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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Run more? How about run better

A bad ground game is worse than no ground game

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It's only Week 2 of the CFL schedule, but we have already been witness to some grumblings from at least one member of the Winnipeg offensive line that wants to run the ball more.

The hope is that, as a result, the offence will be more effective and the offensive lineman's job made easier.

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The idea you will hear over and over again in newsprint, is that, "running the ball keeps the defence honest," and it certainly does, but it's never as simple as it sounds.

First and foremost, the threat of a multi-pronged attack will only change the approach of a defensive lineman in a particular kind of defence, a gap- control defence. In this scheme, everybody in the front seven has a gap they are responsible for.

When a team is capable of running the ball, and it is first down, or second and medium, a defender always has to be mindful of his gap responsibility. If your initial step at the snap of the ball is too aggressive, and therefore too long and vertical, and the offence reach blocks you the opposite way, you will lose control of your gap immediately, and that void can be exploited to great effect.

When the threat of the run is real, your first step as a defensive lineman has to be shorter so you can change direction faster to respond to the blocking scheme, and this shorter step is why offensive linemen like being able to run the ball. It makes pass blocking, when you throw on run downs, exponentially easier.

But if I'm a defender in a gap-control defence and I don't respect your ability to run the ball, I switch my approach on every snap to something many call a "jet" technique. The focus of a "jet" technique is simply to get off the ball and get upfield as fast as possible. This is a harder block for offensive linemen to make because the defence is no longer hesitating with that shorter step. They are merely screaming out of the blocks and coming at you and your quarterback without any worry of being overly aggressive.

However, in a defence like Tim Burke ran last year, which is very similar to what is being run this season, there is little difference between a defensive lineman's approach, no matter what down it is.

It is predicated on the front four penetrating and getting upfield, whether it is run or pass, which is simpler and easier to teach, and more of a risk/reward approach. The reward is that you get a lot of tackles for losses in the backfield, putting the offence in second and long. The risk is that when the offence does break a run on you, you are gashed along the lines of what we saw from Andrew Harris in the Grey Cup, when he scored a TD early in the game.

Most defences in the CFL are of the gap-control variety, so a run game is a definite edge to the offensive line, as it keeps the defenders somewhat hesitant in possible run situations. Yet this reality still doesn't make the point for offensive linemen wanting to run the ball more, especially after what we saw Week 1 in B.C. Here's why.

Nine out of 10 offensive co-ordinators want to have a balanced offence. They want to run the ball, they want to be successful running the ball, and they want to have defences respect the threat of that run.

But nine out of 10 offensive co-ordinators will also tell you that if they are losing yards every time they try to run the ball, or gaining at best two or three yards, then they are wasting a down. An incomplete pass is decidedly less harmful than a failed run that makes it second and 13.

While I think it's prudent, even with a poor showing in the first half, to make adjustments at the half and try to re-establish the run in the third quarter, the best way for an offensive line to satisfy an appetite to run the ball, is to run it effectively when the calls are initially made. To get to run the ball more, you have to run the ball well. Everything else is just an excuse.

Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays and game days in the Free Press.

Twitter: @DougBrown97

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 6, 2012 C2

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