The coaches know it, players know it, fans know it. The Saskatchewan Roughriders were not good last week in a 30-15 loss to the BC Lions.
A score that hides the fact it was 30-0 with just four minutes left in the game.
‘We were just off’ was a popular phrase at practice this week in Saskatchewan as they prepare for the rematch against the same BC Lions.
In this space last week I wrote about how big a win would have meant for Saskatchewan against a western counterpart.
Well, let’s try that again.
Head Coach Chris Jones has been quite honest about the reality facing the Riders in a tough West Division. It’s simple. If they don’t win these games, they won’t gain much ground.
Simply, they’ll miss the playoffs again.
The punch back this week has to be there or the concern will increase even more.
After accusations that the team wasn’t motivated to play the Lions last week, the Riders can’t leave any doubt in the second half of the home and home set.
Is a win necessary? Not a lot may be expecting a Roughriders win but they need to at least show they can stay in a game against a Western foe.
The last two games, against the Lions and Stampeders, the Riders were not nearly good enough.
Especially early in the games.
It was stressed last week going into BC about the start and there they were again, playing catch-up early.
And that is where the indication will be if the Riders are ready to make a mid-season run up the standings like the Winnipeg Blue Bombers did last season after a 1-4 start.
We should know early if the Riders are up for the challenge. They’ve scored just three points total in the first quarter in their last three games, while giving up 26 points in those games.
In the games against the Lions and Stampeders, the Riders didn’t score a single point in the first half of those losses.
Why can’t they find an early groove?
Chris Jones is hoping someone can come up with an answer as soon as possible.
Here are three quick things that need to change this week if the Roughriders want to get on top of their opponents early.
1) Win the toss, take the ball
Now I know this is impossible to have much of an impact on when the visiting team gets to call the toss and then it’s a 50/50 shot at having this happen but in the last three games, the Roughriders have kicked off and given up drives that lasted four minutes or more and ended in points for the opponents.
The response in their first drives of these games = punt.
Now if they don’t win the toss or if they lose and the other team gets the ball, the Riders defence must make a stop early and not give away early momentum.
2) 2nd down conversions
The Roughriders’ four losses this season have seen them below 50 per cent on second down conversions and making punter Josh Bartel one of the busiest players of the game. The Riders need some extended drives early in the game to get in their groove and keep the opposition offense cold on the sideline.
3) Own the trenches
Kevin Glenn has been sacked on the Riders’ first possession of the game in their last three games. I don’t know if you’ve been watching league wide trends but that spells doom right away.
On drives where there are no sacks, teams are scoring touchdowns on 22 per cent of drives.
When there is a quarterback sack, teams are scoring touchdowns on 3 per cent of those drives.
You see how good line play can impact things and early on the Roughriders offensive line have been slow out of the gate.
If the Riders can tick off these three boxes, maybe there is reason to believe they can tick off another box; beating a western opponent.