Friday night's CFL game (9 p.m. Eastern, TSN/NBC Sports Network) may not prove to be the greatest offensive exhibition known to man, as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Edmonton Eskimos enter it tied for last in the league with averages of just 19.8 points per game. Their offences aren't great in other statistical categories, either, but those struggles arise from different problems: Hamilton hasn't been able to pick up many yards on the ground this year (partly thanks to abandoning the run whenever they fall behind, which is often), while the Eskimos have really struggled to throw the ball. Neither defence is great either, though, so this game may be a chance for at least one of these offences to break out of their doldrums. If either one does, that may go a long way towards determining the victor here, and it may have implications beyond just this game.
The Eskimos have home-field advantage here, and their recent performance is more encouraging than Hamilton's. They've scored a somewhat-respectable 48 points over the last two games (over four points better per game than their season average) and are coming off a narrow 32-27 loss to Montreal that could have ended in their favour with better late-game clock management or different decisions from the officiating crew. Interestingly enough, though, that offensive success didn't come from the ground game that's largely carried them this year, partly because they were trailing 20-6 at halftime and elected to start throwing more. Running backs Hugh Charles (five carries, 27 yards) and John White (six carries, 18 yards) combined for just 45 rushing yards on the day. Instead, it was Edmonton's much-maligned passing game that came through.
On the year, the Eskimos' completion mark of 56.0 per cent is by far the league's worst (no one else is below 60 per cent), and the 213.6 yards they've accumulated through the air per game is second-worst only to the Alouettes (who just fired head coach Dan Hawkins, largely over offensive struggles). Last week, though, when he wasn't being inexplicably pulled for Jonathan Crompton and Kerry Joseph, quarterback Mike Reilly showed flashes of the potential that led Edmonton to trade for him this offseason, completing 16 of 28 passes (57.1 per cent) for 262 yards and two touchdowns (with an interception). There's still a lot of work for Reilly to do, but his showing last week was promising. He may get some help against Hamilton's defence, too: the Tiger-Cats have allowed a league-high 148.0 rushing yards per game, and if Charles can expose them on the ground, that could open up further passing opportunities for Reilly.
By contrast, Hamilton's offensive issues are largely about the run: specifically, their inability to consistently establish it. The Tiger-Cats are averaging a not-terrible 5.1 yards per carry (fifth in the league), but the 67.0 rushing yards they've put up per game is by far the CFL's worst number in that category, more than 10 yards per game behind the second-place Argonauts. Part of that's because they've suffered some really lopsided defeats, including a 37-0 thumping from Saskatchewan two weeks ago, but this team's shown a willingness to go away from the ground game as soon as they fall behind. That's a problematic move in general, and it may prove particularly flawed against Edmonton: the Eskimos concede 142.6 rushing yards per game, second-worst only to the Tiger-Cats themselves, but are second-best in the league against the pass, allowing just 217.4 passing yards per game thus far. Sure, Hamilton quarterback Henry Burris and his remarkable cast of receivers have been playing well thus far (the 306.2 passing yards per game the Tiger-Cats have recorded is the league's second-best stat in that category), but Edmonton's much better at stopping the pass than the run. Hamilton will need to find offensive balance to have a chance Friday night.
It's hard to consider this game as a potential turning point for either side, as both sides are 1-4 and haven't shown any signs of being able to contend this year. Even a win over weak opposition won't necessarily change that. However, if this provides a spark that can ignite either offence, that could matter. Beating another weak team's helpful, but on its own, it's just one win. If it can show you how to improve and put up a fight against better opposition going forward, though, that's much more important. We'll see if either the Eskimos or the Tiger-Cats can find their lost offences Friday.