Chris Jones made the right calls in loss to Esks (mostly)

It was a fitting end for the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Friday night in Edmonton.

All night, the Riders had struggled to get things done in short yardage situations, much like they did the week before against the Toronto Argonauts. If the Riders had converted a few of those one-yard plays, the Green and White might have been celebrating their first win of the season. Instead, they’re not. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t some positive signs in the Alberta capital.

Jones gets aggressive

It appeared to be the key moment in the game, after Eskimos returner Joe McKnight fumbled, Jones didn’t think twice when he decided to go for it on a third and five with around six minutes to go. TSN’s Glen Suitor was convinced that Jones should opt for the field goal and let his defence get the ball back. As much as I respect Suitor, I’ll have to disagree with him here. That’s old school, conservative thinking. In football, safe is death. The Riders were in the red zone and in a strong position to score. Kick the field goal, giving the Eskimos the ball and you might not get it back with much time left or worse give up a game clinching score. There was no option but to go for it. I once criticised Corey Chamblin for not going for it during a third and one late in a game and it came back to bite him, it was Chamblin’s biggest regret that game, Jones wasn’t going to live with that regret.

After the eventual touchdown, the Riders had all of the momentum and Jones decided to try and make the most of it. He did his best Sean Payton impression and pulled off the onside kick when the other team didn’t expect it. It was a riskier call than going for it deep in Edmonton territory, but again, being bold worked out for Jones. That call led to the Riders taking the lead, a lead they should have held (more on that in a bit).

In overtime, Jones again made the right call. Perhaps it was time to draw up a different play but the idea to go for it on third and one during their first overtime possession was the correct one. After Edmonton opened the extra period with a field goal, this was more than likely the team’s best chance to win the game. Kick the field goal and the odds of a loss or even a tie increase. The execution was the issue on the play, not the idea.

Jones gets passive

For everything Jones did right in the second half of the fourth quarter, a passive defence ultimately cost his team the game.

After taking the lead in the final seconds, Jones rolled out a prevent defence. We all know what prevent defence prevents you from doing. If the Eskimos needed a touchdown to force overtime, that would be one thing. However, the Green and Gold only had to kick a field goal and just getting over mid-field was going to give them a chance to do it. Where was the pressure on Reilly? If you’re playing to win on offence, you should be playing to win on defence too. This is the CFL after-all and even when you think a game might be over, it’s not.

A passive defence was more or less the theme of the night for Jones, which is strange. Jones’ defences are normally known for getting after the quarterback, but more often than not, Jones only sent three after the Esks pivot. The coverage behind the line was good early but giving Reilly that kind of time, he’s eventually going to start moving the ball, and he did. In the second, third and most of the fourth quarter, it appeared Edmonton was going to run and hide as they found another gear. Being more aggressive on defence throughout the game could have meant not having to take risks late.

Other thoughts

There’s something about Commonwealth Stadium for Ricky Collins Jr. The first year receiver had a good game in Edmonton during the pre-season. He followed that up with six catches for 115 yards and a touchdown on Friday night. Collins is proving why someone like Clarence Demark was let go.

Curtis Steele has been a bit of a pleasant surprise. Steven MacAdoo’s offence isn’t too run heavy at this point but Steele has been dependable with a combined 70 yards of offence. Steele hasn’t been lights out but he’s been contributing in his own way.

It was another good night for the offensive line. It could have turned ugly when centre Dan Clark left the game but he did return. The Eskimos weren’t able to get much pressure on Darian Durant all night. Names like Marcus Howard and Odell Willis were especially quiet.

Most importantly, the Riders showed signs of growth against the Eskimos. They had a strong start, the defence settled in for a while creating some turnovers along the way and they showed fight coming back late. Now they just have to put it all together for 60 minutes. Wins and losses matter, but in football, it’s all about peaking at the right time. The Riders remain a work in progress but it does appear the work is headed in the right direction.

Joel Gasson is a Regina-based sports writer, broadcaster and football fanatic. He is also a beer aficionado.