Following their 28-20 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos on Aug. 10 at Commonwealth Stadium, the Saskatchewan Roughriders reached the one-third point of the 2012 season. After roaring out to a 3W-0L start, the Riders have dropped three in a row and sit tied for third in the CFL West with the Calgary Stampeders. On Sunday, they journey to Vancouver to play the B.C. Lions who are tied for first in the CFL West with the Eskimos at 4-2 (TSN, 5 p.m.) To reflect on how the season has gone so far for the Green & White, and to look ahead to the next few games, we’re joined Cal Corduroy, Earl Camembert and Ron Mexico.
The Riders have been a Jekyll and Hyde team this year. For a significant chunk of the 360 minutes of football they’ve played so far, they’ve looked solid. But in the two losses to Calgary and the Hamilton Tiger Cats in particular, where they gassed double-digit leads in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, they’ve looked brutal. How do you view the team’s performance to date?
RM: I actually view the team’s performance thus far pretty positively. We’re 3-3 and should be 5-1. Nobody they’ve played has totally outclassed the Riders. Don’t forget where we were at this point last year — a single win with a team that had totally shut down on their coach.
CC: This is a frustrating team to watch. As a bit of a cynic, I am disappointed in a team that could (or should) be 6-0. At times, all three facets of the game have been good. At other times (and unfortunately, crucial times) all three have let us down.
EC: I think the reviews are mixed. They’re apparently good enough to beat most teams but the lack of resolve in the fourth quarter has been disappointing to say the least.
On the offensive side of the ball, what do you regard as the team’s strengths? Weaknesses?
RM: On offence the team’s strengths are the offensive line and Kory Sheets. This seems to suggest that O-line and running game coordinator Kris Sweet deserves some credit, particularly when most of the O-line has never played together. I wish Sheets was getting 16+ carries a game. Offensively we’re weak at receiver and our quarterback has only been okay, instead of very good. Chris Getzlaf is really struggling and Weston Dressler has been off since the wins stopped.
CC: Kory Sheets has been a pleasant surprise, and our offensive line has been pretty good despite injuries and being very young. Dressler is having another fine year, although that drop in the Calgary game was very “un-Dressler-like” and would have sealed the game for us. Regarding the weaknesses, we still don’t have a legitimate outside threat (despite having 200+ prospects roll through the roster in the last two years). Despite relatively good numbers statistically, my long-standing opinion of Durant has not changed. He is good between the 20 yard lines and in no-pressure situations. However, in pressure situations, he has been horrible. And until he wins a few for us in the same way we have lost so many (including the Grey Cup game) and quits giving up the ball in crucial situations, I won’t change my mind. I think he is a good quarterback who, someday hopefully, will become an elite quarterback. But his time is running out. I’m not advocating putting back-up QB Drew Willy though.
EC: The offensive line and Kory Sheets have been strengths. The depth of the receiving corps is a clear weakness. Other than Weston Dressler the receivers are question marks. Chris Getzlaf needs to make some tough catches to get off the questionable list. The other guys are just interchangeable names. Darian Durant needs to show something at the end of games and the play calling in the fourth quarter has in my opinion been atrocious. Not running the ball against Calgary was inexcusable.
What about their strengths and weaknesses on defence and special teams?
RM: Defensively our tackles have been real good as have defensive end Brent Hawkins and linebackers Tyron Brackenridge and Abraham Kromah. Middle linebacker Shomari Williams has been getting better, especially against the run. Watch how often he takes bad angles. The D-backs have been very weak and the main flaw. The best D-back so far has been hurt the last few games (Woodny Turenne). Nick Graham has a big target on his back and James Patrick is invisible despite being a former all-star. Giving a big cushion and hoping that the other team makes a mistake is flawed thinking at this level. Two free eight yard passes on first and second down keep the chains moving. Why this doesn’t change boggles my mind. Special teams has been outstanding, Milo’s field goal kicking the exception. In fairness to the guy his punting is great. The coverage teams are rock solid and real fun to watch. We make the odd return as well so all is well here.
CC: Special teams has been very good (coverage wise), but Milo missed several important kicks for us, and was appropriately replaced as field goal kicker last game by Sandro DeAngelis. Defence is the usual Rider defence. They have played well during the middle of the game, but when the chips are down, basically folded. Although, in fairness, in the last game against Edmonton they did get us the ball near the end on a two and out. But when TSN’s Duane Forde (who, next to Rod Black, is the worst analyst/commentator alive) comments that the Riders’ “prevent defence” seems to “prevent them from winning….” you know that the opposing teams are hoping the Riders set up in prevent-mode. Our pass rush has been OK at times, but despite the “swagger” the “Mayor of Swaggeville” Odell Willis has been marginal. Our secondary has been terrible, and Shomari Williams is improving after being invisible during the first four games. I’ve heard James Patrick’s name on Special Teams once, and Craig Butler has been invisible during his spot duty. Injuries have hurt us on the corner. Nick Graham was cut but finds himself on the roster thanks to injuries.
EC: The defense suffers from scheme type problems. They turned a noted career long boob like Steven Jyles into Peyton Manning by playing a defense that laid off the receivers ten yards. This in turn means no turnovers which is another weakness. The offense is having to go 75 yards every time to score. Pass rush is also a concern. Special teams are fine and only are suffering because the field goal kicker couldn’t make anything.
Outside of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who sit last in the CFL East with a 1W-5L record, there seems to be a reasonable amount of parity in the CFL. Is that the way you see it, or are there teams who you feel will soon separate themselves from the pack?
RM: I see the parity continuing throughout the year.
CC: “Reasonable” is the operative word. I think B.C. is the best team in the league. The others are close, with maybe Hamilton and Montreal the best of the rest.
EC: I don’t see a team pulling away. Edmonton has no QB and Calgary was getting pounded by the Riders at home. B.C. seems to me to be really inconsistent. All the teams in the East suck.
In their next six games, the Riders play the Lions (Aug. 19), then host the Stampeders (Aug. 25) and Bombers (Sept. 2). From there, they travel to Winnipeg (Sept. 9) and Montreal (Sept. 16), before hosting the Stamps again on Sept. 23. What do you anticipate their record being after that stretch of games?
RM: I see the Riders at 6-6 at the end of the stretch you describe. The losses coming to B.C., Winnipeg (in Winnipeg), and Montreal. 7-5 is also a good possibility by reversing my prediction on the Winnipeg road game.
CC: Likely 6-6. Loss to Lions, win the next 3, lose to Montreal and Calgary in Calgary. [Ed Note: the second Rider vs. Stamp game is in Regina. I couldn’t reach Cal in time to see if that would change his prediction.]
EC: I see the Riders staring down a .500 record here, and at the end of the year.
If you were Rider GM Brendan Taman, what area of the team would be your top priority when you were evaluating NFL cuts?
RM: Defensive backs, receivers and quarterbacks are all worth a look from the NFL.
CC: Defensive backs and wide receivers. A good rush end would be nice (with a bit more size).
EC: The Riders need receivers with some size and speed. They also need an edge pass rusher. Odell Willis has been a disappointment.