The Saskatchewan Roughriders may be winning football games, but they are not playing all that well.
A sweep of eastern conference teams put the Riders at 8-6 heading into the last four games of the season, but an 18-17 win over Ottawa and their third string quarterback and a 27-24 last minute win over Toronto shows the Riders have a lot of room for improvement if they want to battle Winnipeg and Calgary in the playoffs.
Backing up just a bit, an 8-6 record is pretty good for a 5-13 team a year ago. After two and a half years of futility, this should be a cause for celebration. But the expectations of Riderville under Chris Jones are heightened, especially with a mandate of seeking “sustained excellence” as Rider CEO Craig Reynolds said in hiring Jones.
What was disturbing against Ottawa was the Rider defense allowing William Powell to set a new team rushing record and while they didn’t let James Wilder do the same thing for Toronto, an initial lack of punch in the offense that was rectified with the insertion of Brandon Bridge, left questions whether the Riders have a running game that can compete with the western leaders in November.
Trent Richardson lined up in the backfield but was about what they remembered from Cleveland and Indianapolis – a four yard average. Richardson was a little taken aback when Kienan LaFrance took over towards the end of the game, a reflection of the Canadian ratio and perhaps LaFrance understanding the offense a bit more thoroughly.
The Riders run defense is also a question mark and considering they are facing Powell, who ran through them like grass through a goose, and this time are facing Trevor Harris, who was injured and missed the first game, then you wonder if the Riders can maybe do better than winning on a rouge.
There is one school of thought that you have to win those ugly games and it’s better than losing them. There is also the sight of Bridge doing really well against the Toronto rush, which makes one wonder if Kevin Glenn is not completely injury free and a determined pass rush will throw him off his timing passing game which is key to his success.
Glenn will be starting which is the prudent thing because Glenn for the most part has played pretty well. When the pass protection was not there, he hasn’t been able to respond and Bridge has the ability to stretch the defense and is throwing a pretty good ball.
Where Bridge can be confused is in his initial reads of the defense but against Toronto he showed enough maturity to basically throw the ball away instead of trying to force a play. If Bridge is going to move on to starter status, he will has to show consistency in his ability to move the team, and if he does that, then the off-season gets very interesting.
I held off writing this week until after the CFL trading deadline, which was as dead as the NHL trading deadline. With Montreal being eliminated and Hamilton and BC on life support, it seems like teams are going to rely on their current rosters and perhaps wait for reinforcements to return from the various injury lists.
One of those potential reinforcements in Riderville was Chad Owens, who was signed as a free agent but has spent most of this season recovering from a broken foot. It appears Owens is taking a mentorship role with Duron Carter, which can’t hurt, but Owens has to be wondering about this season and his ability to continue playing.
So while Owens is a healthy scratch this week, it seems like Chris Jones may be holding Owens in reserve in the event one of his receivers goes down. The other potential situation for Owens to see playing time is if the Riders clinch a playoff spot on Friday night.
Clinching a playoff spot with three weeks left would allow the Riders to maybe rest some of their starters and get their back-ups some playing time to see their contributions and secondly to see if they show enough to be invited to camp next year.
Owens has been a good trouper in Riderville and active in fan events like autograph signings, but this is probably not what he expected when he signed and he definitely wants to do something if this is going to be his last season.
The Riders are looking to get some solid play on their defensive line and are looking at their defensive secondary to make a few tweaks against Harris, who did a pretty good job against BC. This should be a fairly close weekend of games starting on Friday night in Hamilton.
Calgary brings their quest for redemption to Hamilton on Friday night as they break from the bye week and look to lock in first place in the west. The interesting question is whether the Stampeders of 2016 are better than the Stampeders of 2017?
Calgary has been doing its Rider version of doing enough to win games, which is good for the bottom line, but questionable in allaying the Stampeder fans…uh, I guess hockey season has started and and Stampeder fans are preparing for their teams implosion in whatever big game they find themselves.
That is probably not this game, although it is not inconceivable that the Stampeders lose this game, since it is not in Calgary. Since Kent Austin stepped aside and Zach Collaros began cooling his heels, the Tiger-Cats have actually been pretty competive and probably should have beaten Toronto to better position themselves for a potential playoff run.
But instead of complaining about how the command centre screwed Hamilton, maybe they should be looking at their 0-8 start as the reason why they will be watching the playoffs on TV this year. While Hamilton will be trying to close the gap between themselves and the top two teams in the east, Calgary will be looking to try to convince their fans they are the real thing, and not just a slightly less whinier version of Jason Maas and the Eskimos.
Hamilton will not lose this by 59 points, but they should lose this one. Hamilton has some serious questions to deal with and getting the potential playoff run out of the way so they can concentrate on the offseason is a necessary first step. Calgary wins this one 33-20.
Ottawa brings their roadshow to Riderville and while I salute Ottawa for beating BC, Ottawa suffers from a slightly less severe problem than Hamilton. Ottawa should win the close but no cigar award for the close games they have lost and while Rider fans are happy with the last two wins, but perhaps not enamoured of how the Riders won, if you ask them if they would want Ottawa’s record, the answer would probably be no.
2017 for Ottawa is probably going to go down as a rebuilding year. Injuries have shown Ottawa fans their depth is not what it once was. However they do have a running back, their offensive line is still in pieces, but some of those pieces are coming back, and they spent the last week in Saskatoon practicing at the University of Saskatchewan and doing the team building things that the Riders did the last two weeks in Ontario.
In the first Rider Ottawa game, Ottawa should have won that game, but just like winning is a habit, so is making stupid mistakes at the most inopportune times. While Ottawa has the talent to be competitive, they lack the mental toughness to be a consistent winner and winning at BC in a game most picked them to lose, is probably the cherry on top of their western road trip.
Trevor Harris will make this competitive, but while Harris is good as a streaky passer, if his rhythm can be disrupted, he loses his effectiveness. In that respect, he is exactly like Kevin Glenn. So the question is who can disrupt the other teams rhythm and who can best adjust.
So here is a statistic that I hesitate to bring up, but at this time of year the word momentum means a lot and quite often momentum is a mental thing. Ottawa has never beaten a team coached by Chris Jones. I now go to my supporting principle that when Ottawa loses, they do not lose by much. And Ottawa has not yet faced the crowed at new Mosaic Stadium who will be looking to cheer their team into the playoffs. Riders 27-26 winners.
BC goes to Winnipeg and Wally Buono must be wondering why his offensive line is continuing its tribute to Swiss Cheese. Throw in the dud that is Chris Williams to the BC offense, and the BC Lions have to wonder what their season might have been like if their offensive line could have learned how to block.
The Lions have been somewhat of a psychological hurdle to the Bombers, going back to the 2016 western semi-final , but the Bombers have been methodically facing their demons, like the Eskimos, and beating them down like a Bomber fan at a KFC buffet.
While BC is still technically alive, the loss against Hamilton shows while BC may have weapons, they are not mentally tough enough to recover from injuries to their quarterbacks and some really questionable play on defense. It may be premature to wonder if Jon Jennings is the second coming of Casey Printers, but that is unfair to Printers since Jennings hasn’t been the western nominee for most outstanding player.
In a sense Jennings is kind of like Zach Collaros and Trevor Harris – a guy who has a streak of good fortune, then stumbled, and has been having problems trying to get it back. BC should be trying to keep in the race for a playoff spot, but in the end, Winnipeg’s defense is better than BC’s offensive line and there is a weird karmic justice for Bomber fans in ending the Lions season in Winnipeg just like the Lions ended the Bombers season in Vancouver – Winnipeg 30-27.
Finally we have one of the most interesting games because if things play out like they might, then Toronto will be saying goodbye to Ricky Ray and watching him return to Edmonton after this season. Edmonton is hosting the Grey Cup next year and will be tryng to get their ducks in a row for that, and that kind of move may save Jason Maas for another year, and it makes this game extremely interesting.
While the Ricky Ray return to Edmonton seems like poetic justice to the many Eskimo fans partying like its 1977, it hasn’t happened yet and while Edmonton snapped its six game losing streak last week, it was against Montreal and well, maybe people aren’t quite convinced the Eskimo slide has been completely arrested.
The problems in Edmonton start with their coach and go through their injury riddled line-up, but mostly reside in the black hole that is their defensive secondary. The secondary is not good enough and when you are facing Ricky Ray, there is a certain poetic justice in Ray coming to Edmonton and slicing up the Eskimo secondary to clinch a playoff spot for the Argos.
Ron Lancaster used to say that if something was working against a team, keep going with it until the other team stopped it. The Eskimos will be game in this game because Toronto is missing some key members of their defense, but what Edmonton is missing is a heart and brain in their defensive secondary and when you are facing Ricky Ray, not having either quality is likely to get you beat. Toronto wins this 27-26.
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