EDMONTON — Common sense suggests the Edmonton Eskimos chances of beating the Montreal Alouettes today improve greatly if they can keep the ball in the hands of Arkee Whitlock and Calvin McCarty and out of the grasp of Anthony Calvillo.
The trick is translating that game plan from the chalkboard to the turf at Commonwealth Stadium (TSN, 7:30 p.m.).
The Eskimos are fresh from compiling 140 rushing yards in a 38-33 comeback win against the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Saturday and will be looking to redeem themselves after being clobbered 50-16 by the Alouettes in Montreal on July 9.
The Eskimos have struggled with the running game this season and would like to see more improvement this week. Saturday was their first 100-yard-plus rushing effort in four outings this season and just their 12th in 40 games since the start of the 2007 season.
“In order for us to be effective, we have to be able to effectively run the football,” Eskimos head coach Richie Hall said. “That opens up everything for us. It allows our offensive line to be aggressive. It takes pressure off our receivers and our quarterback and it makes the opposition have to defend the whole play book”.
Down 22-0 to the Roughriders, the tandem of Whitlock and McCarty was the unlikely catalyst of a rousing comeback. McCarty carried nine times for 76 yards and two touchdowns and Whitlock had 13 carries for 63 yards and scored the winning touchdown.
An effective ground game is a component the 2-2 Eskimos have lacked, as opposing defences have had the luxury of ignoring the run while zeroing in on quarterback Ricky Ray and his receivers.
“Offensively, it just opens everything up for you,” Ray said. “When you’re running the football well, it just keeps everybody honest. We’ve been so one-dimensional around here that defences don’t have to play the whole field.
“For our guys on the offensive line, they get to fire off and hit somebody when you run the ball. They love that. They’re cutting guys, they’re getting angles on guys, hitting them in the ear-hole. They’re not sitting there the whole game pass-blocking.”
After managing just 62 rushing yards in the loss in Montreal, Hall and offensive co-ordinator Rick Worman will again be looking to Whitlock and McCarty, who have been spelling each other off at running back.
“It helps everybody out,” McCarty said.
“It helps Ricky out. It helps the line out. It helps the receivers out. It helps everybody. When you can run the ball, it’s another dimension.”
While there have been calls by some for McCarty to get more touches, he also plays special teams. Mixing in Whitlock, then, is a product of design rather than indecision.
“Arkee has developed confidence and McCarty’s played well, too,” Worman said. “What people have to understand is McCarty is a good special teams player. We can’t use him all the time. It’s to our advantage that we have both of them back there.”
It could be a memorable game for Calvillo, who needs 34 yards to reach 60,000 in his career.
“This is a positive thing,” Calvillo said earlier this week in Montreal. “To be so close to 60,000 is going to be special. To be able to play for so many years and stay healthy, but you’ve got to be able to be on a good team. You’re not going to be able to do this by just by going out there. You need to be surrounded by great talent, no matter who you are.”