I was going to write about the most shocking outcome so far from the 2010 season, the Lions 38-17 win in Montreal. However I was the guy who spent all week telling anyone who would listen that Chris Leak would do a good job. Clearly, I’m not the most qualified to talk about that blowout.
Instead, let’s take a look at Saskatchewan’s four point win over Winnipeg. With Buck Pierce returning to the starting lineup and Darian Durant looking to rebound from his worst performance of the season this game certainly had more than enough intrigue going in.
This game was all about wasted opportunities by the Blue Bombers in the first half. On three occasions the team produced big plays that gave them great position for touchdowns. All three times Winnipeg ended up with field goals.
A 63-yard, ‘reverse/flea flicker/I don’t know what you call it but it looked really cool’ completion to Adarius Bowman ended in a 27-yard field goal. Later, a perfectly executed fake punt gave the Bombers new life and a first down on the 26-yard line. However that gutsy call was rewarded with an unsatisfying Justin Palardy field goal. (More on this sequence in a moment).
Finally, a Durant interception had the Bombers at midfield with over two minutes to go in the half. Pierce got his team close, but not close enough, as Palardy was responsible for yet another three points. The field goal cut the Saskatchewan lead to 11-9 at the break. If Winnipeg’s red zone offence had done its job, this could have been a much different game.
Now this is not to say that Saskatchewan’s D doesn’t deserve credit for keeping the Bombers out of the endzone. Winnipeg’s second field goal was all about Chris McKenzie’s tackle on Brock Ralph at the 19-yard line. Ralph was in good position to keep the drive alive but his efforts were thwarted by McKenzie who took him down three yards short. The Bombers final drive looked like it would result in a touchdown as Pierce had a clear path to the end zone on first and goal on a roll out. However, he was tracked down by Brent Hawkins and taken down well short of the endzone. Just superior individual plays by McKenzie and Hawkins.
Speaking of individual players, Barrin Simpson may have been the best player on the field on Sunday. His first tackle of the game blew up a 2nd and short run by Fred Reid forcing Winnipeg to punt. Simpson finished with 10 tackles and one fumble recovery in the 3rd quarter (six plays later Wes Cates would score from one yard out).
Of course all isn’t right in Riderville right now. Their offensive line was pushed around all day. Hey it’s one thing when your line has difficulty with a variety of complex blitz packages, but Winnipeg was getting to Durant in a hurry with just a simple four man rush. Doug Brown, Dorian Smith, Philip Hunt, Odell Willis and Don Oramasionwu made life very difficult for the Roughriders’ signal caller. Far too many times Durant was forced to throw before getting his feet set.
Moving on to the quarterbacks.
I just don’t know if Buck Pierce has a future in this league. It’s not about his ability to play the position and certainly it’s not about his heart, but the next time he slides for his own safety will be his first. In some ways he reminds me of Jesse Lumsden: So much talent, but for a variety of reasons he just can’t stay healthy. In the past it’s been his knees, this time it’s a dislocated right elbow. I feel bad for Winnipeg, the team has more weapons on offence than you can imagine, but without an effective quarterback we may never know just how good their receiving corps can be.
Then there’s Durant. His 211 yard, three interception game against Edmonton the week prior was a disaster. Of the 18 possessions he had, four ended in a turnover. Six times the team went two and out and three other drives saw Durant generate just one first down. That’s a lot of wasted possessions.
Yeah it may be unfair to attack any quarterback after just a couple of mediocre/bad games but it comes with the position. I think it’s safe to say that the majority of Roughrider fans were curious to see which Durant would show up. Well after watching the game I’m not sure if we’re back to the one that was brilliant down the stretch in 2009 and at the start the 2010 season, but we certainly didn’t see the one who had struggled the past couple weeks.
Durant’s final drive of the first half saw his best and worst sides. After a Palardy field goal made it 11-6, Durant was forced to scramble. Once again his offensive line could not handle the Bombers front four. On the move, he somehow kept his wits together to find Weston Dressler for a 25-yard completion. However, two plays later he locked in on Dressler again. The errant pass led to an easy interception by Brandon Stewart.
Durant vowed at the beginning of the year to dramatically cut down on his picks. So far that proclamation has worked out as well as a New Year’s Eve resolution to quit smoking and start exercising more.
On the other side, Durant did what he needed to do to gut out an ugly win. Let’s be honest, aesthetically this game was not exactly a thing of beauty. Neither team developed any sustained offensive rhythm. But unlike Winnipeg, Durant’s team capitalized on their opponents mistakes, scoring touchdowns when needed.
Saskatchewan’s final score, a patient 11-yard scamper by Durant, was a textbook knockout drive, chewing up almost six minutes of clock as the Roughriders methodically went 91 yards for an eight point lead with six minutes to go.
These teams meet again on Sunday. All quarterback questions now fall on Winnipeg. What is the future of Buck Pierce and just how far can Steven Jyles take this team?
The best thing we can say about Darian Durant is that despite the inconsistencies and interceptions there is no question he can lead his team to a Grey Cup. And really, isn’t that the best indicator about what kind of quarterback your team has?