CFL Preview - Saskatchewan (3-2) at Edmonton (3-2) (ET)
GAME NOTES: A couple of teams tied for second place in the CFL's West Division get back to business on Friday night, as the Edmonton Eskimos entertain the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Commonwealth Stadium.
Last week, both teams enjoyed a bye after each opened the season with three wins in five chances, but during the time off they both watched as the British Columbia Lions assumed sole possession of first place in the division with an 18-9 triumph over Toronto on Monday.
For the first few weeks of the season, the Roughriders were the hottest team in the league thanks to three straight victories. However, the tide turned for Saskatchewan on July 19 when the squad was upended by Calgary on the road in overtime, 41-38. Nine days later, the Riders were handed another close loss as they bowed to Hamilton at home in a 35-34 final.
As for the Eskimos, they captured wins in three of their first four games, but on July 26 the squad also felt the sting of a one-point loss as it was held down by Winnipeg on the road in a narrow 23-22 final.
Edmonton heads into this week as the weakest scoring team in the league, having put up a mere 111 points over the course of five games. In terms of scoring average, the Esks (22.2 ppg) are ahead of only Winnipeg (21.2 ppg) at the moment, but that's only because the Blue Bombers have already played through their sixth game of the season.
Moving quarterback Ricky Ray during the offseason to the Toronto Argonauts may have looked like a good idea at the time, and while the Eskimos are above .500 at this stage, they have done so in spite of the efforts of Steven Jyles who is now the full-time signal-caller. Jyles has one of the lowest efficiency ratings (79.3) in the league due to the fact that he has converted just 56.3 percent of his pass attempts and has just as many interceptions (3) as he does touchdowns.
The rushing attack for the Eskimos is far below average as well, ranking second-to-last in the league with just 440 yards total.
Clearly it is the defense that is driving the Eskimos these days, the unit holding opponents to a mere 79 points over five games. Every other team in the league has permitted at least 113 points thus far.
Edmonton has been persistent in slowing down opposing passing attacks, combining 14 sacks (second-most) with a pass defense that has permitted just 4 TDs, which is the fewest in the league.
For the Roughriders, quarterback Darian Durant has thrown the fewest INTs of any regular starter at the position, tossing just 2 picks on 170 attempts. The signal-caller has accounted for all but two of his team's 1,366 passing yards.
Even though Durant isn't lighting up the sky with his passing proficiency, the offense for the Riders does have other options to rely on, namely running back Korey Sheets who is currently fifth in the league in rushing with 362 yards, averaging 5.5 ypc. Better yet, Sheets has easily scored the most rushing touchdowns to date with 6, no one else in the league has more than 3.
These two squads clashed during the second week of the season on Saskatchewan's turf, with the home team posting a 17-1 victory. During that meeting the teams combined for just seven points through the first three quarters and it wasn't until Sheets reached the end zone on a 34-yard run for the Riders in the fourth quarter that they were able to breathe a bit easier.
Sheets finished with a game-high 89 yards rushing, easily topping the effort put forth by the entire Edmonton rushing attack which accounted for only 63 yards total. Jyles and backup quarterback Kerry Joseph combined for just 125 yards through the air and were each sacked three times as the Eskimos generated a total of only 188 yards of offense.
The all-time, regular-season series between these two teams stands at 111-82-2, favoring Edmonton which had taken three in a row from Saskatchewan entering the 2012 campaign.
Obviously the Eskimos have revenge as a motivating factor in this meeting, but at the same time Saskatchewan knows that it limited Edmonton to just a single point the first time around, and the defense is capable of putting together another solid effort this week as well.