Edmonton - Jul. 1, 2012 - For at least one week, the critics will need to wait.
Thanks in large part to a stellar performance by the defence and a workmanlike effort from QB Steven Jyles, the Esks walked away with a 19-15 season opening victory over the Toronto Argonauts on Saturday.
In the much anticipated match up of the quarterbacks who were traded for one another in the off season, Jyles did just enough to ensure the victory completing 21 of 36 passes for 236 yards. The only blemish on the evening was a late interception. Other than that, the Esks QB did exactly what he needed to - play near mistake free football. In a style similar to Ricky Ray, he utilized lots of short and underneath passing to move the offence, namely in the first half. The only breakout play was a 38-yard catch and run with receiver Adarius Bowman en route to their only touchdown of the evening on a short run by running back Hugh Charles.
The applause should go towards the defence, limiting Ray’s productivity, registering three sacks as well as an interception. Indeed a number of defenders gave the Esks former QB fits all evening, including a big game by Almondo Sewell who got two sacks of his own.
Not to be forgotten was the contribution of the other part of the trade, kicker Grant Shaw, who was good on four of five field goals including a 44-yarder in the first quarter.
With just over 35,000 fans there to witness the return, indeed it was a nostalgic evening with the Eskimos presenting a video tribute of Ray’s nine seasons as an Eskimo on the videotron just prior to the Argos’ second possession. Ray saluted the crowd which greeted him with a 30-second standing ovation. More anxiousness would come as Ray marched the ball for the Argos in the final two minutes of the game looking for the go-ahead touchdown, a movie the fans have seen far too often over the years. But it was not meant to be on this evening as the Esks defence shut the Argos down.
Speaking of nostalgia, however, one cannot also help but recall the number of times Ray and the Esks offence left points off the board when drives stalled in the red zone during prior seasons. For the Argos, a similar script seemed to play itself out on this evening.
All along the Eskimos have not asked Jyles to be Ray, but rather to be himself. Without being certain as to who the real Jyles is, the QB silenced his critics on this night by simply playing mistake free football and not trying to win the game by himself. In an offence designed around his skill sets, it will be interesting to see if he moves around the pocket more often in future games or whether he simply becomes a drop-back passer as evidenced on this evening. Time will only tell.
Certainly Bowman had no complaints as he finished with 113 yards on the evening and was easily Jyles’ favourite target. But in an effort that was by no means game-changing, one can’t help but wonder if the team will need to rely on its defence all season long? In the immediate short term, there is no doubt of that. Talk about pressure! The biggest challenge will come when the Eskimos have to play from behind. And next on the agenda will be the madhouse that is Mosaic Stadium. Outside of a season opening victory there last year, the team has had no luck in Rider Nation recently.
Jyles gets round one. Bring on the Riders.