TORONTO — The Saskatchewan Roughriders have rebounded from a tough start to their 2019 season. But is it fair to say they’re emerging as a contender in the CFL West Division?
Just a few weeks ago they were 1-3 and wondering whether Cody Fajardo is their quarterback of the future following a one-sided loss to the Calgary Stampeders.
A home-and-home with the BC Lions proved to be the answer, as the Riders outscored BC 83-43, moving out of the West Division basement and within striking distance of Calgary, Edmonton and even first-place Winnipeg.
On a team that was revered for its defence going into the season (that unit currently ranks third in the CFL, by the way), the offensive outburst has been a pleasant surprise in Riderville. Led by the elusive Fajardo, the powerful William Powell and the receiving duo of Shaq Evans and Kyran Moore, the Riders rank second in the CFL with 385.3 yards per game offensively this season.
Critics, however, are quick to respond that the Riders’ three victories came at the expense of Toronto and BC, who have combined for one win all season.
Do the Riders deserve contender status? The debate is on in The Weekly Say:
Have the Riders reached contender status?
Donnovan Bennett: Yes. With their defence and running game there is no stadium that the Riders will enter and not have a chance to win. Do I think they’ll be consistent enough to host in the playoffs? No. Do I think they are good enough two win multiple road games on the way to the Grey Cup? Yes.
Marshall Ferguson: Not yet but I have been extremely impressed with Cody Fajardo‘s ability to move the rock in a variety of ways and if he can maintain this level they will be in the conversation before Labour Day.
Jamie Nye: Putting the contender status on the Riders right now would be premature. They are moving in that direction after taking three of their last four. The letdown against Calgary still gives pause to put the Riders up at the top of the league’s contenders. Beat Hamilton this week and go to Montreal in two weeks and impress and then I’ll put the contender status on the Riders.
Landry: No they have not, although they are trending upwards. They have three wins; two came against BC and the other against Toronto. It’s too early to call them contenders. Tough but winnable games against Hamilton and Montreal coming up and then one against a team that beat ’em early in the season (Ottawa) after that. Take care of business in these games and they’d be in a position to show they are contenders by hanging with Winnipeg on Labour Day.
Matthew Cauz: Not yet. Cody Fajardo has performed far better than most expected and has certainly benefited from the play of Shaq Evans and Kyran Moore. However I still need to see a signature win from a team whose three wins have come against the 1-6 BC Lions and the 0-6 Toronto Argonauts.
Chris O’Leary: Not yet. A pair of lopsided wins over BC look good but I want to see what they do against some of the league’s better teams. They get a depleted Hamilton team this week, then Montreal next week, which should be a good test. The Banjo Bowl is still a ways off, but if they can take a game from the Bombers there I’d be ready to call them a contender.
Jim Morris: Let’s be honest. In a nine team league where six clubs make the playoffs few teams are really out of contention. But yes, at 3-3, the Riders are eyeing a playoff spot. They could catch Calgary for third place and there is always the possibility of a crossover.
Does Shaq Cooper deserve another start?
Cauz: Yes but this is not just about what Cooper did against Toronto last week. C.J. Gable has proven he can be a true No. 1 starting running back, but I’m all for going load management on him after Gable averaged 21 touches in the first five games. Keep him fresh for late in the season and the post-season.
O’Leary: His play says so, but this is the way it goes in football. Unless C.J. Gable bottoms out or is hurting his team on the field, he’ll continue to start at RB.
Morris: Cooper had an impressive game, no doubt. The asterisk is it was against the Argos. A healthy C.J. Gable deserves his job back. But if Gable looks like he can’t get the job done, Cooper has earned the opportunity.
Bennett: I’m a firm believer that you shouldn’t lose your job due to injury unless the person replacing you has outplayed the level you played at when you were healthy. Is that the case with Cooper vs Gable? Close but not quite. Cooper is a more explosive runner and natural receiver but Gable is more trustworthy when it comes to ball security and blocking. I don’t think Cooper should start over Gable but I do think he should and will eat up some of his carries and the position will become a timeshare. By the end of the season this could be Cooper’s job but he hasn’t done enough to wrestle it away yet.
Nye: C.J. Gable should not lose his job to injury but I’d try to get Cooper on the roster with him when Gable comes back. A little like the Riders have with William Powell and Marcus Thigpen. He’s showing he’s too good not to have as an option and to ease the load on Gable during a long season.
Landry: No he doesn’t, but thank you very much for the more than capable filling in, sir. If C.J. Gable is ready to go, then C.J. Gable should start. Simple as that. However, if Gable is iffy, it’s nice to know they’ve got a very capable back ready to haul the load.
Ferguson: It’s Gable’s job if he’s healthy.
Are the Ticats still the team to beat in the East?
Landry: The Ticats are still the team to beat. With a defence that is just now starting to dominate, they will be in every game they play from here on out. If quarterback Dane Evans is the guy the Ticats have been telling us he is, then they’ll keep rolling. If not, the Hamilton defence will have to keep things low-scoring and they have the potential to do that. But beware the Montreal Alouettes; that game on Oct. 26 could be HUGE.
Morris: Right now Hamilton is still 5-1 and first in the East, so yes that makes them the team to beat no matter who their quarterback is.
Cauz: Yes. Hamilton has more than enough talent to keep the rest of the East at bay. The loss of Masoli does help level the playing field and has reduced the ceiling for the Tiger-Cats, but there isn’t exactly elite talent at the quarterback position on any of the other East teams.
Ferguson: Yes. Montreal has been a ton of fun to watch so far and Masoli has been an integral part of what Hamilton has built, but the reality is Hamilton‘s success was not solely dependent on number eight.
Bennett: Yes. Dane Evans is one of the most coveted backup QBs in the CFL. His arm strength is actually greater than Masoli’s and he is surrounded by a veteran offensive line and a bunch of deep threats at receiver. Montreal is talented but has been playing at a high level for a month. The core group around Evans has been together and competitive for the better part of four years.
O’Leary: It hinges on Dane Evans. Ottawa is struggling because of QB play and it’s one of Toronto’s numerous issues. If Evans can keep Hamilton’s offence productive, the Ticats will be OK.
Nye: The injury to Jeremiah Masoli closes the gap in the race in the East but the Hamilton Tiger-Cats defence and special teams shows that this team can still win without exceptional offence. And we haven’t seen what Dane Evans can do to even know where the Tiger-Cats stand but they’ll still be a team that can win every week even if there is an offensive drop off.