Saturday, September 22, 2012

Saturday Morning 'Rider Blogging

It shouldn't come as much surprised that Drew Willy's first CFL start - against one of the league's elite teams - resulted in a loss for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. But even an eleven-point loss may have somewhat flattered the 'Riders.

The game story inevitably revolved largely around Willy. And while he again displayed some ability to avoid the rush, he also showed some tendencies which will need some significant work.

In particular, another reasonably high completion rate was built primarily on Willy's tendency to look for short, simple passes to the exclusion of any inclination to throw downfield. And with the exception of Kory Sheets' touchdown reception, those passes also weren't timed to allow for yards after the catch as an alternative to longer throws - with receivers regularly running into traffic or out of bounds as they caught the ball.

That might make for a relatively safe ball-control strategy for a single game. But it also severely limits a team's offensive production - and becomes more and more risky with time as opponents start to attack the shorter routes based on the reassurance they won't be punished for doing so.

Fortunately, Darian Durant will be back in the lineup this week - meaning that the Stampeders won't have quite the same advantage that the Als did. But the 'Riders' offence in general has had trouble connecting on big plays through most of 2012 - and a continued revolving door on the offensive line raises the question of whether Durant will have time to change that for the better.

Meanwhile, the 'Riders' defence and special teams looked relatively effective last week. However, it's worth noting that some of the results had less to do with Saskatchewan's performance than Montreal's: a half-dozen dropped passes by two of the CFL's top receivers went a long way in preventing the Als from putting the game out of reach, while Montreal's special teams failed to capitalize on some significant opportunities (including Jock Sanders' miscue in taking a punt off his helmet).

All of which is to say that there are still far more questions than answers as to what the 'Riders can do to stay competitive against the CFL's top teams. And while the continued struggles of the Esks, Ticats and Bombers have kept Saskatchewan in the playoff hunt, the prospect of the 'Riders developing into more than first-round cannon fodder is dimming by the week.

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