EDMONTON — The last time the Eskimos faced the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Edmonton was on a season-opening seven-game winning streak and looked like the team to beat in the CFL West.
Sure, the margin of victory in Edmonton’s wins was often razor-thin, and it seemed every week brought another injury to one of the team’s impact players, but the Eskimos were finding ways to win.
That all changed after an 33-26 loss at Winnipeg’s Investors Field on Aug. 17. The Eskimos (7-5) have dropped five straight, most recently a 34-26 home loss to Toronto two weeks ago. They’ve fallen to third in the standings, four points behind the surging Bombers.
Now the Blue Bombers (9-3), the team that started Edmonton’s miserable run, are coming to Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday in search of their seventh win in eight games. But the Eskimos hope that the chance to recharge with a bye week, and the return of star defensive back Aaron Grymes from the NFL, will help right the ship.
"We all needed it. We all needed a recharge," Eskimos head coach Jason Maas told reporters this week. "We always split the season into thirds, and I’m so thankful this bye happened to be going into our last third.
"No matter how well we played in the first or second third, this last third was just going to be what it is. It’s a grind, there’s a lot on the line … but however we ended that last six (games), however our psyche was, it’s a lot different now."
While a win against Winnipeg by any score is the priority, the Eskimos would like to win by eight points or more to take the season series with the Bombers. Edmonton enters Saturday’s game four points back of Winnipeg for second place in the West.
"Obviously you want to win the season series, and that has to be accomplished by beating them by eight points, but the focus is on winning," Maas said. "We need a win. We understand that. We’re not looking back, we’re not looking ahead."
To get back on track the Eskimos will have to figure out a way to contain Winnipeg’s offence, which leads the league with 409 points scored. The hope is Grymes, who joined the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles after helping the Eskimos win the 2015 Grey Cup, can get up to speed quickly and make an immediate impact on defence despite spending the last season and a half on practice roster duty.
"I kind of knew that they needed a little bit of help, but whether they were fully healthy at 13-0 or 0-13, Edmonton was where I wanted to play at," said Grymes, who will be playing under a new head coach and defensive co-ordinator in his second stint in Edmonton.
Despite their frustrating recent run, the Eskimos do still boast a potent offence led by star quarterback Mike Reilly. Bombers coach Mike O’Shea knows trying to intimidate the Edmonton pivot is no easy task.
"I know will try," O’Shea told reporters in Winnipeg on Thursday. "But I don’t know that he gets uncomfortable. You’ve seen the rugged style of his game. I think he’ll adapt to whatever situation comes at him, and he’ll stand in there and throw the football."