SPORTS

Eskimos hold edge on Riders for West semifinal

11/13/2014 02:08 EST | Updated 01/12/2015 05:59 EST
The Edmonton Eskimos (12-6) will defeat the Saskatchewan Roughriders (10-8) in the West semifinal on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET.

Fans … here are your quarterback matchups: Mike Reilly for the Eskies vs. Darian Durant for the Riders. Or, Mike Reilly vs. Kerry Joseph. Or, Matt Nichols vs. either Darian Durant or Kerry Joseph. Or Mike Reilly and Matt Nichols vs. Kerry Joseph and Darian Durant.

Put another way, only an idiot would wager on this game. Better to purchase one of those famous 50-50 tickets at Commonwealth Stadium.

Neither team seemed to know through Wednesday what its quarterback situation is, though the Eskimos were leaning to backup Nichols with star starter Reilly “available.” Gotta love that because if Reilly is “available,” why isn’t he starting?

He’s not that available.

Then there’s Durant, who went out eight games ago with a torn tendon in his throwing elbow, causing the defending champs to completely implode. He’s been tossing … not throwing … for about a week now and we won’t know until game time if their stud will be “available.”

Let’s go with what we do know.

First, the Eskimos score more points (almost an unconverted touchdown a game) than the Riders. Then, the Eskimos give up less points (almost an unconverted touchdown a game) than the Riders.

So that’s about an 11-point difference when added together.

Led by Odell Willis, Willie Jefferson, J.C. Sherritt and Dexter McCoil, the Eskimos’ D can dominate, especially in the cold where it’s difficult to hold onto that ball, let alone throw it.

There is not a single key defensive category in which Edmonton’s top-ranked unit trails Saskatchewan, and most of them they lead by quite a distance after this deeply disappointing year in Regina for a unit that was supposed to still intimidate.

Eskimos have stellar defence

All of this means, if the Riders are to move the ball they have to run it, something they did well in the meaningless final tilt between these clubs last week. That could have been an aberration, however, as Edmonton has the second best run defence in the league and rested a number of starters.

It also suggests Durant starts over the slow, 41-year-old Joseph. Especially since Rider runner Anthony Allen is also hurt and could be on one wheel Sunday.

Losing Reilly would help the Rider defence tremendously (even in face of Nichols’ strong game last week) as he can throw and run. If he really has a broken bone in his foot, however, Reilly becomes one dimensional and that’s always dangerous.

Adarius Bowman is a fabulous target for the QB – one that’s harder to find if you can’t run around in the pocket.

Looks like an easy one for Edmonton, really, except for a few factors.

The Eskimos turned over the ball 41 times this year, seven more than the Riders. And they can do it at inopportune times. Also, Edmonton is terribly undisciplined, giving up a league-worst 1,806 yards on 205 flags.

Saskatchewan only had 1,523 yards, second best.

Final point: Chris Jones, the rookie boss in Edmonton who should be coach of the year, has shown an inclination to make head-scratching tactical decisions at times this season. One of those could turn things around.

Can’t see it though. The pick here is Edmonton.

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