November 14, 2010

Playoff Report Card: Saskatchewan Roughriders Staff

TORONTO — columnists Matt Cauz, Jim Lang, Jaime Stein and Mitch Ward hand out their grades for the Western representatives in the 98th Grey Cup the Saskatchewan Roughriders.. Cauz has been the Monday Morning Quarterback for the past two seasons while Lang has written the weekly look ahead at each week’s upcoming matchups. Stein and Ward produced the weekly showdown where the two debated current issues in the CFL.

QBs A- A B+ B+ A-
RECs A- A+ A A A
RBs B+ A- B+ B+ B+
OL B+ A- B+ B B+
DL C B+ C C+ C+
LBs B B- B B+ B
DBs B A- B+ B+ B+
STs B C+ C+ C+ C+
Coaching B+ B+ B+ B+ B+

CAUZ’s notes: MATH: D (Let`s try this again: 12 + 1 = __ ????????)

Sorry couldn`t help myself with that last grade. Until they win the Grey Cup that’s the joke that just keeps on giving.
Offensively Saskatchewan was like a Canadian Olympian, usually ending up in third place! I kid, I kid because I love! Listen in 2010 there were two elite teams, Calgary and Montreal with Saskatchewan coming in third by most rankings and certainly they were the third best offensive team in the CFL. Just look at every major category and you will find the Alouettes and Stampeders flip flopping between first and second with the Green and White always earning the bronze medal.
That said, on many days Saskatchewan offensively takes a back seat to no one. Darian Durant has as much upside and talent as any QB in this league. His upside is greater than even that of Henry Burris. The problem is that Durant is still prone to several four turnover games a year. Just look at their playoff victory against the Lions. Durant spent the first half badly missing his targets. That trend continued into the third with his bad overthrow of a wide open of Andy Fantuz. Of course it wasn`t all Durant`s fault, his offensive line couldn`t block Keron Williams, but in football the quarterback always gets the lion’s share of the blame. Shortly after the Fantuz overthrow the A+ Darian Durant emerged though and the Riders ended up winning in overtime.

As for the receivers I can’t figure out if it was a good thing that Saskatchewan won despite the poor showings from Fantuz and Chris Getzlaf or not. No matter, Fantuz led the league in yardage and Weston Dressler is just as dangerous. Wes Cates is a talented back and I know I’m not the only one that wondered why the Riders didn`t try to run the ball more in 2010. As for the offensive line I was happy to see Gene Makowsky get another Western Conference All-Star nod.

This will sound like a broken record but the Roughriders defence took a major step back with the loss of John Chick and Stevie Baggs. How could it not when you lose two guys of such talent? The numbers bear it out as the team suffered the double whammy of ranking last against the run and allowed opposing QB’s to complete a league high 68% of their passes against them. Those be ugly numbers. Barrin Simpson put together another solid year while Omarr Morgan and Lance Frazier had their moments, but as whole it was a disappointing year for them defensively.

Special Teams wise this was, for the most part, a non descript group as Dominique Dorsey was not able to provide a spark to the return game.

As for the coaching, well on the whole I am a fan of Ken Miller but I just can’t help feel that overall the regular season edition of the Roughriders was a bit of a disappointment. Maybe it’s a good thing for this team that a 10-8 record just didn’t feel like enough.

LANG’s notes: The Riders didn’t miss a beat in Brendan Taman’s first year as General Manager as the team won 10 games and secured a home playoff date. Like his predecessor Eric Tillman, Taman kept the flow of talent coming into Regina.

Like all good CFL teams, it all starts with the quarterback and the Riders have a very good one in Darian Durant. While Durant is prone to the odd interception, he’s still one of the best quarterbacks in the CFL. The strength of the Riders can be found in their strong core of receivers. Not only do the Riders have a great group of receivers overall, they have the best collection of Canadian receivers in the CFL. As if Andy Fantuz and Chris Getzlaf were not enough, the Riders also have another dynamic receiver in North Dakota native Weston Dressler. Wes Cates provides the Riders with a dependable and productive running game. While he’s not the best running back in the CFL, Cates has an uncanny knack for getting into the end zone and ended up leading the league with 16 touchdowns. Gene Makowsky and Jeremy O’Day are a big part of the Riders experienced offensive line. A man who bleeds green, Makowsky is the modern day version of Roger Aldag in Saskatchewan.

The Riders defence gave up the second most points in the CFL this season. One of the reasons is a defensive line that had trouble getting to the quarterback. Barrin Simpson made a ton of tackles this year, but he’s not the dominant linebacker he once was. Age and injuries are beginning to take their toll on Simpson. Tad Kornegay who went to Vince Lombardi’s Alma mater Fordham, rounds out what is a decent group of linebackers in Regina. While the Riders front seven has some issues, their secondary is the strength of the defence. The secondary is led by the by the man that led the CFL with nine interceptions this season, James Patrick. Along with Lance Frazier and old man Omarr Morgan, the Riders have a solid and active secondary. The Riders special teams were doing alright this year until the season ending injury suffered by Luca Congi. The other issue with the Riders special teams is the lack of a legitimate game breaking return man that other teams fear.
Ken Miller takes his fair share of heat in Saskatchewan, but that doesn’t take away from what he’s accomplished and his skills as a coach. In his three seasons under Miller, the Riders have won 32 games and there has been a home playoff game each year during his tenure.

STEIN’s notes: When Darian Durant is on his game he makes you feel like anything is possible. But when he is off his game you can feel the frustration of Rider fans exploding online and in the stands. In a way, it reminds me of “Henry the Good” versus “Henry the Bad” as in Burris. A little more consistency and Durant will be considered among the great QBs in the league (see 25 TDs to 22 INTs). Sure Durant led the league in passing yards, but he also threw 42 more passes than the next closest guy.

It is hard to match the quality of Saskatchewan’s receivers. Andy Fantuz is simply outstanding. There isn’t a ball that Weston Dressler can’t get to while Chris Getzlaf and Rob Bagg (yes, he is injured) are explosive targets. And I like what Cary Koch has brought to the team of late. Oh yeah, they also have Jason Clermont, one of the best receivers of this past decade. Are you afraid? You should be.

Cates can still get ‘er done on the ground, but I’d rather have Reynolds or Boyd and likely Cobourne in the group of top backs still in the running for the Grey Cup. The offensive line was inconsistent this year in Saskatchewan, but I’d stand behind the protection of Gene Makowsky any day.

Losing John Chick and Stevie Baggs hurt the Saskatchewan defensive line in terms of the pass rush while the front seven as a whole had major issues against the run this year. As Ward points out, the Riders gave up 137.4 yards per game on the ground. That doesn’t bode well given that the Western Final and Grey Cup will both be played in cold climates where the ground game will be more prevalent.

Overall, the Rider defence gave up too many points. But props to James Patrick on his all-star season and Tad Kornegay should be commended for assuming a new role in the defence while doing an admirable job.

Not sure where to start with the special teams. Dorsey was a bust early in the season. The return game never materialized in a year where we saw a ton of breakout players on kick returns. There are two things I do like about the Rider special teams: Eddie Johnson’s ability to punt the ball out of bounds inside the 5-yard line and his moustache.

Ken Miller seems to take all the heat when his team loses and none of the credit when the team wins. I find that strange. As did I find strange his decision to attempt a rouge in Week 12 instead of letting Luca Congi attempt a field goal. Miller could also be a bit more diligent with his challenges. But who am I to second guess
the guy that took his team to within seconds of a Grey Cup victory in 2009 and has his team set up for a similar run in 2010?

WARD’s notes: I’m not really sure how I feel about this year’s Rider team. At times they looked like world-beaters, other times they couldn’t pick up a first down or stop the run to save their souls.

Darian Durant never quite made the jump I was hoping for this year. The yardage and touchdowns were great but they came along with far too many inaccurate passes and bad decisions. If he can ever harness all of his talents and limit the interceptions and overthrows he could be the best quarterback in the CFL.

Despite the loss of Rob Bagg the receiver remains a major strength for Saskatchewan. Andy Fantuz and Weston Dressler are as good a one-two punch as there is in the CFL. When you throw in Getzlaf, Clermont and the emergence of Cary Koch they are solid from top to bottom.

Wes Cates showed that he can still make plays, but the Riders had a difficult time establishing the run consistently this year as the O-line at times struggled to open decent holes for Cates to get through.

Defensively this was not a great season for the Riders. Barrin Simpson is a great tackler, and James Patrick may be the best safety in the CFL but as a unit the team had a hard time consistently shutting down opposing offences.The Riders were the worst team in the league at stopping the run allowing 137.4 yards per game. This starts with the D-Line which is obviously nowhere near as good as it was a season ago when John Chick and Stevie Baggs were manning the end spots.

Special teams has left me shaking my head far too many times this seasons. Blown lanes on the cover teams, muffed balls on returns and now Warren Kean’s shaky leg do not leave me confident in this bunch. But damn Eddie Johnson hit a nice punt.

As for Ken Miller, I honestly think he is a good coach but I couldn’t not in my right mind give him an ‘A’ after the Rouge debacle from Week 12 against the Stamps.