Heading into the annual Labour Day Classic the Roughriders find themselves in the thick of the playoff race in the West with a 5-4 record. It’s hard to believe half the season has come and gone as a lot has happened on and off the field since kick-off June 15th. Therefore, it is time for a mid-season Saskatchewan Roughriders report card. Grades will be given out on a scale from A+ to F- to each position group including the coaching staff. Let’s begin.
The obvious negative here is Chris Jones’ absurd obsession of starting Duron Carter at defensive back for a number games. Despite garnering a pick-six in a blowout loss in Ottawa, it cost the Roughriders a victory the very next week. Carter was burned for a 79-yard touchdown by Chris Williams in the first half, the Riders would lose the game by six points. Another head scratcher was the constant quarterback carousel after Collaros was placed on the six-game injury list. However, in hindsight, Jones/McAdoo simply didn’t have the trust in Bridge and Watford that they do in Collaros.
On the positive side, there’s no denying Chris Jones’ vision on the rest of the defensive side of the ball. The Riders rank fourth in total points allowed (223), second in sacks (23) and second in forced fumbles (10). Jones dialled up some great pressures against Bo-Levi Mitchell resulting in five sacks alone. If Jones can keep this group of players playing at a high level, there are no limits to how good this defence can be.
Maybe the most “controversial” grade in the Saskatchewan Roughriders report card but Rider fans cannot forget where this team was before these last two games. Prior to the season kicking off, one of the major story-lines in camp was the battle at quarterback between Zach Collaros and Brandon Bridge. When Collaros went down in Week 2, Rider fans took solace in the fact they may have had the best backup quarterback in the league. However, things quickly took a turn south when the aforementioned quarterback carousel took place. Watford and Bridge combined for a 56% completion, two passing touchdowns, five interceptions and 165 yards rushing. This is not to say either quarterback doesn’t have a future in this league, perhaps they were just not ready to assume the starting role and as Rider fans know, Bridge showed tremendous upside in his relief for Kevin Glenn in 2017.
Zach Collaros has been lethal on intermediate-range passes (10 to 19 yards downfield) in both his wins as the Riders’ QB. He has been 7-for-8 from that range each time. Against Toronto, he found Naaman Roosevelt in a tight window for a TD. Similar squeeze for 14-yard gain Sunday.
— Rob Vanstone (@robvanstone) August 20, 2018
Thankfully, Collaros is healthy again and has posted a more than respectable stat line of 65% completion, four touchdowns, three interceptions and has thrown for 1,055 yards. But most importantly, he’s made big throws down the stretch to extend drives and keep the offence on the field. At the end of the day, the combined play between all three pivots has earned this position group a C+, but if Collaros can keep this play up or even improve on it, there’s no reason to not have confidence in this core going forward.
Thankfully, when the backup quarterback rotation was taking place, the Riders were able to lean on the running game for both of their victories over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. In each respective matchup, the Riders put up 150 and 218 team rushing yards. For context, the Riders only passed for 148 and 178 yards in each of those games. It’s not often that a team will rush for more yards than it passed but credit is due to the running backs that helped orchestrate those victories. Without them, this season has a much more bleak of a feel to it. The trio of Tre Mason, Cameron Marshall and Marcus Thigpen have brought a spark to the offence that has proven it can be relied upon when the passing game stalls.
One would think after releasing Duron Carter that this grade would be substantially lower. Thankfully, the efforts of Jordan Williams-Lambert, Shaquelle Evans and Naaman Roosevelt have alleviated Carter’s absence. The much talked about quarterback rotation through four-and-a-half games did this core no favours. But with Collaros back at the helm, this group has been making key catches at crucial parts of games. The slow start passing wise hinders the group’s overall impact when compared to the league, however, it’s evident that Collaros is gaining more and more confidence with this group with throws like this:
— CFL on TSN (@CFLonTSN) August 26, 2018
After a dismal start to the season allowing nine sacks in four games. The Roughriders offensive line now finds itself among the leagues-best units. Allowing just three sacks since, with 12 total on the season, three better than the next best units (15). While it’s tempting to sweep those first four games under the rug, the reality is they happened. That, in turn, hurts this unit’s grade, however, as Arielle Zerr reported, there hasn’t been a massive philosophical change for the offensive line, they’ve just been getting the little things right, which is all that’s realistically possible in the middle of the season.
What is there to say about this group that their play hasn’t already said. As mentioned prior, this group ranks second in the CFL in sacks with 23. Charleston Hughes is having a career year, he is currently six sacks away from breaking his career-high of 18. Willie Jefferson (four sacks), Zack Evans (three fumble recoveries) and Tobi Antigha (two interceptions) have held it down for the rest of the line, earning this group the grade of A+.
Many fans and pundits alike were worried about Sam Hurl replacing Henoc Muamba, however, Hurl has stepped in formidably ranking fourth on the team in defensive tackles. The standout from this unit though has been Sam Eguavoen, who leads the team with 41 defensive tackles, capped off with two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. Cameron Judge has also shown flashes with his 17 tackles and one sack to show for his work. While overshadowed by a stellar defensive line, this unit hasn’t done anything to warrant any extreme criticism.
Ed Gainey set the bar high last season with his 10 interceptions and it’s unfair to hold him to that standard again this season. However, no interceptions through nine games is a tad disappointing for a player of his stature. Gainey though hasn’t played poorly, he is still a core piece of the defence. Jovon Johnson has held his own with one interception. However, the star of this secondary has been rookie-former-quarterback Nick Marshall. After a stellar Week 1, Marshall, unfortunately, found himself on the six-game injured list. However, Marshall picked up right where he left off and now has two pick-sixes to show for his work, along with two rushing touchdowns on offence. The team has brought in Luchoiz Purifoy to solidify the secondary that ranks second-last in interceptions but fourth in pass knock-downs.
— CFL on TSN (@CFLonTSN) August 19, 2018
Brett Lauther has been money going 28/31 on field goal attempts, including a 56-yarder. Not much more needs to be said on his production and what’s he’s meant to the Riders over the first half of the season. Christion Jones leads the league in total punt return yards and is second in kick return yards with 605 and 706 respectively. Jones also tacked on a punt return touchdown last week to boot. The one negative to the special teams unit is Josh Bartel who is at the bottom of the league in punting average with 41.9 yards.
The Last Word
Pessimism ruled the Twittersphere after a 3-4 start, due in part to embarrassing losses to Ottawa, Montreal and Calgary as well as the release of fan favourite Duron Carter. However, after a statement win over the Stampeders and emerging victorious over the Lions, the Riders are trending in the right direction. There is still another nine games to play and a lot could change when an updated Saskatchewan Roughriders report card is made at the end of November.
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