On a night where the Riders honoured the 1966 Grey Cup Champions, the Riders proved they are still far from being a champion due to a lack of championship depth.
For a while it looked like the Riders were on their way to scoring their first win for head coach Chris Jones in Saskatchewan, but then came the injuries, putting that celebration on hold for at least another week.
The biggest loss of the night came in the second quarter, Darian Durant took a low hit from Lions defensive lineman Mic’Hael Brooks. Durant stayed in for one more play, a touchdown pass to Rob Bagg, before leaving with what turned out to be a sprained ankle. Just how bad the injury is at this point isn’t known but it’s the kind of injury where recovery time can vary. The depth behind Durant was the biggest question heading into the season and we saw why on Saturday. Former Argo Mitchell Gale, despite completing seven of his first eight pass attempts, the offence sputtered for the most part. The third quarter was especially bad, tiring out the defence in the process, which might have played a big role in the Lions second half push.
Overcoming the Durant injury would have been enough of a mountain for this team to climb, then throw in injuries to all-star offensive lineman Brendon LaBatte, Canadian receiver Shamawd Chmabers and solid defensive back Justin Cox and it was simply too much. LaBatte’s injury was compounded by the fact that centre Dan Clark missed the game due to injury as well. John Chiles was also hurt but the game was already decided at that point.
At this point, the poor depth is not a blemish on Chris Jones’ record as a CFL general manager. What this shows is just how difficult it is to take a team that was 3-15 last year with bad Canadian and defensive depth and make them good in just one year. This rebuild is going to take some time.
Now that the depth being tested, it’s time for guys on the roster to prove whether they belong or not.
Next man up, as they say.
Jones stuck to his word again this week and cranked up the pressure defensively. Last week against Edmonton there was a lot of three man rushes. Not so much against the Lions. That being said, they still only managed one sack. Johnathan Jennings deserves some credit for making some quick passes and getting away at times. However, the front line of the Riders defence hasn’t taken down the quarterback much this year, specifically defensive ends Jonathan Newsome and Justin Capicciotti, who have yet to register a sack.
Overall, the defence remains a huge work in progress. Even though you can tell it’s a better unit than last years historically bad defence but there’s still a lot of work to be done. The Riders have given up at least 30 points in every game. Points allowed has actually escalated each week. Things won’t get any easier next week with Trevor Harris and the high flying Redblacks coming to town.
Where is the running game? Stephen McAdoo’s offence isn’t as run based as some others but Curtis Steele was basically invisible against the Lions. Matt Walter saw a little bit of time but didn’t blow the doors away either. The run game really could have been used once Durant went out and the team had a decent lead, it could have provided some support for a young quarterback.