EDMONTON - The Edmonton Eskimos are No. 3 in the CFL in points against, No. 2 in points for and, much to their dismay, No. 1 in penalties and penalty yards.
Last week, Edmonton paid for its penalty problem, falling to the Toronto Argonauts 33-32 in a game in which the Eskimos lost 224 total yards on 18 infractions to bring their season total to 167 penalties for 1,484 yards.
As the Eskimos prepare to host the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Monday, they're hoping to change that.
"It's something that was unbelievably frustrating, as big a part of us losing that game as anything," said linebacker J.C. Sherritt.
"The ones we're mad about are the blatant holding on special teams, late hits that can be avoided, those are the things we have to fix. ... To me, it falls on the players' shoulders to make a conscious decision to do the right thing when you're in a certain situation."
A few weeks back, head coach Chris Jones had officials at the team practices, calling infractions during scrimmages to try to remedy the problem. But that didn't seem to work.
In Toronto, Edmonton took two unnecessary roughing penalties after the play, both of which led to fourth-quarter field goals for the Argos.
"Those are the differences between wins and losses," said veteran quarterback Matt Nichols. "When you give up over 200 yards in penalties and lose by a point, you can figure you had a good chance to win that game."
While offensive lineman Matt O'Donnell said the Toronto loss couldn't be blamed totally on penalties, he admitted they were "definitely holding us back as a team."
"We have so much potential on offence and defence, but we're hurting ourselves," O'Donnell said. "We really have to work on cutting them down the last four games."
Jones said he doesn't know why the Eskimos are taking so many penalties, but said the players have to be more disciplined.
He also said players are told each week who the officiating crew will be for their upcoming game and what their tendencies are towards calls.
Nichols, meanwhile, said the Eskimos have an overall aggressive nature which sometimes catches up to them.
"Coaches have been harping on us all year about our penalties," he said. "A lot of our penalties are bad decisions guys are making, not the little holding here or there, it's the extra stuff after the whistle, things you can prevent.
"The issue is guys getting caught up in personal battles. A guy on the other team grinds on you a bit for three quarters, you start making bad decisions and take a shot at him after the play is over."
Despite their penalty issues, the Eskimos are still 9-5 and tied for second place in the West with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
They play their final four games against West Division teams, including two against Saskatchewan.
"We have pretty good control of our own destiny as far as at least hosting a first-round playoff game," said Nichols. "This team has what it takes to win a championship and things like penalties can ruin that chance for us.
"So we have to address that before we get into the playoffs."