Esks spread around ground game
By Gerry Moddejonge, QMI Agency
|Jerome Messam runs the ball in Saturday's game against the B.C. Lions. (Perry Mah, Edmonton Sun)
EDMONTON - It's one of the most telling statistics in three-down football.
When your run game is working, everything is working, which is why the 3-0 Edmonton Eskimos have yet to rush for less than 140 yards a game.
So far for the Eskimos, everything is working because everything is working together, meaning those yards are credited to more than the running backs.
"The guys are doing an exceptional job up front, they're creating holes for them," said head coach Kavis Reed. "Our receivers are blocking very well. Our guys are running hard and downhill. They're not making a lot of decisions in the backfield, they're making decisions as they are going downhill, so that is a positive for us."
With 422 rushing yards in three games, the Eskimos lead the pack ahead of the only other undefeated team, the Montreal Alouettes, who have 376, while the two teams yet to earn a win this season bring up the rear — 191 yards by the Saskatchewan Roughriders and 158 by the B.C. Lions.
But the Eskimos didn't just build on their running game during the offseason.
The evolution to their current rushing form began with a focus on pass protection, bringing in former NFL offensive lineman Dennis McKnight to coach the unit.
"It goes hand in hand when the quarterback's throwing the ball good, the receivers are catching it, the line's blocking it, now they've got a play," said the long-time San Diego Charger, who also blocked for Barry Sanders with the Detroit Lions. "So us being able to pass a ball as good and efficient as we have has helped the run game."
And with Ricky Ray throwing for a league-high 72% completions, and an efficiency rating of 130.4 compared to Anthony Calvillo's second-place 118.4. No other starting quarterback in the league is over 80.
"That's why I think the balance that we've had has helped us get to the point we're at," McKnight said
While the Eskimos have rushed for a league-most 93 times, they have attempted the fewest passes with 92, giving them a 1-1 pass-run ratio compared to 1.84-1 for the rest of the league.
It's a balanced attack that has kept opposing defences guessing, not only whether to play the pass or run, but also which Eskimos running back will be on the field.
"I think the reason it's working is because in practice, we've split the reps right down the line," McKnight said. "And the good thing about it is the guys have been good about it."
On paper, veteran non-import Calvin McCarty is the starter, but takes no issue with his teammates rotating through the position.
"Everybody in the group, they bring a different dimension to the game, but still have to be accounted for on the field so there is no drop-off with Daniel Porter or Jerome Messam or me in there," McCarty said. "Everybody has to be accounted for. Also, knowing it's an 18-plus-game regular season, it's a marathon, not a race.
"You look down south, a lot of teams are going with the same idea of two guys, maybe three, maybe even a third-down guy coming in, it might just be more of an evolution of the game a little bit."