Calgary Stampeders look to get ground game going for CFL playoffs

CALGARY — When the weather outside is frightful, football teams need to be able to run the ball.

Looking beyond Saturday’s regular-season finale in Vancouver where Mother Nature won’t matter inside B.C. Place, to the playoffs where she will, the Calgary Stampeders could use more production from their ground game.

This season a constant rotation of personnel at running back due to injuries, the defending Grey Cup champions rank last in the CFL in rushing yards (1,247) and yards per carry (4.6).

“I would love to have more production out of it,” quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell said Wednesday. “It doesn’t necessarily mean I want to run the ball more. I just want to see us be better.

“I think our offensive line is making holes. Our running backs have to see it. Honestly, we’ve got to stay healthy.

“It’s tough when you’ve got guys switching out every two or three weeks and just not getting enough reps at it and you don’t get to visually see the holes.”

Ka’Deem Carey, the only running back to rush for over 100 yards in a game this season, broke his arm in Week 15 and underwent season-ending surgery.

Romar Morris tore his left Achilles tendon Aug. 9 in just his second game back from the same injury in his right sustained in last year’s division final.

Don Jackson went on the six-game injured list in Week 4 and has been in and out of the lineup since returning.

Vancouver’s Ante Milanovic-Litre has averaged just under 40 yards per game in the first three starts of his CFL career.

Terry Williams is a capable ball carrier, but the Stampeders prefer to use him as a returner.

Calgary is already assured a playoff berth in the CFL’s West Division, so a balanced offence is an asset in a November prairie playoff game.

“Just because it’s cold, doesn’t mean you can’t throw,” Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson said. “I would like to be more balanced, but I’m not forcing it at all.

“Certain backs do things better than other backs. It’s been hard to kind of find our identity and that sort of stuff.

“I think given the opportunity, the guys and the carries, I think we can produce. We’ve got to tweak our schemes a little bit. See if we can find the right calls.”

Saturday’s game in Vancouver matters to the Stampeders, but there will be games that matter more after it.

While Calgary (11-6) is the heavy favourite against the Lions (5-12), the Stampeders can finish anywhere from first to third in the West in the regular season’s final week.

Calgary secures a home playoff date with a victory over the Lions, but would also require a Saskatchewan loss to Edmonton to claim top spot in the West and thus host the Nov. 17 division final

Tied with idle Winnipeg at 22 points apiece, a Calgary win over B.C. gives the Stampeders the division semifinal Nov. 10 at McMahon Stadium if they don’t get help from Edmonton.

But the Blue Bombers took the season series (2-1) against Calgary, so a loss to the Lions means travelling to Winnipeg’s IG Field for the semifinal.

For a team that had a home playoff date, if not the division, locked up by mid-October the last five years, there are significant stakes in Calgary’s regular-season finale.

“I’ve got to weigh options,” Dickenson said. “I want the healthiest team. I need a team that can win a minimum of two and a maximum of three games in a row. I’ve got to weigh that in my decision.

“What am I going to do? Play a guy who is at 80 or 90 per cent or try to make him a hundred per cent for playoffs?

“There’s a lot of indecision right now. A lot of things still up in the air. We’ll put a good roster out there. We’re going to play hard and we’re going to go for it. We’ll see which guys are able to make the trip.”

Dickenson indicated Canadian middle linebacker Corey Greenwood, who led the CFL in tackles (79) before stingers forced him onto the six-game injured list Oct. 3, is close to a return.

“I would be surprised if you don’t see him soon,” Dickenson said. “I feel like he’s turned the corner.”

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