Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Like so many games this season, the 'Riders' most recent win against Calgary ended up closer than it had to. But at least this time, Saskatchewan emerged on top - signalling that the 'Riders are starting to combine the ability to outplay their opponents throughout the game with a late-game killer instinct just when it matters most.

Throughout the game, the 'Riders' offensive line (though still in a state of flux) stood out in providing protection for a hobbled Darian Durant, while also clearing space for a rushing attack featuring both Kory Sheets and Jock Sanders. And the extra bit of time and space was enough to get the entire offence working better than it has through much of the season - a particularly important development late in the game when the Stamps were bound to pressure the 'Riders on every play.

Moreover, Durant finally looks to be managing the play clock and using his snap count against opposing defenders. For ages, his habit has been to let the clock run down on nearly every play, giving the defence time to set and eliminating any doubt about when the ball has to be snapped. But Sunday he drew at least one offside penalty, and generally seemed to keep the Stamps confused as to when plays were starting. Which should make for an extra challenge for defences who are already facing a growing range of different threats.

Meanwhile, the 'Riders' defence was stellar through three quarters (giving up its lone touchdown following a failed fake punt). And even after multiple injuries, it was just good enough to shut down the Stamps' late-game comeback attempt.

On that front, I'll give credit to Odell Willis for standing out when it mattered most. No, he hasn't consistently managed to keep pressure on opposing quarterbacks after being hailed as a major acquisition: in fact, one of the biggest problems in the 'Riders' previous late-game collapses has been their inability to disrupt opposing offences. But with two defensive linemen injured against Calgary, Willis turned into a one-man pass rush at the end of the game - and the 'Riders can more than afford the occasional drive-extending penalty if Willis can keep the opponent's quarterback from making plays.

Finally, I'll note that yesterday's game likely made for the first time in 2012 the 'Riders were able to beat a tough divisional opponent in a game where plenty could have gone better. The aforementioned fake punt was likely a shrewd call even if it didn't turn out; the injuries on defence forced Saskatchewan to improvise its late-game lineup; and the 'Riders' defence came within inches of several more interceptions than the two that registered in the stat line. Which means that even after an important victory, there's ample room left to grow as the season winds down.

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