Missing deep connections: dinking and dunking ‘frustrating’ Saskatchewan QB Cody Fajardo

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders

Saskatchewan quarterback Cody Fajardo was visibly distressed after his Roughriders lost to the Calgary Stampeders.

From the bowels of McMahon Stadium Fajardo was clearly perturbed following a disappointing 23-17 defeat to Bo Levi Mitchell and the Stamps. There was one particular focus that created a bother in the franchise man’s mind: deep passes.

“50-50 balls are our nemesis. I watch everyone else throw these balls up and make catches, obviously I’m a little frustrated right now. It’s been one of those things, anytime it goes up, it seems to be a pick or an incompletion,” Fajardo said post-game.

“It’s frustrating as a quarterback, I know those guys are fighting hard, but it’s hard to keep throwing those 50-50 balls knowing that they continue to get intercepted or they continue to hit the ground.”

The 29-year-old finished Week 9 completing 25-of-44 passes (56.8 percent) for 269 yards with zero touchdowns and one interception. That pick came on third-and-10 from Calgary’s 48-yard line with 25 seconds left on the clock. Fajardo forced the football down the field into double coverage looking for Ricardo Louis and Jonathan Moxey came down with the INT.

“That’s the frustrating thing, it just seems like every time we try and push the ball down the field, 50-50 ball and you throw one up, it lands in the defences hands. It’s just for whatever reason that’s the most frustrating thing is the 50-50 ball,” Fajardo said.

“You watch Sunday football, you watch any other team in the CFL and they’re connecting on 50-50 balls down the field and for whatever reason we’re not. And the times we do throw down the field it’s picked or it’s incomplete, we don’t draw pass interference and we rarely catch it.”

One of those rare long receptions, according to Fajardo, came in the fourth quarter. He stepped up into the pocket and delivered a strike along the left sideline to rising star rookie Kian Schaffer-Baker. It travelled 49 yards in the air and the six-foot-four, 195-pound receiver took it 22 more yards. That led to a four-yard William Powell rushing touchdown.

“We just need to find a guy who can go down and make a play other than Schaffer-Baker who is going to draw a double team. That’s the biggest thing is finding a guy who can be opposite of that. Everybody in the whole room knows it, I’m not calling anybody out, that’s just something we have to fix. I thought the guys fought hard,” Fajardo said.

“I gotta play much better and I’m not pinpointing — our receivers fought really hard. That’s the one weakness of our game and everyone knows it, everyone talks about it — our 50-50 ball. We know Shaq [Evans] is coming close, but we can’t count on that, he is still a game or two away. We gotta find somebody and get some confidence with the deep ball.”

Kyran Moore caught a team-high eight passes for 63 yards, including a long of 23 yards. Louis made three receptions for 34 yards, his longest checking in at 20 yards. Along with Schaffer-Baker’s 71-yard completion, the Riders had three chunk plays in the passing game against Calgary.

“That’s frustrating as a quarterback and confidence-wise it sucks because you don’t want to throw them, I don’t want to ever throw them, but you have to throw those balls. I’m in a situation where we have to continue to push the ball down the field. We can’t go 10, 11, 12-play drives, it’s just too hard on us offensively to do that,” Fajardo said.

“Our whole season it just seems like we’ve had to work so hard for touchdowns because the deep ball is not there. It’s 10-play, it’s 11-play drives and you see us stall out because it’s hard to maintain that for an entire game — it’s hard to go 10 plays every single drive. That’s the frustrating thing about not connecting with long balls down the field.”

Saskatchewan’s lone touchdown versus the Stampeders came after a deep ball to Schaffer-Baker, it was a four-play possession. The Riders were unable to put together or finish any other drives with majors, instead stalling for three Brett Lauther field goals. Fajardo wants to be “dinking and dunking” less.

“He’s frustrated and I can understand why, but at the same time there’s a right way to express it and a not so right way, hopefully he’s doing it the right way,” head coach Craig Dickenson said.

“I’m not going to disagree with that, he does need some receivers to step up and make some plays for him. I’m sure when he looks at the film he’ll see that he made mistakes too.”

Fajardo will review the tape with another chance to try and connect on more deep balls in Week 10 when the Stamps come to Mosaic Stadium on Saturday, October 9.

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.