Ben’s Breakdown: Riders’ receiver Shawn Bane Jr. adds three TDs to Marc Mueller’s highlight tape

Photo: Matt Smith/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

I used to chuckle sometimes as an offensive coordinator when my players’ highlight tapes included clips of them wide open downfield or running completely untouched into the end zone on a counter. Those plays weren’t their highlights, they were my highlights! Their highlights were the contested catches they made, their precise routes, their crushing blocks — the plays on which I wasn’t able to scheme them open.

On Saturday afternoon, Saskatchewan Roughriders’ receiver Shawn Bane Jr. had a career day with five catches for 125 yards and three touchdowns, tying a franchise single-game record. As well as the rising star played, his touchdown receptions belong just as much on new offensive coordinator Marc Mueller’s highlight tape as his own.

The Edmonton Elks were starting a very inexperienced secondary with rookies Kordell Jackson at safety and Devodric Bynum at field halfback, accompanied by second-year boundary cornerback Kai Gray, second-year halfback Darrius Bratton, and field-side cornerback Marcus Lewis. Mueller cleverly designed plays to take advantage of Edmonton’s inexperience and made some bold calls.

Below is my analysis of all three touchdowns Bane scored to help launch Saskatchewan to a season-opening win.

Touchdown No. 1
Edmonton 3 – Saskatchewan 0
Situation: second-and-nine on Edmonton’s 27-yard-line with 5:42 remaining in the first quarter.

Out of shotgun, Harris had receivers Jerreth Sterns, Samuel Emilus, and KeeSean Johnson to his left, Bane lined up out wide to the right, and Kian Schaffer-Baker in the right slot. The left side of the formation ran a standard variation of a China concept, with Johnson and Emilus assigned short in-breaking routes from the outside and Jerreth Sterns executing a corner route from the inside. On the right, Schaffer-Baker also had a corner route, while Bane cut underneath him on a delayed post.

The Elks were in cover-three cut, with safety Kordell Jackson patrolling the deep middle area of the field and Devodric Bynum and Darrius Bratton defending the outside thirds from the halfback position.

On paper, neither half-field concept is a “cover three beater” as both corner routes run directly into the halfbacks’ zones. The post should also be covered by the safety in the middle of the field.

What makes this design a thing of beauty is how the routes were run to expose the safety. Sterns broke his corner route extremely late, first attacking the space between Jackson and Bratton the way a seam route does.

On the other side, Schaffer-Baker broke his corner route early, which allowed Jackson to dismiss him and close toward Sterns. Bane, meanwhile, came off the line slowly to avoid drawing attention, then accelerated towards the vacated middle for an easy score as soon as Jackson broke away from him.

Touchdown No. 2
Edmonton 21 – Saskatchewan 8
Situation: first-and-10 on Edmonton’s 40-yard-line with 11:35 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Bane’s second touchdown of the afternoon capitalized on Edmonton anticipating a run and again exploited the young players in the middle of the secondary.

Up until this point in the game, Saskatchewan had run five plays on first-and-10 from the same area of the field in non-hurry-up situations, four of which were runs to A.J. Ouellette. Here, the Roughriders brought in Clint Ratkovich to play tight end on the left side with Ouellette in pistol formation behind Trevor Harris. Schaffer-Baker was in the left slot, Bane outside of him with Sterns in the right slot, and Emilus on his right.

In response, Edmonton brought safety Kordell Jackson right down into the box as all 12 Edmonton defenders lined up within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. When Trevor Harris executed a heavy play-action fake to Ouellette, the three linebackers — along with Jackson — were all drawn in tighter.

The two routes we’re going to focus on are Sterns’ post from the right slot and Bane’s over route from the outside left. The routes are designed to draw coverage toward Sterns and away from Bane, while the play-action is there to prevent the box defenders from dropping immediately into coverage.

The broadcast angle makes it hard to tell but Edmonton appeared to be running a rolling cover three with Bynum, the young halfback who was responsible for the deep middle. As Mueller planned, Sterns was identified by Bynum as the most immediate threat to his zone, but then Bane’s over route progressed into the open space vacated by the young halfback.

Boundary cornerback Kai Gray picked up Bane to start the play, but then correctly tried to pass him off as he progressed to the middle of the field, looking instead towards the incoming Jerreth Sterns. However, since Bynum trailed Sterms, the only defensive back left in the middle of the field was Jackson, who was flat-footed from the play-action look.

Jackson put himself in a blender, opened toward Bane, then speed-turned to complete a 360 before getting on his horse in pursuit. Jackson managed to close the gap, but Harris was still able to drop the ball in easily for the touchdown.

Touchdown No. 3
Saskatchewan 22 – Edmonton 21
Situation: second-and-eight on Edmonton’s 33-yard-line with 1:10 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Given the score and lack of time remaining — and the fact that Saskatchewan was already in field goal range — everyone in the stadium was expecting a running play, or at most, a quick-hitting pass. The Elks essentially declared they were running cover zero the moment they broke the huddle as all five defensive backs in coverage planted their heels at the sticks, looking to spring forward and either break up a quick pass or potentially pick it off.

Locked up with Bane on the outside and looking to make a big play, cornerback Kai Gray succumbed to temptation. He took his focus off the star receiver and shifted his eyes instead to the quarterback, the ultimate sin in cover zero. Bane took off down the sideline and by the time Gray turned his hips, it was too late.

Mueller had not only called a passing play, which no one expected, he called a shot to the end zone.

The purpose of this article isn’t to take anything away from Shawn Bane Jr. He’s off to a sensational start in 2024 after posting a breakout season in 2023. Instead, I wanted to highlight the work of an exciting young Canadian coordinator and play-caller, who may be poised to have a breakout season of his own in 2024.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders (1-0) will visit the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (0-1) at Tim Hortons Field on Sunday, June 16 with kickoff slated for 7:00 p.m. EDT.

Ben Grant is the radio colour analyst for the Toronto Argonauts. He has been coaching high school and semi-pro football for 20 years.