Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging

In the wake of Friday's loss to Calgary, there seem to be some stunningly short-sighted theories flying around. So let's point out that the game featured plenty of good news when it comes to building the 'Riders for this season any beyond - even if it did also provide ample evidence that there's room for improvement.

To start with, anybody even considering the possibility of replacing Darian Durant with Ryan Dinwiddie needs to have their Monday morning quarterbacking privileges revoked.

Yes, Dinwiddie put together one good series once the game was out of reach, while Durant threw a single costly interception. But Durant once again completed over two thirds of his passes, while adding a few more deep completions to the mix than he had for a few weeks. And most importantly, Durant made plenty of the types of plays that set him apart from any other quarterback in the CFL - regularly avoiding what seemed like sure sacks, and this time turning a good number of those seemingly broken plays into positive yardage.

Of course, the receiving corps was somewhat better than usual in converting Durant's wizardry into passing yardage. And the thanks goes in large part to a development that caught me by surprise.

When I put together a list of receivers who might help to fill in the 'Riders' gaps this season, I left off Efrem Hill based on the theory that an import with unexceptional size and speed who couldn't cut it with the Eskimos likely wouldn't be anything more than a replacement-level player. And until this week, nothing in Hill's game seemed to suggest otherwise - particularly when some glaring mental errors were added to the mix.

But in Friday's game, Hill constantly found ways to get open, and did a brilliant job of converting when Durant threw the ball his way. And as long as he can keep up even a reasonable facsimile of that performance, he should have no trouble holding onto at least a complementary job no matter which additional receivers work their way onto the 'Riders this year.

Similarly, Hugh Charles took advantage of his best chance to prove himself as a starting running back by providing more explosiveness than the 'Riders have seen since Kenton Keith's prime, while also holding onto the ball without any apparent trouble. And that should not only give the 'Riders confidence in his performance while Wes Cates is hurt, but also signal that they can count on Charles in a platoon role once Cates returns.

Of course, if the offensive story had all been a matter of good news, the 'Riders wouldn't have spent the entire game trying to climb out of a hole. And while the largest culprit put up some numbers after the game was out of reach, James Robinson seems to have offered reason for the 'Riders to look for a replacement as soon as humanly possible.

Yes, Robinson drew a couple of penalties which helped to move the 'Riders into scoring position. But there's a reason why the name of the position is "receiver" rather than "interference magnet" - and aside from his late-game receptions from Dinwiddie, Robinson has shown little ability to actually catch the ball, combined with a maddening propensity for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Which means that he, not Terrence Nunn, should be the first receiver benched for one of the 'Riders' newer acquisitions - though Nunn too has plenty left to prove.

As for the defence, I'm a bit less concerned with Saskatchewan's early-game performance than some commentators. Unfortunately, the streaky Stampeder offence tends to go through a spell or two per season where it can't be slowed down let alone stopped. And the first half of Friday's game looks to have been one of those times: the 'Riders put some heat on an elusive quarterback, made most of their tackles and didn't leave a lot of open receivers, but Henry Burris was nonetheless able to find the right read on nearly every play to give the Stamps a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

At most, one might say the secondary could have gambled a bit more on the theory that it wasn't going to stop Calgary by playing straight-up defence. But the best bet against the Stamps probably is to let Burris beat himself - and I'm not sure the defence could have done more than to maximize the chances of that happening by forcing Burris into extended drives.

Meanwhile, there was one bit of unqualified good news on the defensive side of the ball, as Shomari Williams applied plenty of pressure against Burris in his opportunity to replace the departed Luc Mullinder. And no matter what happens the rest of the season, the 'Riders should work an ensuring that Williams can work on doing the same consistently as one of the team's Canadian cornerstones.

In sum, there's plenty of reason for frustration with both the 'Riders' record and how they've reached it. But the right move for a rebuilding team is to recognize the pieces which can support something stronger - not to tear down a useful foundation. And there's still little reason to think there's much structurally wrong with the 'Riders.

No comments:

Post a Comment