Sunday, September 06, 2009

Sunday Afternoon 'Rider Blogging

The Labour Day Classic today may have included plenty of room for improvement for the Saskatchewan Roughriders - and they probably didn't play as well as the final score would suggest. But the game nonetheless reflects both the continuation of one pattern which is serving the 'Riders well, as well as the apparent end of one of the team's consistent problems.

On offence, the story of the game was a superb start with two consecutive touchdown drives against a stiff wind in the first quarter. But after those first two possessions, the team returned to its usual inconsistency. Wes Cates was fairly productive throughout the game both on the ground and through the air - but after the first quarter the 'Riders' passing performance was otherwise littered with drops (particularly from the usually-reliable Weston Dressler), mis-timed routes and near-picks.

Naturally, part of the problem can be laid at the feet of Darien Durant's decision-making. But the more easily solved issue seemed to me to involve the 'Riders' pass protection schemes. Normally one of Durant's greatest strengths is his ability to escape pressure to make plays either on the ground or through the air - but in this game it didn't seem that he ever had an escape route other than straight backwards, which led to a number of throw-aways and forced passes rather than allowing for any positive results.

On defence, meanwhile, the 'Riders kept up their pattern of taking direct aim at the opponents' greatest strength and emerging victorious, this time by holding the league's leading rushing team to 37 yards on the ground (or less than a tenth of its previous performance against B.C.) without sacrificing the 'Riders' usual disruptive pass rush. About the only problem on the defensive side of the ball was an outbreak of weak tackling in the secondary which allowed Adarius Bowman and Terence Edwards to generate scads of yards after catches - which made Michael Bishop's yardage total look respectable even though his actual passing was atrocious through most of the game.

And then there are the special teams. The most obvious reason to be happy with those came in the form of a few respectable to solid returns by Jason Armstead, including a 37-yard kickoff return. But perhaps even more importantly than the ones where Armstead managed to generate significant yardage were his good decisions throughout the game, including conceding a single on the opening kickoff and not forcing plays toward the end when the benefit of trying for a big return would have far outweighed the risks of a turnover.

Not that Armstead's stay so far has been entirely without reason for concern. But if he can keep playing how he did today, the 'Riders would seem to have patched up their most glaring weakness - and particularly if the offence can connect on a few more of its near-misses, that should put them in great shape for the rest of the season.

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