The final month of the regular season begins with the Edmonton Elks travelling to BMO Field to take on the Toronto Argonauts on Friday night.
The Week 18 opener has major playoff implications for Edmonton as they remain tied with Calgary and trail Saskatchewan by two games in the West Division.
The stakes aren’t as high for the Argonauts, who are coming off their second loss of the season after dropping a 31-21 decision to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Week 17. The team has already clinched the East Division and will host the Eastern Final on Nov. 11 at BMO Field. The Argos may feel an extra pressure to perform in front of a number of alumni that will be at the game as part of the team’s celebration of its 150th anniversary.
Much like the Bombers, the Elks pose an effective run game that is the centre of their offence. Quarterback Tre Ford and running back Kevin Brown have combined for 1,536 yards and seven touchdowns on the season. Generating offence on the ground is important but won’t be easy against a top-ranked Argos front that’s holding opposing rushers to 81 yards per game.
In the two teams’ first meeting back in Week 2, which ended 43-31 Argos win, Brown was held to 16 yards on six carries and Ford didn’t play. Defensive linemen Thomas Costigan, Folarin Orimolade and linebacker Adarius Pickett all played well in that game and need to step up again against a much more confident Brown and Ford.
Knowing the talent of the defensive front he’s up against, Ford may be more apt to look downfield. When he does he’ll target Dillon Mitchell, who had a pair of touchdown catches in their loss to BC last week. Aside from the recent strong play of Mitchell, Kyran Moore and Eugene Lewis have 613 and 592 yards apiece.
With the Argos allowing 300.9 yards through the air per game, opportunities should present themselves but that doesn’t mean they don’t have playmakers in the secondary. Defensive back Qwan’tez Stiggers had a pick against the Bombers and leads a group that also features the talented Royce Metchie. It’s a unit that needs a collective effort without the likes of Jamal Peters, who’s out with a groin issue, and Robertson Daniel.
Quarterback Chad Kelly checks back in for the Double Blue after getting last week’s game in Winnipeg off. Having established himself as one of the most versatile pivots in the league, the Elks defence needs to be aware of Kelly’s ability to drop back and use his legs. He’s fourth in the league with 3,396 passing yards, third with 21 touchdown passes and second in rushing touchdowns with eight.
The Elks’ front, which is giving up 134.7 rushing yards per game, also has to deal with AJ Ouellette, who is 106 yards shy of 1,000. After getting most of last week’s game off, Ouellette should be well rested and ready to go for the milestone.
Defensive lineman Jake Ceresna had two sacks against the Leos and leads a run defence that also relies heavily on A.C. Leonard.
Against the pass, the Elks’ secondary has been respectable thanks to strong play from defensive backs Ed Gainey, Kai Gray and Loucheiz Purifoy. Team interceptions leader Marcus Lewis is out with a calf injury, which leaves a significant hole.
DaVaris Daniels tops all Argos’ receivers with 775 yards but Kelly has shown he has no problem spreading his targets among the likes of Dejon Brissett, Damonte Coxie and Tommy Nield.
The Elks are in desperate need of a victory if they hope to stay in the playoff conversation.
The Argos are aiming to improve their home record to a perfect 9-0.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET. Fans in Canada can watch on TSN and RDS, while American viewers can tune into CBS Sports Network. International viewers can catch the game on CFL+.