The Longest Yard: Riders need to sort out short yardage

Gaining one yard has been easier said than done for the Saskatchewan Roughriders through two games so far this season.

In the CFL, where the defence is one yard off of the ball, it’s believed to basically be a given that when the offence needs just one yard to score or pick up a first down, they should get it 99 times out of 100. If that’s the case, the Green and White are due for quite the streak of short yardage conversions. After two games, the offence has been stuffed a handful of times when all they needed was one single yard.

You could argue that specifically two such failures have cost the Riders a pair of wins this year. Against the Argos, quarterback Bryant Moniz fumbled leading to a Toronto touchdown, he’s since been released after another fumble against Edmonton. Last week, Darian Durant was stopped on the final play of the game in the first overtime, giving Edmonton their first win of the year. Convert those two plays and Saskatchewan might be off to a different start. But, what’s done is done.

So, what’s happening exactly? According to former Riders offensive lineman Belton Johnson, a retired veteran of six CFL seasons, a big part of it could be a lack of experience for centre Dan Clark when it comes to snapping footballs with the quarterback right behind him.

“I think it’s the QB and the centre,” said Johnson. “Riders are mostly in the shotgun formation and barely under centre. Clark’s short arms could have something to do with it too.”

Since the end of the game against the Eskimos, Clark has been taking a lot of heat online from fans for the team coming up short but Johnson isn’t ready to throw Clark under the bus just yet.

“I think Dan is playing great. He’s the QB of the offensive line and from what I’ve seen, the oline is protecting pretty well,” he said.

It wasn’t too long ago that head coach Chris Jones suggested that his team would run the quarterback sneak every time in short yardage. So far, Jones has been true to his words. It’s fair to question whether Jones and offensive coordinator Steve MacAdoo should mix it up a little bit to keep defences guessing. Johnson supports Jones’ playing calling in theory but admits there’s some different things they can be doing.

“There are different ways to do a QB sneak. Like, off the edge but the oline should man up and take it,” he said. “If I was Jones or played for him, I’d call the same play he called every time.”

This week, quarterback Darian Durant suggested that getting short yardage right is an easy fix. Jones also suggested that the team’s philosophy in short yardage hasn’t changed, so expect more quarterback sneaks going forward. That means the offence better figure it out, or Johnson thinks it could lead to some long days at the office.

“They should be taking it very personal because it’s a given if you don’t get it, coach will get it out of you at practice.”