Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Yes, yesterday's loss to Hamilton made for another painful result for a team which outplayed its opponent for most of the game. But as with the previous week's defeat against Calgary, there are a few lessons the Saskatchewan Roughriders should be able to take from the outcome.

To start with, the offence again looks to have changed from a model which worked early to one which failed late.

On the 'Riders' first drive, two short-yardage gambles paid off by giving the team its first touchdown of the game - and in both cases, the offensive line thoroughly controlled the line of scrimmage against Hamilton's defence. (Indeed, the team's one fourth-quarter short-yardage play was also a screaming success, with Kory Sheets picking up 8 yards on a 2nd-and-1.)

Yet the 'Riders didn't show any particular confidence in their short-yardage offence when it had a chance to keep the offence moving when it counted most. And punting may have been safer option in their own zone, the choice to pass on 2nd and 2 from Hamilton's 40 could well have made all the difference between a game-winning field goal and the 47-yarder which Chris Milo missed.

The passing game also showed both plenty of potential, and some room for improvement in the 'Riders' choice of strategies. The 'Riders flashed loads of receiving depth (with 7 different players catching Darian Durant passes for gains of 18 yards or more), but spent much of the game largely targeting two players. And it's probably worth asking whether Chris Getzlaf should still be one of the team's primary options: while he's always been an effective big-play threat, he's shown few signs of avoiding the drops which have always made him an uncertain proposition as a possession receiver.

On defence, the 'Riders' major strength early in the season again evaporated when it mattered most. In the first half, 'Rider defenders managed to at least pressure Henry Burris on occasion - and that was enough to keep the Ticats' offence from accomplishing much even without piling up sacks or turnovers.

But late in the game, Burris regularly had time to burn before finding receivers on slow-developing patterns all over the field. And whether that was the result of the prevent defence again proving counterproductive or a more general failure, it's surely a point the 'Riders will need to work on in a league where all but one or two starting quarterbacks will thoroughly punish a defence for easing off.

For now, the 'Riders are at least in better shape than anybody should have expected going into their bye week. But it's still an open question whether they'll learn from falling just short in the last two games - or whether a sense of late-game futility will be a problem as the season progresses.

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