Saturday, September 14, 2013

Saturday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Needless to say, last weekend's result against Winnipeg was far from what 'Rider fans would have hoped for to start the second half of the 2013 season. And it's particularly worth noting how a few strengths seem to have been lost just when they were needed most.

In last week's post, I noted that Saskatchewan's success in the Labour Day Classic was based largely on its ability to finish off drives. Unfortunately, that pattern didn't play out again against the same defence. While the 'Riders still managed slightly better offensive numbers than the Bombers, they didn't find the end zone once - with two solid drives and two turnovers in Winnipeg territory in the first half leading only to three field goals and an interception.

That left the 'Riders with a precarious halftime lead. But unlike in many games this year, the 'Riders didn't figure out how to exploit an opposing defence after the break. Instead, they had more trouble dealing with the Bombers' relentless pass rush as the game went on, as Darian Durant took hit after hit without managing to find any weak spots behind that first wave of pressure.

Nor did the special teams provide much help. The most obvious play of concern was Will Ford's return touchdown - which can perhaps be written off as a single breakdown. But in the weeks to come, I'll be most interested to see what becomes of the 'Riders' own uninspiring return game: Tristan Jackson's usual unreliable hands no longer seem to be paired with his trademark breakaway speed, which may leave Saskatchewan with a need to audition other returners until Jock Sanders is ready again. 

As a result, the 'Riders' defence was pretty much left on its own to try to salvage the game. And it came remarkably close, breaking down on only a couple of second-half drives (with undisciplined penalties and low-probability catches as the key plays) and producing multiple turnovers. But it fell just short of putting points on the board - which the 'Riders needed on a day when the offence couldn't produce a single touchdown or big play.

We'll start to find out today whether the 'Riders' struggles against Winnipeg were simply a matter of a bottom-tier team taking (and succeeding in) a few more risks than most opponents will dare, or whether it offered hints that other CFL teams will also be able to exploit. But there doesn't seem to be much doubt that the 'Riders have room for improvement as their schedule gets tougher down the stretch.

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