When Esks can run, they win

Eskimos running back Jerome Messam had a more than decent outing against the Tiger-Cats last...

Eskimos running back Jerome Messam had a more than decent outing against the Tiger-Cats last Friday. (MIKE CASSESE/Reuters)

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:15 PM ET

EDMONTON - One more time, offensive line.

Play it again Messam.

Do it again Eskimos.

There’s no use waiting until Thursday and the pre-game press conferences to get to this. When the Edmonton Eskimos played the Montreal Alouettes earlier this season, there were three key statistics:

Number of rushes – 7

Yards rushing – minus 1

Jerome Messam – minus 4.

“You can be assured we’re going to revisit that a lot this week,” said head coach Kavis Reed as he took

his team back to work Monday to prepare for Friday’s visit by the back-to-back Grey Cup champion Als.

Reed, who has seven wins to for his rookie season as head coach, has been into self scouting lately.

“We’re 7-0 when we rush 20 or more times,” he said.

In order, the number of rushes by the Eskimos in their wins this season: 29, 33, 31, 20, 23, 31 and 26.

Number of rushes in their losses: 18, 7, 9, 15.

“When we run the ball 20 or more times, we win the time of possession battle,” he added after the 26-carry, 224-yard rushing game in which Messam registered 139 and two touchdowns and had a 37:39-22:21 edge in time of possession.

Reed believes time of possession is the most important statistic in football.

“In the CFL, with the small rosters and a lot of defensive players having roles on special teams, keeping

the defense off the field is a major determining factor in your success.

“When you control time of possession, that’s the one stat that is overlooked. When you control time of possession you control the tempo of the game. I’m a keen believer in that stat.”

Having the ball for 36:39, 38:02, 38:50 and 37:39 in four of those games illustrates the dramatic difference.

“Running the ball also makes it less likely for the opposition to bring pressure,” he added.

There’s also an emotional factor here.

“When the offence runs the football, it really builds us up, really pumps us up,” swears Rod Davis of the guys on defence.

“As a defensive guy, you know what demoralizes you most? It’s seeing the offensive line opening up big holes and getting big gains. When we see our offensive line and running backs doing that, it brings so much energy to us. It pumps us up. There are two things that pumps us up the most. No. 1 is to see Ricky Ray run for a first down. No. 2 is to see one of our running backs do it.

“And time of possession is huge. If you’re on defence and you’re only playing 50 plays a game instead of 60 or 70, you’re going to play faster and more physical football. If we can keep our play count down to 50 we’re going to be pretty damn tough,” added Davis.

“I love watching the backs get big gains while we’re watching on the sidelines,” said Greg Peach.

“When they’ve got it going Messam and McCarty are like thunder and lightning. Jerome never goes down on the first hit. Never. And Calvin is a running back slash receiver. When we get the running game, going the whole team gets confidence from it.”

With four new starters from the first game of the season and the other switching positions and that group playing consecutive games together for the first time all year, you can understand the troubles offensive line coach Tim Prinsen has seen.

So along comes this game against the back-to-back Grey Cup champions, a team the Eskimos haven’t beaten in two years.

It’s the litmus test for the allegedly new improved offensive line, Messam in particular but also the concept of a Canadian combo with Calvin McCarty in the feature running back spot while sending imports Arkee Whitlock and Daniel Porter to the unemployment line.

“In Montreal we were dominated up front,” said Reed.

“I truly believe the offensive line is now capable of helping us to hit the century mark rushing every game.”

This would be the game for him to find out about that.

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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