June 23rd, 2024

Inside the CFL: Odd decisions continue to plague the Riders

By None on July 31, 2018.

Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Brandon Bridge attempts a pass during first half CFL action against the Calgary Stampeders at Mosaic Stadium in Regina on Friday, July 28, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Taylor

After playing Eastern opponents their first five games, both the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Calgary Stampeders were anxious to get down to serious business and see how they match up. The teams met Saturday night in Regina under a late-rising full moon, perfect for a strange night.

Both clubs were missing key players: the Riders, superb linebacker Derrick Moncrief, Calgary defensive end Cordarro Law and running back Don Jackson. Fans wondered if Bo Levi Mitchell’s knee would allow him to move around the pocket. Would Chris Jones rotate quarterbacks or stick with Brandon Bridge? How would former Stamp stars Charleston Hughes and Jerome Messam fare?

As it turns out, Mitchell was fine, Bridge played all but two downs, Hughes had two sacks and Messam 31 yards on five carries and two receptions. Under arrest, he was cut yesterday. The visitors jumped into a 24-0 first quarter lead, survived a furious rally to win 34-22 and stayed undefeated at 6-0. Saskatchewan plays in Edmonton Thursday night, Calgary hosts B.C. Saturday, both teams have a week off and hook up again at Mosaic, Aug. 19.

Both defences and special teams played well. Calgary’s offence has had better nights but Saskatchewan, I’m not so sure.

Here are some facts. Last year, led by Duron Carter, the Roughriders finished with three receivers with more than 1,000 yards. After a third of the 2018 campaign in the books, there are no Green and White receivers in the top 20. While they rank in the top third in defence, they are in the bottom third in offence, along with Toronto and Montreal. The Roughrider offence is averaging a paltry touchdown per game. That just doesn’t cut it. And yet, coach Jones persists in playing Carter at corner when his offence desperately needs help. Every team needs a dominant, go-to receiver, like Duke Williams up north, Manny Arceneaux in B.C., Brad Sinopli and Greg Ellingson in Ottawa, Darvin Adams with Winnipeg. Carter is that man at Mosaic but he’s playing on the wrong side of the ball.

I don’t think quarterback Brandon Bridge is the problem. Former coach and present TSN analyst Jim Barker says Saskatchewan uses so many screen passes because they can’t protect him. Air Canada averaged seven yards a pass last Saturday. The O-line needs to improve. I believe Bridge needs a go-to guy and a deep threat. Carter is both.

Carter alludes to Jones as “doing his mad scientist thing.” Call it what you will but some of his decisions are just wrong. Playing a team as powerful as Calgary, you don’t gamble on third and one on your 40 yard line three minutes into the opening quarter. The Stamps caused a fumble and on the ensuing play, Bo Levi Mitchell found Marken Michel in the end-zone. If ever a turning point can come so early in a game, that was one. It wasn’t the only questionable call.

My spies at Mosaic tell me Rider Nation is still quite forgiving when it comes to Jones. But if the losses mount up, that will change, as quickly as a prairie thunderstorm develops. When they host Calgary in three weeks, if only out of self-preservation, he’d better have Carter back on offence.

I still believe Saskatchewan has the talent to win it all. Grey Cups aren’t won in July so there is time to adjust. Although Calgary is on another historic winning streak to open a season, with the exception of the 1948, 12-0 team, none of them won the Grey Cup.

What about a coaching change if they continue to lose? It would cost around a million dollars to send the man in black on his way, so they’re stuck with him. How about replacing offensive coordinator Stephen McAdoo?

Maybe I’m overreacting. Calgary is an awfully good football team that takes control in the fourth quarter like they did Saturday. Losing to the Stampeders is no disgrace.

Although it wasn’t a work of art, after two dreadful games involving Montreal and Toronto earlier in the week, the matchup at Mosaic was a blessed relief. This Friday, the struggling Hamilton Tiger-Cats are in Montreal. For the sake of the CFL in Montreal, please, oh, please, Johnny Manziel, be good.

Graham Kelly has covered the CFL for the Medicine Hat News for 46 years. Feedback for this column can be emailed to sports@medicinehatnews.com.

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