Eskimos have league’s stingiest defence, but Bombers believe theirs stacks up

Eskimos quarterback Trevor Harris (right) gets rid of the ball as he is pressured by Blue Bombers’ Jackson Jeffcoat during their late-June meeting in Winnipeg. Harris has 3,051 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and just two interceptions this season. (KEVIN KING/WINNIPEG SUN FILES)

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Many people in the CFL would suggest the Edmonton Eskimos have the league’s best defence and the numbers support that argument.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall believes his dozen can give the Eskimos a run for their money.

The Eskimos have allowed the fewest points (18.2 per game), while the Bombers are second best (19.0). The Eskimos are tops in yards allowed (258.3 per game), the Bombers third (306.6). Winnipeg is first in run defence (66.4 yards per game), Edmonton third (88.3) and finally Edmonton is tops in pass defence (193.9 per game) and Winnipeg is fourth (264.7).

All in all, you would have to lean toward the Eskimos, but there’s one stat Hall remembers over all the others.

“We kept them out of the end zone and that’s the bottom line,” Hall said, looking back at the Bombers 28-21 win over the Eskimos at IG Field on June 27.

The Bombers lead the West Division with a 7-2 record, while the Eskimos are second at 6-3. Defence has been huge for both teams, but where the Eskimos have outshone the Bombers is on offence.

Quarterback Trevor Harris is leading a unit that is first in net yards (433), first downs (223), passing yards (339) and sacks allowed (3). The Bombers aren’t likely to match those kinds of numbers with their offence, especially with No. 1 quarterback Matt Nichols out of the lineup.

“Yes, but I think our defence has been good, too, and it’s gonna be hard for them to score points,” Hall said. “I look forward to it being a defensive game.

“He’s the same Trevor Harris and it’s the same team we played a few weeks back. We have the capability of stopping them. We have to go out and play a very disciplined game to do it.”

The key, of course, will be disrupting Harris, who is known for his ability to make quick throws, and plays behind a stellar offensive line.

That disruption simply hasn’t happened this year. Harris has had all kinds of time to throw the football and has made teams pay with 260 completions, 3,051 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and just two interceptions.

He’s a leading candidate for most outstanding player through half a season, along with Bombers running back Andrew Harris.

He even threw for 345 yards against the Bombers in Week 3, though he didn’t have any success in the red zone.

“This week we’re hoping we’ll be able to get back there and make him uncomfortable, make him move his feet, move around in the pocket and make it hard for him to find his first and second receivers,” Bombers defensive end Willie Jefferson said. “That’s what he likes to do, get back there and quick-pass.

“If we can make it so he has to look for his third and fourth option and check down, that would be a win for us.”

While there’s no question the Eskimos have been good, they have been beaten three times and are still in second place behind the Bombers. The Bombers have been the league’s best three-phase team in the first half of the season and their defence has been getting consistently stronger. The defensive line has been causing chaos in the backfield and the Bombers have 13 interceptions and have forced 27 total turnovers.

“They are one of the best O-lines that we’re gonna play against but we feel like we have as good of a D-line as they have an O-line,” defensive back Marcus Sayles said. “We can put DB blitzes in as well and have guys coming off the edge. Our coaches always have plans to take care of that. If we can get Trevor Harris rattled, I think we’ll have success.”

Rattling him won’t exactly be easy. Harris is in his eighth CFL season and is thriving under Eskimos head coach Jason Maas, as is top receiver Greg Ellingson, who also moved to Edmonton from Ottawa in the off-season.

“Trevor is just very efficient,” Bombers defensive back Winston Rose said. “He’s a veteran and he’s very good at dissecting the defence. He’s got experience. He’s been around Ricky Ray and Henry Burris and he’s a smart veteran player.”

Winnipeg doesn’t have that same luxury at quarterback where second-year pro Chris Streveler is starting in place of injured No. 1 Matt Nichols. He’ll need plenty of support from the running game, the defence and special teams to have any chance of winning.

“We know it’s probably gonna be a defensive game,” Sayles said. “If we can keep our offence on the field as long as possible we’ll have success. Streveler has won us games in the past and we’ll be behind him.”

The Eskimos have not lost at home this season, while the Bombers are 2-2 on the road, losing their last two.

“Business as usual,” CFL interceptions leader Rose said. “We don’t feel like we need to pick up the offence. We’ll just play our game, let the offence play its game and then it will all come together.”

Battle of two great defensive lines

Willie Jefferson might be a bit biased, but he believes the key to the Edmonton Eskimos’ success is their defensive line.

A defensive end himself, Jefferson believes Edmonton’s fearsome D-line, which leads the CFL with 30 sacks, is not only terrorizing opposing offences, but putting their own offence – and league-leading quarterback Trevor Harris – in good week-to-week situations.

“I feel like he’s like that because of the defensive line that he has, going against those guys at practice during the week,” Jefferson said. ” That gives him the comfortability, when it comes to game time, to sit back there in the pocket and throw the ball.”

The Eskimos defensive line is anchored by veteran tackle Almondo Sewell, who’s very presence makes everyone around him better.

“Competition amongst each other makes teams a lot better,” Jefferson said. “If you have a great defensive line, it tends to make your quarterback and your offensive line a lot better.”

You could say the same thing about Jefferson, and the impact he’s had on the Bombers this year.

“We have a similar defensive line,” he said. “We’re physical, get off the line fast and we’re disruptive.”

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