Monday, July 08, 2013

Monday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Two games into the Saskatchewan Roughriders' regular season, the "experienced team starting quickly" theory is looking fairly solid. But let's take a look at what's gone better than expected - as well as where there may be room for concern.

To start with, a couple of areas which looked like possible weaknesses have proven to be anything but. The 'Riders' special teams were a major question mark as the season started, but have been nothing but steady through the first two games. And the relative newcomers in the 'Riders' secondary have developed in a hurry, as Saturday's game against Calgary saw relatively newcomers Macho Harris and Prince Miller make a number of big plays to shut down the Stamps' quick-strike offence in the second half.

More importantly, though, the 'Riders offence has taken a major step forward. And the main question for the rest of the season will be whether it can keep up the pace.

Under most circumstances, I see the easiest path to success in football involving an opportunistic offence and strong units elsewhere. But alongside some cap and personnel-replacement considerations, that preference is largely a matter of practicality.

The problem with a precision offence is that it can be stopped in its tracks by a single misfire or dropped pass. And until this season, the 'Riders' personnel has been better suited to seeking out big plays than stringing together long drives - as Darian Durant has sometimes been erratic as a passer, and Chris Getzlaf has alternated between spectacular catches and cringe-inducing drops.

But two games into 2013, the 'Riders' key skill players (including Durant, Getzlaf, Weston Dressler and Kory Sheets) have looked like they can piece together a touchdown drive six yards at a time almost at will. And that style worked to perfection against the Stamps, as a methodical offence both kept the Stamps' playmakers off the field most of the second half and made up for an early deficit.

What's more, there's even some prospect for improvement. After all, Geroy Simon is still waiting to get back onto the field, and Taj Smith continues to show that he can make jaw-dropping catches when given the chance (even if they didn't translate into numbers against the Stamps).

Of course, there is a downside to fine-tuning an offensive machine around a single quarterback: while it may be possible to plug in new parts elsewhere, it's rare for an inexperienced backup to be able to find the small openings exploited by a more comfortable starter. Which means that the 'Riders' offensive line may be under even more pressure to keep heat away from Durant.

But if the greatest risk for the 'Riders is that their ruthlessly efficient offence relies on the skills of a quarterback who looks to be reaching his prime, that's hardly a bad sign. And while any football season is bound to involve some ups and downs, we haven't seen much of the latter from the 'Riders yet.

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