Edmonton returns to action after sitting idle this past week, as the Eskimos go up against the Montreal Alouettes on Friday at Percival Molson Stadium.
The Eskimos came out of the gate red hot this season, ripping off four straight wins, but even in the highly competitive West Division that start might not be enough to keep the team on pace with the rest of the squads. After crushing Winnipeg by a score of 26-3 on July 17 the Esks took a week to prepare for Calgary at home and came up short, 26-22, heading into the bye week.
Still, even with the layoff and the setback in the most recent outing, Edmonton is still tied for second place in the division standings with the Stampeders at 4-1, two points behind the Blue Bombers.
For Montreal, a team which is desperate to find a replacement for the retired Anthony Calvillo, the start to 2014 has been awful.
The effort by the Alouettes last Friday night was concerning as they were held to single digits in the scoring column for the second straight game and third time this season in a 31-5 setback versus Toronto. Almost nothing went right for the squad as it dropped to 1-4 on the campaign.
Montreal has now delivered back-to-back outings without the benefit of a single touchdown, scoring five points in contests versus British Columbia (41-5) on July 19 and the Argonauts during Week 6 action. In terms of total offense in the most recent outing, the Als generated a paltry 167 yards.
While no one single player is to blame, most of the attention falls on the quarterback position. Former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith completed just five of his 10 pass attempts, leading to 63 yards, and was on the bench for most of the last three quarters. Alex Brink came on in relief and was not much better, hitting 9-of-23 for 60 yards and an interception.
This was set up as a transition year for the Als, but the complete inability of the offense to become even a minor threat is troublesome. With the passing attack going nowhere, even running back Brandon Whitaker is taking the heat, putting up a mere 31 yards on 12 attempts on Friday night. Whitaker, who ran for more than 1,300 yards for the Als just a few seasons ago, has just one rushing touchdown on 61 attempts in 2014.
Considering the Montreal defense allowed just 290 yards to Toronto, there was a slim chance the Als could make a late run, but with punter Sean Whyte conceding in the end zone for a pair of safeties for the Argonauts in the fourth quarter, the hosts couldn't catch up.
To make matters worse the passing attack for the Als is by far the worst in the league heading into Week 7 action. The group has an efficiency rating of just 58.0 percent, the completion percentage coming in at a mind-numbing .463 which is unheard of in a league where passing is given every advantage.
Scoring a league-low 15.0 ppg, even the kicking game has left the Alouettes high and dry with a mere nine conversions on field goals. Montreal is one of only two teams, the other being Hamilton, that is averaging less than 315 ypg in total offense and the Als are way down on the list with a mere 235.6 ypg.
In an effort to give the Als a spark, the team added former CFL/NFL quarterback Jeff Garcia to the coaching staff on Monday.
Garcia will be trying to help the Als break the code against an Edmonton defense that leads the league by a wide margin with just 252.4 ypg allowed on defense. The Eskimos have allowed a league-low 53.7 percent of passes to be completed and trail only Calgary (15.4 ppg) in points allowed with 16.8 ppg at the moment.
Montreal should be wary about putting the ball in the air this week because Edmonton ranks first in interceptions with nine and is tied with the Stamps for the top spot when it comes to turnover margin with a plus-six.
Unlike the hosts this week, Edmonton has very little to worry about when it comes to the quarterback position because it has Mike Reilly, the CFL's Offensive Player for the month of July taking care business. Reilly threw for 1,142 yards and nine touchdowns and also ran for another 221 yards en route to his award.
As far as the all-time series is concerned, Edmonton owns a 37-29-2 advantage in regular-season meetings dating back to 1961 with the Als. However, Montreal won the most recent matchup in October by a score of 47-24 on the road, giving the Als a winning streak of eight in a row in the series.
The teams are slated to face each other in just over a month for the second and final time during the regular season, this time at Rogers Centre.