There were certainly some bright spots in the Saskatchewan Roughriders' loss to Montreal yesterday, as is normally the case when a team has chance to win late against one of the CFL's elite competitors. But the sad part of yesterday's loss was that the 'Riders missed a number of obvious opportunities which could easily have turned the tide.
Let's start with the defence which has been the key to most of the 'Riders' recent success. Facing an Als offence missing much of its receiving talent, the 'Riders managed to give up exactly what the team couldn't afford. For three quarters Jamel Richardson was a one-man passing attack, regularly finding room in a secondary which didn't have many other dangerous receivers to corral. Then Anthony Calvillo managed to post two stunning rushing touchdowns, as a 'Rider pass rush which was able to break down the Montreal line apparently couldn't work quarterback containment into its scheme. And finally, in the fourth quarter the 'Riders had trouble stopping an inexperienced running back from draining the clock - a highly disappointing performance for a defensive line which was much more stout until the last couple of games.
That combination of problems on defence forced the offence to make up a massive deficit in the fourth quarter. And while the 'Riders got within a touchdown of completing the comeback, there was still plenty of room for improvement.
Of particular note, the 'Riders' receivers were at best inconsistent throughout the game. Kory Sheets alone dropped one sure first down pass, plus a couple of tosses which might have given rise to big plays in the fourth quarter. But nearly every other receiver also muffed at least one pass at some point in the game, with unfortunate consequences: as Darian Durant worked to spoon-feed the ball to his receivers, the Als' defence had more opportunity to set up tackles and limit the 'Riders' yardage after catches.
But there was one important exception. And if there's anything the 'Riders can build on from yesterday's game, it's Greg Carr's performance as a possession receiver.
When Carr was acquired earlier this season (in what struck me as a downright bizarre trade), I fully expected him to settle into a role as a designated big-play receiver - someone who could test defences once or twice a game with his size and athleticism while being too unreliable to help much in a possession game. But Carr made a number of tough catches in traffic against the Als - all despite the wind making it difficult for Durant to place the ball as precisely as he'd like. And if Carr continues to hang onto the ball consistently enough to be considered a steady target to move the chains, the 'Riders' receiving corps looks to be far better than if it has to rely on Chris Getzlaf as its second-best option.
Unfortunately, Carr's production yesterday wasn't quite enough to turn the tide. But we saw at least some hint the 'Riders offence may enjoy one more major weapon than it's been able to deploy through most of this season. And with the 'Riders now certain to face nothing but road games in the playoffs, they'll need to develop all the upside they can as the regular season winds down.