July 15, 2013

Sheets running on untouched grounds


Steve Daniel | CFL Head Statistician

Saskatchewan’s Kory Sheets has started the 2013 CFL season in spectacular fashion leading the Riders to three straight wins for the third time in the last four years.

The Green and White are now halfway to their best-ever start in 2008 when they won six in a row off the top. Sheets leads the CFL in yards from scrimmage with 491 after finishing third with a total of 1,794 yards or 99.7 per game just behind BC’s Andrew Harris and Calgary’s Jon Cornish last season.

This season, Sheets has 491 yards from scrimmage already and that puts him at 163.7 yards per game. Though just three weeks in, he is on pace for 2,946 yards from scrimmage which would easily eclipse the CFL record set by Mike Pringle at 2,414 in 1994 (and tied by Pringle again in 1998).

The other and certainly more noticeable record that Kory threatens is of course the CFL rushing mark set by Mike Pringle in 1998 at 2,065 yards. That equates to nearly 115 yards per game and in that year Pringle also set the 100-yard game standard at 14 including 13 in a row (from July 31st to October 25th). 

But … Pringle was a notoriously slow starter and tended to get his yards in bunches and later in the season, so even in 1998 he had just 256 yards three weeks into the year. This has led us into new ground for our CFL Record Book and an effort to establish new marks for: Most Yards Rushing to Start a Season and Most Yards Rushing in Consecutive Games.

This is where Sheets’ terrific start to 2013 comes in as he has picked up 442 rushing yards in his first three games – but off the top we have to put that into historical perspective. The first element to take into account is one of the most fundamental changes in our game itself – that of the long-term shift from a running game into today’s “passing league”. The best evidence for this trend is the number of total rushing attempts per game and that has changed as follows:

Period          Per Gm        Period          Per Gm
1954-1959    70.7        1990-1999    41.7
1960-1969    60.4        2000-2009    40.8
1970-1979    54.3        2010-2013    38.7
1980-1989    43.3        (In 2013)      37.7

So this makes it clear why the Rushing section of our CFL Record Book is filled with predominantly early (or earlier) players such as Johnny Bright, George Reed, Willie Burden, Normie Kwong and Mike Pringle (though the latter was a throw-back to be sure). The additional consideration and one that works the other way is that despite more than 60 rushes per game in 1950s and 1960s and fewer today, they tended to be spread out over a larger number of players i.e. not many five-receiver packages in those days.

The halfback of the early days is often the slotback of today – and they don’t run the ball that much. Toronto’s Andre Durie is an excellent example of that shift in today’s game to more receivers which features a single running back getting the bulk of the work.

Getting back to Kory Sheets, and with the above changes in the game in mind where rushing is a much smaller percentage of the net yards gained, his 442 yards (147.3 per game on pace for 2600+ after three outings) is even more amazing. This is especially true in that only 33% of the time do clubs run the ball in our “passing league”. In researching extant records:

No CFL player has ever started with as many rushing yards in the first three games as Kory Sheets.

The largest total after three games ever recorded before 2013 was made by Willie Burden of the Calgary Stampeders in 1975 with 411. Burden rushed for game totals of 70, 159 and 182 in Games #1-3 and went on to make it five 100-yard games in a row.

The record for that category is 13 straight 100s by Mike Pringle in 1998 (Jul 31/98 to Oct 25/98) with Johnny Bright of Edmonton (1957) and Willard Reaves of Winnipeg (1984) second at 8 straight efforts over 100 yards. Their best consecutive rushing totals were all later in the season than right off the start which is a common theme in the CFL Record Book for rushing.

With Kory’s mark of 442 yards recognized as the best start off the top of the season, where does that three-game run put him overall? Not close … given the feats of Mike Pringle who had 548 yards in one stretch. He posted back-to-back-to-back yardages of 186, 127 and 235 in late 1998 and pushed that to a record 651 over four games.

The most recent threat to that consistency was made by John Avery in 2002 with 643 yards from Sep 13/02 to Oct 6/02 (181, 157, 150 & 155). Pringle had several other major three-game totals including 496, 494 and 489 yards with Avery’s best at 488 next followed by Willard Reaves at 485 in 1984.

So let’s wrap up with a brief Q & A on Kory Sheets’ current run:

•    How does Kory Sheets’ 442 yard rushing total in three games compare to Rider great George Reed?  Reed’s best-ever three-game run was in October 1965 when he had 438 yards (26, 268 & 144) so that makes it clear that Sheets’ start to a season is even better as well. Sheets can tie Rider record holders Reed and Mike Strickland (1978) if he gets a fourth straight 100-yard game next week vs Hamilton at Mosaic Stadium.

•    When was the last time a CFL player had an extended run of 100-yard games?  Daniel Porter of Edmonton had four straight 100’s in October-November 2010 (171, 121, 102 & 153).  The most recent six-game run of 100-yard games?  Avon Cobourne had six in a row in 2008 and that stands as the fourth-best all-time streak (behind Pringle 13, Bright 8, and Reaves 8).

•    The last three-game 100-yard stretch by a Rider? Wes Cates in 2008 with totals of 107, 130 and 139.

•    What is the Saskatchewan record for 100-yard rushing games in a season?  George Reed had nine 100-yard efforts in 1965 so that will be a challenging target for 2013.

•    Prior to Kory’s streak, the most recent 400-yard plus totals in three games?  Jon Cornish of Calgary in August 2012 had 415 yards (159, 71 & 185), DeAndra’ Cobb of Hamilton in Sep-Oct 2010 had 418 (151, 166 & 101), and Fred Reid of Winnipeg had 476 yards over three games (167, 49 & 260) in August 2009.

•    Kory Sheets has made 26 rushes in each of his last two games. When was the last time a CFL player registered 25+ carries back-to-back?  Troy Davis had 25 on Oct 8/04 and followed that up with 29 more on Oct 15/04. The CFL record carries in two consecutive games?  George Reed in October 1975 with 61 (27 & 34).

And getting back to the opening points made about Kory Sheets’ contributions to Rider success thus far, teams that can rush the ball tend to win more often.  In 2012 for example, clubs that reached 100 rushing yards went 53-21 (.716), and at 100+ yards this year so far are 7-1 (.875).

No team has won a game in 2013 without reaching at least 90 yards on the ground. Going back to 1996 in a long-term look of this indicator, clubs have a winning percentage of .657 when they rush for 100 yards or more.

And finally from a Riders’ perspective, in George Reed’s fabulous career he had 25+ carries on 21 occasions and the Riders went 17-4  (.810) in those games.  Saskatchewan is 3-0 in Kory Sheets’ current great run … and that is the better number – especially in times where the run is the less featured offensive option.