Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging

There are at least a couple of positives for 'Rider fans after last night's loss in Calgary: while his hang time left something to be desired, Eddie Johnson looks to have been a huge upgrade on the punting and kickoff performance the 'Riders have seen this year. And the team's group of receivers looks to be firing on all cylinders: three are on pace for 1,000+ yards and two more within striking distance, and all five managed at least one impressive catch last night to account for most of the 'Riders' offence.

Thus ends the good news. But there's plenty on the down side as well after a 20-point loss that by all rights should have been much worse than that.

Let's start for a change with the 'Riders' latest set of special-teams issues, as field position was a huge problem for the team all night (resulting in the offense racking up a lot of yards that didn't come close to leading to points).

While Johnson managed respectable distance on his kicks, it's worth wondering whether the kick cover units were unaccustomed to something about his style, as Deon Murphy was able to put up big returns at will on both punts and kickoffs - making for a new problem in an area that hadn't been a particular weakness yet this year. And the Stamps' big returns were all the more obvious in comparison to another weak game by Dominique Dorsey on a few fronts.

It's one thing if Dorsey doesn't have the raw speed to outrun cover teams - and I'm not sure the 'Riders would have reason to complain if Dorsey were combining moderate explosiveness with smart decisions about how to take kicks which resulted in consistent mid-range returns. But once again, Dorsey also made plenty of questionable decisions as to when and how to catch the ball, allowing Burke Dales to pin the 'Riders deep on multiple occasions by letting the ball bounce rather than making an effort to catch it on the fly. And it's hard to see what the 'Riders are getting out of a veteran returner when his of decision-making has been a consistent problem (to go with a lack of substantial returns when he has caught the ball).

Needless to say, Luca Congi's 1-for-3 performance was just icing on the cake. But in fairness to Congi, his kicking didn't figure to make much of a difference either way based on how the rest of the game played out.

Defensively, the 'Riders appeared to play well on the surface in a first half which saw the Stamps limited to 7 points. But it's worth questioning how much of that was based on the Stamps' weaknesses and choices rather than any particular defensive strength.

Both of James Patrick's interceptions seemed to be better classified as unforced errors by Henry Burris rather than the result of any great defensive play: Burris mostly succeeded in ducking the 'Riders' pressure throughout the game, and seemed to have better options on both plays than forcing the ball into the end zone. And while Nik Lewis' fumble was somewhat more directly caused by the defence, it too required a good bounce at the right time which left the Stamps scoring only seven points off of four first-half trips to the red zone.

After that first half marked by the Stamps missing their opportunities, it only took a single strike to Romby Bryant to send the 'Riders into panic mode. From that point on, Saskatchewan got little to no pressure on Burris and fell apart against the run. And not surprisingly, the end result was for Calgary to start converting after its regular marches down the field.

Meanwhile, the response from the 'Riders' offence had to be considered a disappointment as well. While its yardage looked fine on paper, the line lost most of the battles in the trenches, leaving Darien Durant to face a regular onslaught on defensive linemen. As a result, the offence put up most of its numbers thanks to spectacular receptions on low-percentage throws (which were balanced out by interceptions when similar plays went wrong), as well as Ken Miller's odd decision to leave the first-string offence on the field after the game was out of hand. But Durant and company didn't succeed either in taking control of the game when the Stamps were reeling in the second quarter, or in keeping up with Burris' production as Calgary put the game out of reach in the second half.

Of course, any team is bound to have a down game every now and then - and Burris is exactly the type of streaky quarterback who can hang a loss even on a team that's done everything it can. But the 'Riders can't plausibly claim to have met that standard yesterday - and the combination of new problems and familiar flaws in yesterday's game suggests that the team has plenty of room for improvement.

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