Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging

The party line after the 'Riders' hard-fought win over Edmonton yesterday seems to be that the team's resilience in coming back to beat the Eskimos should be taken as a sign of greatness. But I'd think the more important lesson in a home game where Saskatchewan narrowly beat the lone winless team in the CFL is that the 'Riders still have a ways yet to go before reaching that level - and that there's room for improvement in both strategy and execution.

On the offensive side of the ball, yesterday's game will hopefully be the worst we'll see out of both Darian Durant and Weston Dressler this season - Durant due to his poor accuracy through the first half in particular, and Dressler in combining one glaring drop with a lack of production. Durant at least recovered to throw a couple of picturesque passes (as well as pile up decent yardage thanks largely to yards after catches), while Dressler's off game didn't hurt too much with Andy Fantuz, Rob Bagg and Chris Getzlaf all having their moments catching the ball.

But while those struggles from two star performers may not have been in the game plan, it shouldn't have come as much surprise that the passing game would face some complications in yesterday's windy conditions. And that makes the play calling somewhat surprising: the running attack was virtually ignored for an entire quarter after the 'Riders' first-quarter field goal, and only received about equal use even after it proved to be extremely effective later on.

Of course, that has a lot to do with Doug Berry's aggressive offensive philosophy which is generally a positive for the 'Riders. But a team needs to adapt to conditions - and the 'Riders spent far more time yesterday flailing around with an inconsistent passing game than they needed to under the circumstances.

On defence, meanwhile, the most important story continues to be the 'Riders' effectiveness against the run. Once again, Saskatchewan held a marquee running back to about 50 yards of production, which combined with some effective red-zone play and a sudden rediscovery of the concept of the "turnover" to keep all but one of the Esks in check.

But there is some reason for concern with the one player who did run wild. For the third week in a row the 'Riders' defence was torched by the opponents' top speed receiver, and the damage has been increasing by the game: from 106 for Kerry Watkins on opening day, to 169 for Geroy Simon against B.C., to 213 for Fred Stamps yesterday. That hasn't necessarily been the result of exploiting similar weaknesses (Watkins did most of his damage downfield in one-on-one matchups, while Stamps racked up his yardage finding holes underneath), but it seems to make for a pattern that the 'Riders will need to break.

As for the special teams...the less said about them, the better. I'm not sure the 'Riders have much choice but to give Louie Sakoda and Dominique Dorsey each a mulligan, but the team's patience must be wearing thin when neither has contributed much previously to make up for yesterday's train wreck. And while those roster spots at least provide some expectation for improvement later on, it can't be too reassuring that last season's weak points on special teams are reemerging with a vengeance.

In sum, while any team will ultimately take a win, yesterday's game seemed to say more about what the 'Riders still have to work on than what they've managed to build so far. And hopefully next week's contest against Calgary will see not just the return of the 'Riders' lethal offence of the first two games, but also some progress in the problem areas.

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