With six games now in the books, the Riders have played a third of their schedule. At this point, we’re starting to get an idea of what this team does well, what needs work and what they really struggle at.
It’s also a good time to evaluate different aspects of the team. On the surface, a record of 1-5 suggests everything is disastrous in Regina. However, they are still technically ahead of last year’s 0-6 start. It’s not mind-blowingly better but there are still some things going right among many things that are not.
This grade might have been higher had Darian Durant played all six games. The franchise quarterback looked good through his first two starts before leaving the game against B.C. and then missing a couple of games due to an injury. Durant’s 978 yards aren’t jaw dropping but he did miss two games and part of another. Durant has also yet to throw an interception. As for Mitchell Gale, the jury is still out on how good or not he is.
Naaman Roosevelt’s play has easily been an A+ through the first third of the season. The Buffalo product leads the team with 562 yards. He’s also fifth in the league despite playing for a team that ranks seventh in the league in passing yards. After Roosevelt, Ricky Collins Jr. has shown some promise, Rob Bagg has had flashes including a big game against Calgary. Overall, the unit has been decent with Roosevelt’s play providing a bump in the grade. Some other names are going to have to step up as the year goes on.
Running backs: Incomplete
Surprisingly there is a team that has fewer rushing yards than the Riders, that’s the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. However, the Ticats have never been much of a rushing team under Kent Austin. With so few touches and a revolving door of running backs of late, it’s still hard to truly get a read on this group. The Riders have yet to record a rushing touchdown this season.
Offensive line: C
Considering the injuries that have piled up along the offensive line, this grade could have been a lot worse. The inconsistent lineups might be a reason why the Riders aren’t running the football much. The 12 sacks allowed is actually tied for third lowest in the league though a quick play offence has helped take some pressure off a beat up unit. Early struggles on third and short hurts this unit’s grade.
Defensive line: F
Growing pains were expected with a completely new unit from last season but eight sacks in six games just isn’t good enough. It’s not even like the pressure is close, for long stretches this season none of the big men of up front have made the opposing quarterback sweat. With a new secondary, a lack of pressure has made it hard for the defence to do their part. Chris Jones has rushed three quite often this year, but even when there’s four or more coming, no one’s got to the quarterback with any regularity. The coach knows this group hasn’t produced as more and more defensive lineman are being brought in every week it seems.
If there’s a bright spot on the defence it’s the second line of defence. Veteran Greg Jones leads the team in defensive tackles, surprise newcomer Samuel Eguavoen is behind Jones with 21.
Another all-new group that isn’t getting much help up front but the game changing plays haven’t been there with just one interception to date. Justin Cox looks like a good find as does Buddy Jackson but overall, the last line of defence has had far too many breakdowns giving up big plays.
Special teams usually get bunched together but I felt like breaking apart the kicking and the cover units. Tyler Crapigna has been great on field goals and Josh Bartel has been a better punter than expected after a difficult 2014 in Saskatchewan. They can improve at kick-offs as the team currently sits eighth in kick-off average.
Return game: F
The Riders sit second last in both punt return and kickoff return average. That’s not good enough.
Coaches are often only as good as their players and that’s true for Jones and his staff this season. However, some things could be done differently like mixing in the run game more when Durant was out to help support a young quarterback, not relying on a three man rush so much when even with four or more the Riders are having a hard time getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Jones gets credit for some aggressive decision making against Edmonton but there hasn’t been too much of that since. Sometimes a coach needs to roll the dice when a team is struggling to provide a spark. The Riders have been able to hang around in many games this year despite their struggles.
Jones and John Murphy are believed to have some of the best eyes for talent in the CFL. Their records with previous teams certainly suggest that but right now it’s been a struggle in Saskatchewan. Considering they had to completely blow-up an awful roster from last season, in terms of both talent and salary structure, they’re saved from getting an F. You can’t say the brain trust isn’t trying with a huge number of trades, transactions and roster moves, especially on defence. As the season goes on, it won’t take more than a few players to step up as they get more comfortable in the CFL for this grade to rise quickly. As much as they’ll talk about winning now, this is a rebuilding season in Riderville. Finding three to five good newcomers is nothing to sneeze at, it’s quite good actually but a team usually has an established core to insert those players into, something the Riders don’t have yet.
Yes, 1-5 for many might seem like an F but when you thought the team would finish 6-12, it’s hard to say they’ve been incredibly worse than expectations. I also had a hard time giving any unit an A on a team that has just one win. With 12 games left, they’ll have to win at least five of them to reach that mark, which could prove to be difficult. This is the CFL though and we’ve seen teams get better as the year goes on but the playoffs seem like the longest of long shots at this point.