Four games into the 2019 season and one could say it’s been anything but a normal start. Week 1 set the tone for the odd start to the season with starting quarterback Zach Collaros going down after a controversial headshot from Ticats linebacker, Simoni Lawrence.
Backup Cody Fajardo gave Rider fans a reason to believe in Week 2 in a shootout loss to the Ottawa Redblacks 44-41. A convincing win over the Toronto Argonauts in Week 3 had optimism high before a 37-10 trouncing this past weekend at the hands of the Calgary Stampeders brought everyone back down to earth. This Saskatchewan Roughriders bye week report card breaks down the coaching and offence. Next week will be the defence and special teams.
Head Coach Craig Dickenson has had his fair share of adversity four games into his tenure. Despite the promising play from Fajardo, it’s never easy to lose your starting quarterback in the first game of the season. Dickenson hasn’t necessarily had any big-time blunders like saying kicking a field goal on 1st & 10 down by 10.
However, this coaching staff as a collective bears the responsibility of this slow start. Jason Shivers needs to get more out of this defence. After a promising Week 1 in holding the lethal Jeremiah Masoli offence to just 23 points, the Riders defence have allowed more than 30 points twice in four games. For context, the Riders allowed 30 or more points just four times in the entirety of 2018 and five times in 2017.
Offensively, Stephen McAdoo appears to have opened up his playbook with Fajardo under center. Prior to the Calgary game, the Riders offence looked quite potent with convincing efforts against the Redblacks and Argos. Many thought the offence would be running through William Powell, though he has surpassed his 20 carry total since Week 1. He has still been a focal point in this offence.
All things considered, this start is par for the course in Saskatchewan. In 2017, the Riders started 1-3 and last season started 2-2 and 3-4 before turning the corner. No reason to call for any changes on the coaching staff.
As mentioned previously, the Riders were thrown an obvious curveball with the head injury sustained by Collaros. Fajardo and Isaac Harker showed flashes in a tightly contested loss to the Ticats in Week 1. It would be in Week 2 that Fajardo temporarily silenced the doubters in an impressive starting debut. Following their first win over the hapless Argos at home, Fajardo looked unstoppable.
However, a reality check was in store for the young pivot and it came at the hands of the division rival Stampeders. Here’s how Fajardo’s season has shaken out so far.
|Yards||Passing Touchdowns||Interceptions||Rushing Touchdowns||Completion Percentage||QB Efficiency Rating|
|945 (4th)||4 (5th)||2 (T-5th)||4 (T-1st)||71.1 (2nd)||107.1 (3rd)|
*Note: League rankings in () based on minimum two starts and prior to any Week 5 games being played.
Rider nation should by no means lose faith in Fajardo after a disappointing loss against Calgary. However, it will be very vital that he respond against BC next week to prove he can put up the kind of numbers he’s capable of against West Division rivals. A ‘B’ feels like a fair grade here.
Powell, prior to Week 5 is third in the league in rushing with 276 yards. He has also capped off two touchdowns to boot. With 60 carries on the season, Powell has been the bell-cow back of the offence, the next closest is Marcus Thigpen with 17 for 104 yards. Ideally, the Riders would like to spread those carries out more to keep Powell fresh for 18 games. This was one of the more difficult position groups to find a fault within the Saskatchewan Roughriders bye week report card.
The emergence of Cody Fajardo has also done tremendous favours to the receiving corps of the Riders. Kyran Moore burst on the scene in 2018 but has continued that momentum in 2019 including his 98-yard touchdown against the Argos.
— CFL (@CFL) July 1, 2019
Shaq Evans and Kyran Moore’s performances over the first four games of the season have the two receivers in the top 10 in receiving yards heading into Week 5. Naaman Roosevelt and KD Cannon round out what’s been quite an electric group to watch over the first four games of the season. Cory Watson and Justin McInnis have stepped in when need be. This group has limited their mistakes but will need a sharp bounce-back game as the passing game struggled against Tre Roberson and the Calgary defence.
Perhaps to no fault of there own as the sport of football is known to be a physically demanding one, the Riders have started four different offensive line combinations in the first four weeks of the season. That’s included changes at left tackle, right guard and right tackle. The two consistent pieces have been Philip Blake at left guard and Dan Clark at the center position. The result? Nine sacks allowed in the first four games of the season, including the five sacks allowed last week against Calgary.
To be fair, the sky isn’t falling for this group. I had similar sentiments last season around this time and the group went on to allow the least amount of sacks in the CFL. There are worse units in the league (looking at you, BC). However, if this offence is to bounce back after last week’s performance, they’ll need this group to have a similar trajectory as last season.
At 1-3, there is no reason to hit the panic button. This Riders team has shown flashes of what it could be in games against the Redblacks and Argonauts. Just as it’s shown dents in the armour against the Stampeders. Time will tell what the outlier truly is. Whether or not the Riders continue with Fajardo once Collaros is deemed healthy enough to play remains to be seen but it will offer an interesting wrinkle when the time comes. Keep your eyes open for next week’s edition of the Saskatchewan Roughriders bye week report card for defence and special teams.
Main image credit:
Embed from Getty Images