The Saskatchewan Roughriders knew it wouldn’t be easy in Edmonton, but the green and white made a win more difficult for themselves.
The Elks, a highly motivated bunch taken to the woodshed in Vancouver in Week 1, were desperate to give the 23,121 fans who did show up sprinkled throughout cavernous Commonwealth Stadium something to get excited about.
Former Saskatchewan turned Edmonton head coach Chris Jones, who just last week praised Rider quarterback Cody Fajardo for doing a great job of “managing the game” in the green and white’s season-opening win, needed to show his followers improvement after being routed in his green and gold debut 2.0, and criticizing Fajardo in the offseason.
The Elks were motivated to show Jones is still the architect who flipped both Edmonton and Saskatchewan from dumpster fires into Grey Cup contenders.
Edmonton was jazzed up to show that Stephen McAdoo is a savvy play-caller out to prove the Riders wrong for dumping him following the 2019 season.
Edmonton had to show their fanbase there is no need to worry about losing Derrick Moncrief and that Ed Gainey is a key piece to get back the other way in the free agent swap.
This was never going to be any kind of route or free spot on the bingo card, despite the mismatch on paper. The Riders deserve credit for getting a road win in a match they just had to have to keep pace with the three other undefeated teams in the West Division. The green and white did however make numerous attempts to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in their 26-16 win over the Elks.
Moncrief’s after-the-whistle wrestling match with veteran receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux failed to serve any purpose to the winning cause. Nor did his third quarter dust-up with Elks centre David Beard which got Moncrief tossed from the game.
“Very uncharacteristic of Derrick Moncrief, that guy is as cool as a cucumber. So something was going on that was really firing him up. He felt bad about it, he talked to the team at the end and apologized for taking those penalties and putting us in a bind,” head coach Craig Dickenson said post-game.
Although, it wasn’t just Moncrief taking penalties. The green and white amassed 134 penalty yards compared to 55 for Edmonton. This is nothing new for a Rider squad that was criticized by former defensive tackle Zach Evans late last season for leading the league in penalties.
Evans suggested the burden of the constant flags polluting the field does not fall solely on the shoulders of the Riders ‘nice guy’ head coach, but the pattern does dangerously appear to be turning into a staple of the Dickenson era in Riderville.
A win, is a win, is a win even in Edmonton where everyone but the Elks have been winning since before the pandemic started. But as they used to catch up with other teams who showed a carelessness for penalty flags, Dave Ritchie’s teams in B.C. and Winnipeg come to mind, these issues have persisted in Saskatchewan at a time they can ill-afford.
“What I told the guys on the sideline, it’s unacceptable to have that many penalties, but to find a way to win a game, that means we got a special group. When we don’t take that many penalties, hopefully, it’s a little bit easier,” Fajardo said.
It might seem silly to some to refer to a Week 2 win as a game the Roughriders had to have but stacked up in a West Division where no fewer than four teams including Saskatchewan are forecast to pile up double-digit win totals, games against Edmonton are essentially must-wins to set the Riders up on a level playing field to slug it out with the likes of Winnipeg, Calgary and B.C.
The win was positive for Saskatchewan in the standings but it will be a whole lot better if Dickenson uses it to draw a line in the sand over costly penalties.
“We had way too many, there’s no doubt about it. I’m going to talk to the team, I’m going to have a real heart-to-heart, try to let them know as best I can that those penalties hurt the team,” Dickenson said post-game.
“We don’t want to be selfish players, we want to put the team first, and unfortunately a lot of those penalties we didn’t do that.”
As strong as the defence was in forcing three turnovers and five quarterback sacks, as productive as Jamal Morrow was with 211 all-purpose yards and as efficient as Fajardo’s performance was by completing more than 75 percent of his passes, what the Riders served up Saturday night likely wouldn’t be enough against most other teams, especially in the hyper-competitive wild, wild West.
If the Riders hope to finally surpass Winnipeg, they will have to be a lot more disciplined.