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Jones' defensive innovation gives Eskimos edge over Redblacks in Grey Cup

WINNIPEG — Edmonton Eskimos head coach Chris Jones knows all too well how good Ottawa Redblacks veteran quarterback Henry Burris can be in a Grey Cup game.

Jones was the Calgary Stampeders' defensive co-ordinator in 2008 when they won the Grey Cup with a 22-14 victory over the Montreal Alouettes at Olympic Stadium. Burris was named the game MVP after throwing for 328 yards and a TD and rushing for a team-high 79 yards on nine carries.

Jones and Burris find themselves back in the Grey Cup, although on opposite sides of the field.

Under Jones, Edmonton finished tied with Calgary for the CFL's best record at 14-4 but secured top spot in the West Division standings by winning the season series. The Eskimos then beat the defending league champions 45-31 in the West Division final.

Burris was a big reason for the huge turnaround in Ottawa. After posting a 2-16 record in their inaugural season, the Redblacks finished atop the East Division with a 12-6 record, then secured the city's first Grey Cup appearance since 1981 with a thrilling 35-28 win over Hamilton in the conference final.

Burris's 93-yard TD strike to Greg Ellingson with just over a minute remaining earned Ottawa its winning margin.

The 40-year-old quarterback has been sensational this season, registering a CFL-record 481 completions and league-leading 5,703 passing yards. And Burris has been terrific in spreading the wealth as Ottawa finished the regular season with four 1,000-yard receivers, something that creates matchup difficulties for opposing defences.

What's more, Ottawa comes into the Grey Cup on a nice roll, having won five straight games. But the Redblacks were 0-2 versus Edmonton this season and have yet to see Eskimos starter Mike Reilly up close and personal.

Reilly was hurt for both previous matchups with Ottawa after sustaining knee injury in Edmonton's season-opening loss to Toronto. Since Reilly returned as the starter, the Eskimos have reeled off nine straight victories. And that includes three against Calgary after going 0-4 to the Stampeders in 2014.

A constant for Edmonton this year has been a staunch defence, one that allowed a league-low 18.9 points per game. Ottawa counters with a solid unit — one that was ranked first in fewest yards allowed (297.6 per game), rushing yards (70.8) and most sacks (62) — but Jones is the difference-maker.

The former long-time defensive co-ordinator has a well deserved reputation for being innovative and unpredictable in his play calls. Jones is an aggressive coach who's not afraid to bring pressure from anywhere on the field. He'll drop defensive linemen into coverage and bring defensive backs on blitzes in order to pressure the passer and generally wreak havoc.

Burris was 20-of-36 passing for 162 yards and an interception in Ottawa's first meeting with Edmonton, a 46-17 loss at Commonwealth Stadium on July 10. He finished 29-of-39 for 252 yards and an interception the following week but the Eskimos left TD Place with a 23-12 victory.

The Eskimos have shown they can play defence against Ottawa and have the talent in the secondary to handle the East squad's four 1,000-yard receivers. Edmonton does boast two 1,000-yard receivers but it's Reilly who makes that offence go and the Redblacks' defence will get its first look at him Sunday.

And the combination of Jones, Reilly and nine straight wins make it hard to go against the West Division champions.

Pick — Edmonton.

Last week: 2-0.

Overall record: 49-32.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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