Sunday, September 09, 2012

Sunday Afternoon 'Rider Blogging

No, the Saskatchewan Roughriders shouldn't try to plan to win games the way they did today. But while the 'Riders left plenty of room for improvement, they also showed some positive signs beyond what we've seen so far in 2012.

At the top of that list was of course the play of Drew Willy, the 'Riders' backup quarterback who managed to lead the team to just enough offence to win in his first substantial playing time as more than a short-yardage or developmental player.

Within his first couple of series at the helm, Willy showed that he'd already figured out some lessons that younger quarterbacks all too often take plenty of time to learn - showing enough poise under pressure to find running backs with well-timed screens, to attack the line of scrimmage himself for positive yardage, or to back up to buy enough time to find an open receiver.

Naturally, the Bombers' defence was able to adjust to those strategies over the course of the game. And that's where Willy's surprisingly gaudy passing numbers don't tell the whole story: while a veteran quarterback Darian Durant might have picked up several more incompletions by getting rid of the ball when no positive play was available, the fact that Willy instead took multiple high-yardage sacks trying to back out of trouble didn't exactly serve his team better than the alternative. (Also, a good number of Willy's passing yards were the result of after-catch wizardry by Kory Sheets.)

Ultimately, Willy will need to become more comfortable throwing the ball quickly rather than giving ground waiting for openings that don't materialize. But the 'Riders should be more comfortable relying on Willy when needed than might have been the case before today's performance.

Meanwhile, the 'Riders' defence may not have held the Bombers scoreless again, but its latest performance wasn't much less impressive than that from the previous week. In particular, the secondary did a fine job against some of the CFL's toughest receivers, with both Chris McKenzie and Terrell Maze winning plenty of one-on-one battles when matched against Terrence Edwards and Chris Matthews.

If there's any point which calls for some attention in the coming weeks, it's an uncharacteristically-weak performance on special teams - including a return touchdown by Demond Washington and a mediocre return game centred on Jock Sanders' zig-zagging (though he more than made up for it with his contributions on offence).

But for today, the 'Riders were just barely able to make up for that rare gap with a stout defence and short-handed offence. And that should bode well for the team's chances once it's back to full strength.

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