October 22, 2008
Esks see Wes Cates runSixth-place run defence in the CFL faces a major challenge against Riders star
By JONATHAN HUNTINGTON, SUN MEDIA
What do the Toronto Argos, Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Edmonton Eskimos have in common this year?
All three CFL clubs are having an extremely difficult time stopping the opposition's running game.
Considering the Green and Gold enter Saturday's game in Regina against the Saskatchewan Roughriders (5 p.m., TSN) with a 9-7 record, imagine how good Edmonton would be if they could stop the run.
The Eskimos have given up 1,865 rushing yards this year, for an average of 116.6 a game.
That is the sixth-worst total in the eight-team league and puts the Esks on pace for 2,098 yards against this year. Only Hamilton and Toronto have struggled more this year.
But that total could actually be much higher by the end of the regular season because the Esks are facing the high-powered Roughrider running attack this weekend.
Saskatchewan ran the ball down Hamilton's throat last week for a total of 254 yards.
That number should send shivers down the spine of every Eskimo defensive lineman this week.
"Their whole offensive game plan (in Saskatchewan this week) revolves around 20 (Wes Cates) and their quarterback," said Edmonton lineman Jim Davis, knowing the Riders have mobile pivots.
"They like to run the ball and with Cates back it is a huge, huge boost for them because now they can start running their offence again - start pounding the rock and doing more play action and pass off those things.
"Most important is stopping the run."
That is something Edmonton has had trouble with for the last two years. In fact, since the start of 2006 only one CFL team - the Argos - has given up more rushing yards than Edmonton.
"To win games you have to be able to stop the run," said defensive co-ordinator Rick Campbell.
And every week the Esks know the opposition is going to try to establish a run game.
But more times than not, Edmonton loses the battle on the line of scrimmage.
"It always tends to come down to one guy not making the right play or not doing his job," said Edmonton assistant coach A.J. Gass, who was the club's middle linebacker last year. "Sometimes we will be so good across the board and just have that one mess-up and that is where it hits.
"We haven't had a really solid run defence since '05 (2005). A lot of that is personnel changes but is also about consistency and doing your job. That is where we have been hurt.
"I think we are a little bit more focused this week on stopping the run."
If you go back to 2005, Edmonton had the top run defence in the league, giving up just 1,425 yards.
The Esks won the Grey Cup that year.
Ever since, the run defence has been exposed.
In a rather shocking stat, no less than 17 defensive linemen - who have actually dressed for a game - in the last three years have been cut or shipped out of town by the Esks.
The list includes: Rahim Abdullah, Charles Alston, Zach Anderson, Stevie Baggs, Robert Brown, Tim Cheatwood, Sherrod Coates, Antico Dalton, Kenny Hollis, Jabari Issa, Michael Jean-Louis, Isaac Keys, Jermaine Lee, Joe Montford, Andre Sommersell, Randy Spencer and Ron Warner.
This year the Esks have used nine different players in a starting role on the four-man defensive front.
So, the revolving door on the D-line is surely part of the reason for why this team has trouble containing opposing running backs.
It appears there could be at least two more changes on the front four - Dario Romero and Jim Davis possibly returning - this week, as this club searches for the right answer.