Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging

The Saskatchewan Roughriders' victory over Hamilton yesterday may serve as the perfect summary of the team's season. While the 'Riders showed plenty of vulnerability on both sides of the ball, they managed to make enough big plays to pull out the game in the end. And the result was another notch in the win column - if not a clear statement that the 'Riders can keep piling them up in the future.

The story offensively was of course the number of jaw-dropping receptions that made for key plays on the 'Riders' touchdown drives. Presumably thanks in part to the wind in Hamilton, Darien Durant's deep throws weren't quite as precise as they'd been the previous week - but thanks to the stellar play of Weston Dressler, Rob Bagg and Andy Fantuz, they nonetheless connected more often than not. And the Ticats' fear of the bomb managed to open up enough room underneath for the 'Riders to do fairly well in the ball-control department as well (even if Wes Cates seems to have slowed back down after showing a bit more burst early in the season).

So the 'Riders' offense generally looked long as one doesn't take turnovers into account. But Durant did serve up a couple of stinkers: an interception by Dylan Barker on a pass that looked doomed from the beginning, and a fumble on Saskatchewan's last offensive play of the game that gave Hamilton new life when the 'Riders had a chance to put the game away. And the timing of the latter giveaway looks like a particularly strong indication that Durant is still working on deciding when it's worth taking risks.

Meanwhile, the defence had a fairly easy answer to the same question about risk-taking - as it spent the entire game trading off big plays for the chance at turnovers, with remarkably strong results.

In theory, Kevin Glenn should be one of the last CFL quarterbacks to get suckered by deceptive coverage schemes - but he threw one interception and one near-miss on plays where defensive backs went unaccounted for on deep throws. And Deandra Cobb's valiant efforts to churn out extra yardage were turned into a negative by the 'Riders' propensity for forcing fumbles.

Again, that has to be balanced against the Ticats' success in moving the ball, with the 'Riders' focus on turnovers resulting in sloppy tackling through much of the game. And Glenn's already-impressive numbers could have been even better if not for a couple of embarrassing dropped passes. But once again, the tradeoff looks to have worked in the 'Riders' favour. And if the 'Riders' defence is creative enough to find ways to force turnovers even without generating its usual amount of pressure due to a banged-up defensive line, opposing offences may have little choice but to reduce their own production by playing it safe.

Finally, the special teams look to have been at worst a wash for Saskatchewan, making the game a relative success in that department. Ryan Grice-Mullen may not have the best hands of any returner around (as he showed with a fumble which he was able to recover), but his combination of raw speed and willingness to attack the coverage team resulted in a better return game than we've seen through most of the season. And while the 'Riders' kicking team had some rough moments, it was at least roughly able to match the production of its Hamilton counterpart.

So the end result is that while there's ample room for improvement on most fronts other than the receiving corps, the 'Riders once again did just enough to pull out a win against a contending team. And with the 'Riders enjoying both a winning streak and a strong position in the standings, the big question is once again whether they can sustain and build on their current level of play (rather than what can be done to fix major defects).

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