Defensive Stars Overshadow Inept Quarterbacking
REGINA-Not very often does the inferior quarterback win in the CFL, but that’s exactly what happened Thursday night in Regina.
Despite Hamilton Tiger-Cat starter Jeremiah Masoli tying a CFL record with his 9th straight 300-yard passing performance, it was Saskatchewan Roughrider pivot Brandon Bridge fumbling and stumbling his way to an 18-13 victory despite barely passing for 100 yards and committing a costly turnover late in the first half.
How fitting that it would be a play in which the athletic Bridge would rely too heavily on his scrambling mobility to manufacture a score, rather than following the usual script of making his reads to find an open receiver or simply handing the ball off, that would nearly cost Saskatchewan and it’s fans who drove in from all parts of the ‘306’ for a Thursday night game.
It was a Charleston Hughes 57-yard scoop and score that bailed the Riders quarterback out. Not to mention Defensive Back (yes, still defensive back) Duron Carter’s tight coverage of Ticat star receiver Jalen Saunders all night.
Sure, Christion Jones was good on kick returns and kicker Brett Lauther made both of his field goal attempts including a 52-yarder. But this night belonged to the Defense.
In 12 other games played around the CFL this season already, nobody else has won while scoring fewer than 22 points. The Riders did it with 18 in this one.
Riders Will Have To Win with Defensive Domination
As a matter of fact, the Roughriders were involved in all 3 games where the winning side scored fewer than 20 points in all of last season.
The jury is still out on Saskatchewan Head Coach/GM/Defensive Coordinator/VP of Football Operations Chris Jones’s management of his quarterbacks and ability (or lack thereof) to build a successful offense from scratch even well into his 3rd year with the green and white.
What is not in doubt is his ability to build a squad capable of winning even with an inferior quarterback leading the way.
That’s not so uncommon down in the NFL where 3 of the last 4 quarterbacks left standing in last year’s playoffs were named Case Keenum, Blake Bortles, and Nick Foles.
But this is the CFL. It’s a far more quarterback-driven league than the National Football League will ever be.
It’s been 17 years since somebody won a championship without an elite quarterback when the Calgary Stampeders did it with Marcus Crandell in 2001.
And while Jones would prefer to win the old-fashioned way by using his overpaid quarterback (Zach Collaros) to out-sling the other team’s overpaid quarterback, this method of winning ugly is born out of necessity.
He knows it’s going to be at least 4 more weeks before Zach is back from his concussion if he (Collaros) even comes back at all.
Brandon Bridge hasn’t offered any real solutions in his 4 years as a CFL quarterback and David Watford is still a raw rookie proving to be ineffective unless defenses give him a lane to scramble out of the pocket.
There have been many great athletes and many great quarterbacks pass through the Canadian Football League but very rarely have any of them been both. Doug Flutie, Damon Allen, and Tracy Ham come to mind but those kind of players are very few and far between.
The Roughrider quarterback duo we saw Thursday night looked more of the former rather than the latter.
A case could be made the Roughriders should pursue the man shuffling his feet on the sideline opposite of them at Mosaic Stadium in week 3.
Johnny Manziel wanted in the game so bad, he rarely took his helmet off.
But he’s still a project the Ticats are likely unwilling to part with yet, especially in the aftermath of a loss in which they failed to finish any of their red-zone drives with a touchdown.
Riders Could be CFL Trendsetters
Like it or not, the Roughriders are going to have to be THAT team.
Like the 1985 Chicago Bears, 2000 Baltimore Ravens, 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and 2015 Denver Broncos, the Riders will have to go all in on winning big with their defense.
The cliche of ‘offense builds momentum but defense wins championships’ will have new meaning if Chris Jones and company get their wish in November of a 5th Grey Cup ring for Rider nation with this roster.
But if we learned anything Thursday night, if the Roughriders win anything 2018 it will be due to their defense and special teams but not because of their quarterback.
At least not Brandon Bridge.