Despite the Edmonton Eskimos (5-5) and Hamilton Tiger-Cats (3-7) coming into Saturday's early game (3 p.m. Eastern, TSN/ESPN3) in rather different situations, the two teams are closer than one might think at first glance. Yes, the Tiger-Cats have lost five straight games while the Eskimos have only lost two in a row, and yes, Edmonton's in a playoff spot at the moment while Hamilton isn't, but both of these teams have major issues to address. Interestingly enough, this game's huge for both teams given the CFL's crossover playoff format, and oddly enough, these sides' issues are largely at opposite ends of the spectrum. The Eskimos have proven unable to consistently move the ball, while the Tiger-Cats can't seem to stop opponents. It's resistible force meets moveable object, and which side triumphs in that battle may play a vital role in who wins Saturday's matchup.
Edmonton's record on the year is okay, but their offence hasn't been. Heading into this week's action, the Eskimos were last in first downs, average gain per rush, passing yards per game, passing first downs, fumbles and passes completed, and they were second-last in total yards of net offence, completion percentage, points scored, touchdowns scored, penalties taken and penalty yards conceded. That's the mark of a pretty atrocious offensive unit. Yes, by some metrics, the passing offence has been a little better over the last few weeks, with Saturday's starter Kerry Joseph throwing for 311 and 275 yards over the last two games against Calgary and putting the Eskimos in position to win both (if only they could make a field goal). However, those performances carry their caveats; Joseph's had spectacular performances, but has also looked all of his 38 years of age at times, and he's thrown five interceptions over the last four games (and six on the year, against just five touchdowns). Meanwhile, backup Steven Jyles has been less than stellar this season, completing just 58.9 per cent of his throws and tossing four interceptions against five touchdowns. Even the run game hasn't been great, and the Eskimos are still trying to figure out how to optimally integrate Jerome Messam, Hugh Charles and Cory Boyd.
If there ever was a recipe to cure what ails an ailing offence, facing the 2012 Hamilton Tiger-Cats might just be it, though. Heading into this weekend's games, the Tiger-Cats were worst in the league in points allowed, net yards allowed, touchdowns allowed, quarterback sacks, interceptions, first downs and more. Of the 25 team defensive statistics tracked by the CFL in its weekly league-wide stats package, Hamilton was last in 21 categories heading into this week. The Tiger-Cats haven't been able to stop the pass or the run, allowing league-high figures of 313.6 and 134.6 yards per game in those categories this season, and they'll have to get a lot better if they want to have a chance of pulling off a victory and keeping their slim playoff hopes alive. Then again, if the Eskimos are salivating over the chance to face Hamilton's much-maligned defence, the Tiger-Cats may be hungry to go up against the less-than-vaunted Edmonton offence. There are plenty of statistics on their opponent for each of these struggling units to take comfort from, but whether it's the Hamilton defence or the Edmonton offence that's less awful may determine the outcome of Saturday's early game.