With their latest loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the Saskatchewan Roughriders have guaranteed themselves a losing season for the second year in a row. Despite the off-season signings of star players (e.g. Justin Capicciotti, Shawn Lemon, and John Chiles) and a full-on coaching pilgrimage, the losing Roughriders remain a troubled team.
During Saturday’s game, TSN’s Rod Black stated on air that the Riders “weren’t playing like a 1-9 team.” Black is a respected analyst and entitled to his view, but the truth is the Riders were playing exactly like a 1-9 team. Fans of the team may not want to hear it, but the team only has itself to blame as the losing Roughriders now face another lost season.
Losing Roughriders Face Another Lost Season
One of the hallmarks of a bad team is an inability to run the most basic plays with consistent success, a calling card of the 2016 Roughriders. No team in the league has had more failure on short yardage dives and screen passes than the Riders, basic plays run by every CFL team. It usually comes as a surprise when any CFL team fails to gain a yard with their short yardage teams, at the goal-line or otherwise. The offensive advantages of a full yard buffer and knowledge of the snap count make the play near automatic.
Not so for Saskatchewan. Any time the team lines up for a plunge, fans lean on the edge of their seats and hold their breaths. What is automatic for most teams has become a 50-50 proposition or worse for the Green and White.
Screen passes are more difficult to perform; careful timing and blocking is required to set up the play and allow it succeed. But this year the Riders are having their screen plays blown up before they even get started. Whether it is quarterback Darian Durant sailing a pass over the running back’s outstretched hands or receivers whiffing on their assigned blocks, the Roughriders are having remarkable difficulty with a play many teams run without a hitch.
Throughout this season – and all of last year’s for that matter – the Riders have been become known for shooting themselves in the foot at the worst of times. A big play overturned by a bonehead penalty, an interception tossed in the red zone, or trying to lay a big hit rather than wrap up and allowing a big gain. All of these mental errors are commonplace for the Green and White this season.
What should be especially concerning for the team is that these were exactly the type of things that the hiring of Chris Jones was to supposed to eliminate. The excuse that the team is young and developing is a tired and frankly unacceptable reason for the Riders’ litany of gaffes through 12 weeks. This team is building for next year, but there is a much deeper problem than inexperience that Jones and Co. have to root out if 2017 is to be any different.
Perhaps no single play epitomized the Rider’s puzzling play-calling this season more than the decision to attempt a fake punt in the Rider’s most recent loss. Saskatchewan overthought what should have been a much more straightforward situation and wound up with a soul-crushing turnover.
The play called into question many of the Riders’ decisions this season that have led to horrendous results. Frequently pulling Durant off the field for bizarre plays run by Saskatchewan’s litany of backup passers, an inability to catch opponents off guard in “fake play” situations, and an almost allergic aversion to the running game have many wondering what the thought process is on the sidelines.
It’s true that the Roughriders have suffered more than their fair share of injuries, especially along the offensive line, but great coaches design their playbooks for the plays they have and not the ones they want. Perhaps a fully healthy Roughriders team would have waltzed through the season, but you would be hard pressed to not say the same thing of every other team in the league.
With the best record the Riders can hope for being 8-10 (allowing for an unlikely seven-game winning streak), the season is effectively over for Saskatchewan. While there is still hope for the future of the franchise, it is the Riders and their own mistakes, not CFL conspiracy theories, injuries, or dumb luck, that are responsible for the second lost season in a row.