The first half of the Canadian Football League season is in the books, and from what we’ve seen through nine weeks thus far, it’s anybody’s guess what happens in the remaining weeks to come. I can’t remember when we’ve seen this much parity and uncertainty week in and week out like we’ve gotten so far, and I know most CFL fans wouldn’t have it any other way.
|Hebert Lays it Down|
Alouettes safety Kyries Hebert sent shockwaves through the CFL with a bone-crunching block on Hamilton receiver Onrea Jones.
Our own Rod Pedersen wrote this weekend how panic hasn’t set in with the Riders as of yet, and I think that’s a good thing. But even though Saskatchewan wants to stick with a longer term plan, we’re still talking about the Riders, and winning now is always going to be very important, meaning panic could set in sometime soon if current results aren’t rectified.
After their 17-10 loss at home to Calgary on Saturday night, Saskatchewan dropped their fifth consecutive loss following a very impressive 3-0 start. So let’s ask a few questions. First: should panic be setting in? I don’t think so, because I’m always a long term thinker. This team is moving in the right direction, and I think we’ve seen plenty of indications of that already this season, even with recent results.
The team has improved in a number of key areas. The stats may not be overwhelming, but comparing Riders football from last year to this, there’s no doubt they’ve made their pass rush better in dramatic fashion. Their running game is much more consistent as well and it has made their attack much more versatile. I really enjoy watching Kory Sheets run the ball, and I don’t think there’s any question he’s been huge for their offence this year. So that begs the second questions.
Why have they lost five in a row? The simple answer comes from the results. Other than their win over Hamilton and loss to BC, Saskatchewan has played in a ton of very close football games. The fact is, they’re probably right about where they should be, or at least in that range. Could they be 5-3 or 4-4? Of course they could. At 3-5, they’re still very much in the mix for a West Division playoff spot and a potential crossover as well.
On top of that, though, the Riders need to start getting better decision making out of their quarterback. Maybe it’s only my perception, but it seems ever since Darian Durant threw his fourth quarter interception against the Stampeders in week four, he hasn’t been the same. That pick was a huge turning point in Saskatchewan’s first loss of the season and things just haven’t been the same with Durant ever since.
He threw an interception and no touchdowns in Saturday’s loss to Calgary, and a lot of the decisions he’s making are coming when they don’t need to. I don’t know if I sit in the minority on this debate or not, but I’m still a believer in Durant, but he has to get his stuff together in short order if the Riders are to stay in the West Division mix.
Not the problem
When I first heard rumbles that Paul LaPolice’s job might be on the line going into Winnipeg’s home game against Hamilton in Week 8, I was a little surprised. Even with a poor start to the season, why would the Bombers be thinking of firing the head coach that brought them to the Grey Cup game less than one year ago? Just over one week later, the decision was made following a 20-17 loss to the BC Lions…the team that beat Winnipeg to capture the Grey Cup in 2011.
While coaching is always going to shoulder some of the blame when on-field success is lacking, I think there are other areas to point to before making LaPolice the scapegoat. I believe Winnipeg made this move too prematurely, especially after a close loss to the current class of the league.
To be honest, I’ve seen some signs of the team coming around in recent games, especially defensively. The Bombers have been plagued all year with focus issues when they haven’t had the ball, missing routine tackles and blowing coverage. Against both Hamilton and BC, things were noticeably better and I thought a coaching change was a tad hasty.
One roster note sticks out to me as well. Winnipeg has yet to address their quarterback situation, as they decided to go forward with Buck Pierce once again this season knowing full well there is always an injury risk associated with him. A situation like that makes things tough on the other quarterbacks on the team and the coach. Pierce is supposed to start, but things have changed from week-to-week in that department.
Many times in professional sports, a general manager will make a coaching change in a situation just like this. A lot of those times, that coaching change could turn out to be the final bullet in the chamber. I’m not sure if that’s the case for Joe Mack or not, but there’s no question the spotlight is brighter on him now.
Pat Steinberg is the co-host of the drive home program on Sportsnet Radio FAN 960 in Calgary. He also reports on the CFL and the Stampeders and hosts pre and post-game programs for the team. He looks forward to traveling to the Grey Cup every year. Follow Pat on Twitter @Fan960Steinberg.
|2||Blue Bombers||DE||Mulumba, Andy|
|3||Alouettes via EDM||LB||Edem, Mike|