CALGARY - If you don’t get much of a rush watching CFL offences this year, there is a good reason for that.
Compared with last season, rushing yardage is down 12% after one-third of the schedule has been completed.
The strange part about that is the number of carries has actually increased — from 39.2 per game as opposed to 39.0 in 2010.
Offences just aren’t moving the ball along the ground with the same efficiency, as the total yards are down to 207.8 per game compared to 234.8 in 2010.
This is the biggest drop in rushing yardage since 1991 to ’92 when the CFL came out of a historically high year for offence.
“It’s the defensive play,” said Stampeders tailback Joffrey Reynolds, one of a few players whose numbers are down this season. “Teams are scheming against the rush. They are bringing in extra pressure with defensive backs. It’s almost like they are run blitzing.
“You don’t see huge yardage like you used to. In years past, the backs have been ahead of where they are now.”
It seems there are a number of factors as to why rushing yardage is down.
Certainly the defences are getting the best of offence overall this year, and there is an influx of dynamic young athletes making their marks. Players such as Odell Willis, JC Sherritt and Solomon Elimimian, among others, have had dominant performances, while the overall speed and skill on defence is improved as teams use more import talent on that side of the ball.
The athleticism of defensive ends has also led to offences not utilizing the zone read (quarterback to running back option play) that was prevalent over the past few years, and often those led to big rushing yards.
Injuries have also thrown a few rushing attacks out of whack. The Toronto Argonauts got decent yardage from Chad Kackert, but he certainly isn’t Cory Boyd. The Saskatchewan Roughriders have played the past two-plus games without Wes Cates, and Hugh Charles hasn’t delivered what the veteran produces.
In three cities, it’s running back by committee, as the Stampeders, the B.C. Lions and the Edmonton Eskimos spread the ball around in their respective running attacks. That doesn’t allow the main feature back to get into a groove, where he can pile up huge yardage late in games.
The scores this season are also closer. Nine of the 24 games so far have been decided by a TD or less, which hasn’t given teams with big leads a chance to kill clock with the ground attack.
After six weeks, there are still three running backs — Montreal Alouettes’ Brandon Whitaker, Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ Avon Cobourne and Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Fred Reid — who would be on pace for 1,000-yard seasons.
In 2009, there were seven 1,000-yard rushers in the CFL. But if a perennial 1,000-yard rusher like Reynolds is off the pace, you know something’s amiss.