So what do we make of the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ blazing start to the season? They’re the last remaining undefeated team, they’re leading the league in points scored, and have won all three of their games by double figures.
Considering their last two victories have come against last year’s Grey Cup finalists you have to be impressed, don’t you?
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I kind of feel like this week’s column is shaping up to be the Bizzaro Version of last week’s where I cautioned everyone about burying the Alouettes too early in the season. Well Montreal lost again so maybe it’s time for me to embrace the small sample size and anoint the Roughriders as the best team in the league?
Of course I can’t do that, at least not yet.
Instead let’s take a look back at Saskatchewan’s 39-28 win over Toronto and see if we can learn anything from these two teams.
1) Kory Sheets did his best Mariano Rivera impersonation on Thursday night. His first five carries netted a grand total of eight yards, but his next 21 carries saw him gash and bounc all over the Argonauts defence for 173 yards.
This wasn’t one of those performances where a running back breaks off a couple long runs but is generally held in check. From midway through the second quarter until his spectacular 37-yard touchdown run (more on that later) Sheets kept grinding out 5 or more yards on first down, keeping drives alive on second and short and generally ensuring the Argonauts defence couldn’t key on Darian Durant.
I love the idea that late in the year we will see Sheets being within striking distance of Mike Pringle’s single season record of 2,065 yards. Who doesn’t like watching athletes break records? Getting back to the 37-yard touchdown run let me just give a big shout out to Ben Heenan & Brendon LaBatte who were the lynchpins for that score.
2) Last year Saskatchewan had a top-3 defence and there is no reason to think it won’t be even better this year with the addition of Rey Williams and John Chick. Williams had two sacks against Toronto and is leading the team in tackles and sacks. Of course being able to track down Ricky Ray is not exactly the hardest thing to do.
Jokes aside, I love what he brings to any defence and I’m looking forward to his quotes about the Tiger-Cats. As for Chick, one play in particular sticks out. Midway in the second quarter Toronto is looking to respond after a Sheets touchdown had give the Riders a 14-11 lead. On second down Ricky Ray hits Andre Durie with a simple check down pass. Durie makes one man miss and has a clear path for a first down until he is tackled from behind by Chick.
This is the first two and out for Toronto. What makes this play noteworthy was Chick was nowhere close to Durie when he first caught the ball but managed to hustle across the field and track down one of the more difficult slotbacks to tackle. A great effort play that no doubt rubs off on the rest of the team.
3) Dontrelle Inman vs. Tyron Brackenridge was just a fun matchup to watch. Full credit for Inman for sticking it out considering the hits he took and the nagging injuries he had to deal with throughout. As for Brackenridge how can you not be enthralled watching that dude hit guys from his new safety position.
4) What I liked about Durant: His willingness to continue to attack the Argonauts deep, his patience in the pocket and his mobility. Yes, he only had two carries for 24 yards but he looked more comfortable on the move, something that seemed to be lacking for parts of last season. Beyond getting injured, Durant looked in control for most of the game. I also liked the news that his injury is not that serious.
5) What I did not like about Durant: Technically he has zero interceptions but he had two balls that should have been picked off. Early in the second quarter he attempted one of those dangerous across the field, ball seems to hang in the air forever throws. Now to be fair, the team was having success as Toronto’s DB’s were giving more cushion than Leons, but you have to be smart about it.
One last point here on Durant and turnovers. There was a play where Durant took off and ran up the middle through more Toronto traffic than Spadina at 5:30pm. It was a dangerous play and the Argonauts easily stripped Durant of the ball. Fortunately the star of the night, Kory Sheets, was there to recover the fumble, no harm, no foul. But if a lingering concern about Durant is his ball security these plays need to at least be looked at and discussed. Let’s just all agree he got away with one.
6) A 13 men on the field penalty? Really Saskatchewan, really? Good on Chris Cuthbert and Duane Forde for not making more jokes about it. I would have spent 20 minutes beating that dead horse of a joke while missing all of the action.
7) Loved the Chad Kackert touchdown celebration with Inman. I have never seen two professional athletes celebrate with a Low Ten/High Ten combination followed by some sort of paddy cakes finishing move. Felt very retro plus who gives out low tens anymore?? On a side note Cuthbert did throw out the stat that during the Argonauts playoff run Kackert averaged 21 touches in the team’s three post-season games while amassing 488 yards.
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Considering the havoc Saskatchewan’s pass rush was having on Ricky Ray and the offensive line, I believe the team made a mistake not featuring him more. Remember the Argonauts offence was at its best during the Grey Cup run, if the team wants to recapture that form Kackert needs to be more a part of the game plan.
8) Great to see Robb Bagg reach the end zone. It has been a long time coming, here’s hoping the next five years, the amount of touches he scores is greater than the number of knee surgeries.
9) The biggest play in the game was not the late Sheets touchdown, it was the Taj Smith 61-yard touchdown catch with less than a minute to go in the first half. Just an absolutely deflating play for an Argonauts secondary that is has been giving up an alarmingly high number of big plays. There were breakdowns all over the field on this one; Duane Forde did a great job breaking this one down. I’m in a good mood so I’ll just say it was a tough night for Jamie Robinson.
10) Now the final point, the Green and White elephant in the room. I have no doubt you have heard countless times over the past couple of days that the Roughriders started the 2012 seasonby winning three straight before losing their next five games. Winning streaks just like losing skids are never about one player. But in football everything starts with the quarterback.
Through those first three games Durant completed 67 per cent of his passes, had four touchdown passes but more importantly did not have one interception. The next five games saw a marked regression as Durant tossed eight interceptions compared to just four touchdowns. Having said all this I don’t forecast a similar plunge in 2013.
The calming effect of Sheets and the running attack means there won’t be as much pressure on Durant. Plus, with this elite defensive unit I have a hard time seeing a similar losing skid this year around. Of course so much will revolve around the health of Durant, it always does. A fascinating game to re-watch, the game was closer than the final score, but at this moment it does feel like Saskatchewan has earned the right as best team in the CFL … for now.