I’ve got nine family members visiting from out of province, so I’ve been tied up and unable to blog about the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ home opener against the Edmonton Eskimos on July 3.
About the only plus that Rider fans could take away from the game is that Eddie Johnson made both his field goal attempts. Otherwise … both defensive end Jerrell Freeman and receiver Cary Koch were late scratches with injuries, so that didn’t help the Riders’ cause. But on defence, they were hopelessly outmatched. There was very little in the way of sustained pressure on Eskimo QB Ricky Ray. When he has time, Ray can pick defences apart. And he did precisely that against the Riders on Sunday, hitting on 21 of 27 pass attempts for 294 yards and three TDs. His two favourite targets were Adarius Bowman and Jason Barnes, who basically had their way with the Rider secondary. The Eskimos also rushed the ball effectively.
On offense, it’s fair to say that Rider QB Darian Durant struggled. Two plays that occured in the third quarter, I think, perfectly encapsulate his uneven performance. Scrimmaging on their own 40 or so, Durant twice evaded a blitzing Eskimo and outran a second defender to buy time to find Chris Getzlaf hugging the sideline by the Rider bench for a sizeable gain. Then on the next play, he scrambled right again and overthrew a wide open Weston Dressler and was intercepted.
All told, Durant had three interceptions and one fumble. On one of the picks, receivers Ernie Wheelwright and Weston Dressler ended up near each other, with Wheelwright tipping a ball intended for an open Dressler, which resulted in a second pick. You can’t blame Durant for that one. He was also working with three new receivers (Wheelwright, Terrence Nunn and Efrem Hill). But his performance did not inspire confidence among the Rider faithful. And the Rider offensive line didn’t look very good either.
As far as special teams went, there were no meltdowns a la last year, so that has to count as a plus. But they’re weren’t a lot of big plays either.
If there’s a saving grace, it’s that the Calgary Stampeders and B.C. Lions both lost their openers too (Calgary at home to a so-so Toronto Argonaut team 23-21, B.C. on the road against the Montreal Alouettes 30-26 ).
In the off-season, the Riders made a lot of changes. Some, I think, needed to be made. With a few, though, the jury is still out. And at Sunday’s game Riders fans very definitely were disgruntled with their team’s poor performance. If the Riders fail to rebound against the Als on Saturday afternoon at Mosaic Stadium, their discontent will only grow.