Leader-Post-mortem: Riders rudely introduced to reality
Reality 37, Saskatchewan Roughriders 10.
While winning by a 27-point margin at Mosaic Stadium on Saturday, the Calgary Stampeders reminded everyone of why they are a perennial CFL powerhouse.
The overmatched Roughriders, meanwhile, looked very much like a transitioning team that employs a first-year head coach (Craig Dickenson), defensive co-ordinator (Jason Shivers) and starting quarterback (Cody Fajardo).
After throwing for 790 yards over his first two starts, Fajardo barely made it into Saturday’s fourth quarter before being pulled.
Fajardo finished with just 89 passing yards, going 9-for-15 with two interceptions — both of which were made by Tre Roberson.
Roberson’s final theft was a 48-yard pick-six that, save for one short-yardage play, signalled the end of the day for the 27-year-old Fajardo.
In barely three quarters of work, Fajardo looked uneasy in the pocket — a contrast to the previous two games — and had a case of happy feet.
On Roberson’s six-point interception, for example, Fajardo was not under heavy pressure. Nonetheless, he pivoted in the pocket, rolled to his left and telegraphed a pass that connected with Roberson. Calgary soon led 30-10.
When the Roughriders next snapped the football, rookie Isaac Harker was behind centre.
The promising Harker needs to play, to be certain, but Dickenson should have demonstrated more patience with Fajardo.
It was the first true acid test for Fajardo as a CFL starter, so why not expose him to an elite defence for as long as possible? Why not allow him to learn from and play through his mistakes?
Test his resilience. Test his ability to adapt. Acclimatize him to life against an elite team. Show him where the bar is set, virtually every season, in the CFL.
The demonstration of confidence in Fajardo would also have been noted.
Yes, the interception-return TD was costly, but the Roughriders also cost themselves an opportunity to see how Fajardo responded.
Harker, to his credit, marched the Roughriders 50 yards in nine plays before being sacked for a one-yard loss midway through the fourth quarter.
On third-and-eight, Dickenson opted for a field-goal attempt — to the audible chagrin of one west-side patron, who bellowed: “We need 20!”
And the Roughriders still needed 20 points to tie the game after Gabe Ferraro’s second CFL field-goal attempt, because the 42-yard kick was wide and returned out of the end zone by Terry Williams.
Three plays later, Nick Arbuckle found Reggie Begelton for a 76-yard touchdown.
Dickenson should not be excoriated for opting against gambling on third-and-eight. Considering the wide disparity between the Roughriders and Stampeders on Saturday, the cause was hopeless.
But nonetheless … the Roughriders were trailing 30-10 and, even if Ferraro’s kick had been successful, the home side would have been down by 17, still needing three scores to pull even or go ahead.
If a successful field goal would have pared the margin to 16 — the difference being two touchdowns and a pair of two-point conversions — by all means attempt the three-pointer.
Under the circumstances, however, Dickenson was best advised to gamble.
Despite the struggles of Saturday, Fajardo does boast the most passing yards by a Roughrider over his first three CFL starts.
With 879 yards, he moved ahead of Kent Austin and Joe (747) Adams on Saturday.
In 1987, Austin threw for 822 yards over his first three starts. Adams put up 806 yards in 1982.
Also worth noting: Fajardo scored the Roughriders’ lone major on Saturday, rushing for a one-yard score.
Fajardo became the first Roughrider since running back Kory Sheets, in 2012, to rush for at least one TD in each of the team’s first four games. Sheets also scored in the Green and White’s fifth game of 2012.
And there’s this: Fajardo is the first Saskatchewan quarterback since Kerry Joseph to rush for at least one score in four consecutive games.
Joseph extended that streak to five games during the championship season of 2007, during which he was named the league’s most outstanding player.
Shivers’ matador defence was a disappointment, just five days after the Roughriders had dismantled the winless Toronto Argonauts 32-7.
Veteran defensive backs Ed Gainey and Loucheiz Purifoy were cleanly beaten over the top for touchdown passes thrown by Arbuckle, a first-time starter.
Saskatchewan’s high-salaried front four was ineffective on assorted running plays. On a 28-yard scamper by Williams, for example, $250,000-a-year defensive tackle Micah Johnson was neutralized by Stampeders right guard Ryan Sceviour.
Williams was eventually brought down by Cameron Judge, who led the Roughriders in missed tackles, with three.
Solomon Elimimian and Mike Edem both missed two tackles. Lavar Edwards, Solomon Means and A.C. Leonard each whiffed on one occasion.
Leonard more than atoned for the miss by registering two sacks — both on six-man rushes — and two tackles for a loss. He added two quarterback pressures.
Charleston Hughes had the Roughriders’ other sack, on a four-man rush. Hughes has five sacks over the past three games.
End of defensive highlight reel.
• The 28-yard run by Williams was part of Calgary’s 108-yard TD drive. The Stampeders also enjoyed a 99-yard scoring march. Those were the longest drives against Saskatchewan since Sept. 15, when the Ottawa Redblacks moved 109 yards on 11 plays in a 30-25 victory at Mosaic Stadium. (Thanks to Steve Daniel, the CFL’s senior director, game information and statistics, for his help with this item.)
• Pass-rush data: Shivers rushed with four 57 per cent of the time. He also sent three (13%), five (13%) and six (17%) pass rushers. Stampeders defensive co-ordinator Brent Monson sent four rushers with 84-per-cent frequency. Four of Calgary’s five sacks were made when only the front four was rushing the passer.
• Saskatchewan rushed with only three on two plays that produced a combined 103 aerial yards for Calgary. On second-and-13 in the first quarter, Arbuckle found Michael Klukas for a 27-yard gain. Then, of course, there was the 76-yarder to Begelton.
• Calgary’s Chris Casher had two sacks and one quarterback pressure. Cordarro Law added one sack and three pressures. Casher and Law both pressured Fajardo to set the table for Roberson’s first interception. Roughriders right tackle Thaddeus Coleman was penalized for holding Casher on the play. In Coleman’s previous start, June 20 in Ottawa, he surrendered a sack on a three-man rush. He sat out the following game.
• Calgary converted six of eight second-down situations when seven or more yards were required. The Stampeders converted second-and-13 and second-and-14 situations on the game’s opening possession, which ended with a TD. A second-and-19 conversion set up a field goal. At the other end of the spectrum, there was Saskatchewan, which was (eek!) five-for-16 when four or more yards were needed on second down.