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CFL Preview - Edmonton (3-1) at Winnipeg (0-4)



From The Sports Network

By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor

DATE & TIME: Thursday, July 26, 8:30 p.m. (et).

GAME NOTES: It may be hard to believe, but only a few months ago the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were sizing up the British Columbia Lions in the 99th Grey Cup, and now the club stands as the only winless squad entering Week 5 of the CFL's 2012 campaign. The Bombers hope they can get on track this Thursday night when they finally open the home portion of their schedule at Canad Inns Stadium against the Edmonton Eskimos.

Winnipeg has been hit hard with injuries already, particularly at the quarterback position where first-stringer Buck Pierce suffered torn ligaments and a torn muscle in his left foot, and backup Alex Brink has also missed some action due to taking a few too many hits.

The Blue Bombers tried yet again to work their way into the win column last week and came very close before suffering a 25-22 setback at Toronto.

Brink was largely ineffective versus the Argonauts as he completed just 9-of-34 passes for 185 yards and was picked off twice. The signal-caller did hit the end zone on a one-yard run in the second quarter to cap a drive of slightly more than 50 yards, but other than that there was little to cheer about from the Winnipeg offense.

Bombers kicker Justin Palardy certainly made things interesting as he converted all five of his field goal attempts on his way to capturing CFL Special Teams Player of the Week honors. But at the same time, the Winnipeg defense proved to be too lenient in giving up nearly 400 yards of offense to the hosts and folding late in the fourth quarter when a victory was still possible.

As for the Eskimos, they are the team that has been unexpectedly successful thus far, registering three wins in four tries as they break in a new starting quarterback.

Last Friday night, Edmonton started out slow against British Columbia on the road at BC Place, scoring just six points through the first 30 minutes of action, but with the defense limiting the scoring opportunities for the Lions, the Eskimos were able to register a 27-14 victory.

Edmonton quarterback Steven Jyles, who took a shot to the head late in the third quarter and was knocked out of the game, had little to do with the victory as he completed 10-of-16 passes for 150 yards and an interception before exiting. Backup Kerry Joseph hit on 4-of-6 tosses for 60 yards but he too had a pass picked off.

Running back Hugh Charles was crucial as he gained a game-high 118 yards and scored on a five-yard effort early in the second half.

Edmonton scored 14 unanswered points to close out the meeting thanks to a couple of field goals by Grant Shaw, he booted a total of four in the meeting, and an interception returned 108 yards for a major by Joe Burnett, with the latter subsequently being named the CFL Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts.

Now at 3-1, the Eskimos are tied with Saskatchewan for the best record in the West Division and the CFL overall for that matter, somehow making it happen despite ranking next-to-last in the league in scoring with a mere 22.3 ppg.

While it may seem as though Edmonton is getting the job done with smoke and mirrors, the reality is that the defense for the Eskimos has been shouldering much of the burden through the first four games. Opponents have been limited to a mere 14.0 ppg, by far the best mark in the league, 5.5 ppg ahead of second-place Saskatchewan as the teams enter play this week.

Edmonton is getting the job done in spite of the efforts of Jyles who is completing passes at just 57.1 percent and has an efficiency ranking of 72.2 due to the fact that he has just a single TD pass and three interceptions.

Unfortunately for the Bombers, their troubles at quarterback have been well documented already and they need Brink to somehow get in gear and become a leader immediately. As a team, Winnipeg is by far the weakest passing program with a mere 49.3 percent on completions and an awful 60.4 efficiency, having tossed almost twice as many INTs (seven) as TDs (three).

As much as Winnipeg needs Brink to beef up his numbers, the signal-caller has been absolutely brutal when standing in the pocket, hitting on just 41.5 percent of his throws.

It also doesn't help that Winnipeg is by far the most lenient team in terms of points allowed, giving up a hefty 35.3 ppg.

In terms of the all-time, regular-season series between these two programs, Edmonton owns a 92-79-3 advantage dating back to 1949, thanks in part to a 42-10 romp at home over the Bombers just two weeks ago. The Esks have now taken two straight and three of the last four encounters overall.

Perhaps finally getting to play in front of a favorable crowd will buoy the hopes of the Bombers, but being the only team in the CFL that has yet to win a game has still placed them in a deep hole at this early stage nevertheless.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Edmonton 31, Winnipeg 16

07/25 10:40:46 ET


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