns and an interception). The 38-year-old Joseph is probably a lost cause at this point, but Jyles could potentially be better if the Eskimos' offence is tweaked to emphasize his mobility. He'll need to perform well to get into Eskimos' fans good graces, though, much as Rumsen needed to sober up and bring in a new account in order to return to the agency.

On the Winnipeg front, general manager Joe Mack has been much quieter than Tillman (since his offseason criticism of players criticizing him, at least). He's not exactly taking out ads in The New York Times, so his conversation-changing tactics are more subtle; stay in the background, keep things running and let others be the face of the company, perhaps along the lines of Lane Pryce's approach. Success is still needed for that to work, though, and for the Bombers, that will have to start up front; the generally-inexperienced and frequently-changing offensive line has been a story for all the wrong reasons through the first two weeks, giving up four sacks against B.C. and three against Montreal while often struggling to run-block effectively and consistently, and the defensive line has proven incapable of generating any pressure following the departures of Doug Brown (retirement) and Odell Willis (trade). Even if things get better for the Bombers, though, much like Pryce, there are past actions that could come back to haunt Mack.

Winning Friday night's game would go a long way towards helping either general manager change the conversation in their city, but they can't both come out on top (unless we wind up with one of the CFL's rarely-seen ties). There are more gradual accomplishments each could record, though, and those matter too; not every account has to be Lucky Strike or Jaguar. For Tillman, a strong quarterbacking performance from Jyles would help tremendously even if the Eskimos lose, while for Mack, impressive play from the offensive or defensive line (or both) would aid in minimizing the criticism he's getting for the offseason departures of players like Willis and Brendon LaBatte. Both teams are desperate to change how they're perceived; we'll see if either or both can pull it off.

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