Vanstone: Riders' deficiencies foreshadowed Banjo Bowl blowout
A blunderous Banjo Bowl created enough headaches to send Saskatchewan Roughriders fans scrambling toward pill country.
A six-game winning streak ended in embarrassing fashion on Saturday, when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers handed the visiting Roughriders a 35-10 loss.
The score flattered the Roughriders, who trailed 35-3 in the third quarter.
So what went wrong?
The usual …
Perhaps we should have seen this coming — especially in light of sentiments articulated by Roughriders head coach Craig Dickenson following a 19-17 home-field victory over Winnipeg on Sept. 1.
“If we play like we did tonight, we won’t win,” said Dickenson, whose prescient comment appeared in last week’s Leader-Post-mortem.
Six days after Dickenson sounded that ominous note, the Roughriders struggled on offence. Again.
They missed tackles. Again.
They took undisciplined penalties. Again.
Saskatchewan was flagged only six times on Saturday, compared to 16 on Aug. 24 (in a 40-18 victory over the visiting Ottawa Redblacks) and nine in the Labour Day Classic.
Six penalties against is a modest enough total — but consider the impact of some of the infractions.
On Winnipeg’s opening possession, Bombers quarterback Chris Streveler scrambled, didn’t find anyone open, and threw the ball away. However, he was then hit in the helmet — incidentally, but still in contravention of CFL rules — by defensive tackle Micah Johnson. He was flagged for roughing the passer.
Instead of facing a second-and-10 situation, the Blue Bombers were gifted a first down on Saskatchewan’s 12-yard line — whereupon the Roughriders’ Ed Gainey was flagged for pass interference in the end zone.
Streveler opened the scoring on the next play, courtesy of a one-yard quarterback sneak.
A penalty to Saskatchewan also extended Winnipeg’s second touchdown drive.
On second-and-nine from the Roughriders’ 53-yard line, Streveler hit Rasheed Bailey on what appeared to be a harmless pass. Bailey was held to five yards, but Saskatchewan’s Seun Idowu was flagged for face masking.
Four plays later, Streveler found Daniel Petermann for a five-yard major.
As for missed tackles, well, there were four whiffs on one play during that drive. Streveler left Johnson, Cameron Judge, Nick Marshall and Mike Edem grasping at air during a 21-yard run.
Six days earlier, the Roughriders had failed to corral Johnny Augustine on a 55-yard run that was followed by Streveler’s nine-yard TD pass to Kenny Lawler.
Johnson led the Roughriders in missed tackles on Saturday, with three. Judge, Marshall, Edem, Loucheiz Purifoy, Lavar Edwards, Charleston Hughes, Solomon Elimimian, L.J. McCray and Makana Henry had one each.
The emerging area of concern, though, is the offence — or lack thereof.
Saskatchewan has not scored more than one offensive touchdown in three of its last four games.
The Roughriders did erupt for four offensive majors on Aug. 24, but that was against a dreadful Ottawa team.
Saskatchewan has only one offensive touchdown in each of its last two games. Plus, the Roughriders’ offence failed to reach the end zone during a storm-shortened game in Montreal on Aug. 9, but two fumble-return TDs saved the day in a 17-10 victory over the Alouettes.
Also of note is the Roughriders’ diminished explosiveness.
They had 12 completions of 30 or more yards over the first five games. Over the past six contests, however, they have struck for only four 30-plus completions.
Over the last three games, the only aerial gain of 30 or more yards was in garbage time on Saturday, when Isaac Harker and Manny Arceneaux collaborated on a 30-yarder.
Even then, Arceneaux caught the ball just three yards downfield before eluding some would-be tacklers and gaining another 27.
Cody Fajardo’s last 30-plus completion was in the Montreal game. Again, YAC (yards after catch) were significant, as Kyran Moore gained 18 of his 34 yards following the reception.
A Roughrider has not caught a pass at least 30 yards downfield since three minutes remained in the first quarter of an Aug. 1 home game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
On that occasion, Fajardo found Shaq Evans 44 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. A 51-yard gain resulted.
Saskatchewan has gone 270 minutes 13 seconds without an over-the-top completion.
A scathing appraisal of the Roughriders, based on one gruesome game, would be over the top. But, in hindsight, the team’s first defeat in two months was inevitable — predictable, even. All the signs were there.
DO THEY EVER LEARN?
The Roughriders were again fooled by Streveler on second-and-inches.
On Oct. 13, Winnipeg brought in Streveler for a short-yardage play — in place of starting quarterback Matt Nichols — only to fake a run and look downfield. Streveler then hit a diving Weston Dressler for a 31-yard touchdown.
Fast forward to Saturday. Late in the second quarter, Winnipeg faked a run and left the Roughriders scrambling. Streveler then found a wide-open Petermann for a 17-yard gain to the visitors’ six-yard line. Streveler scored on a quarterback sneak two plays later.
“I envision a physical offence,” he responded. “That’s what we want to be — physical. We want to be able to run the ball, and then we want to be able to throw play-action off of that.”
With that in mind, the recent deployment of tailback William Powell is perplexing.
Powell rushed eight times for 59 yards in the Labour Day Classic. However, he had only four carries until the final, game-winning drive, in which he gained 39 yards on four rushes.
In the Banjo Bowl, Powell had just four carries for one yard. He actually gained six yards on one rush, but the other handoffs led to losses of one, one and three.
FAIR CATCH, ANYONE?
The Roughriders’ punt returns have been minuscule since Moore’s 38-yarder kickstarted a game-winning TD drive against Hamilton on Aug. 1.
Since then, Moore has five returns for 29 yards (a 5.8-yard average). Over the same four-game span, Marcus Thigpen has returned 12 punts for 78 yards (6.5 average).
Only three of the Roughriders’ last 17 punt returns have produced at least 10 yards — the longest advance being 15 (by Thigpen on Saturday).
• Saskatchewan’s Jon Ryan remains on pace to break his own CFL single-season record for average yards per punt — 50.6, set with Winnipeg in 2005. His current average: 50.6376. His 2005 average: 50.5678.
• One of Ryan’s punts, a 38-yarder, was returned 72 yards for a touchdown by Janarion Grant on Saturday. On the play, tackles were missed by three Saskatchewan players — Alexandre Gagne, Sam Hurl and Kienan LaFrance.
• Second-down conversions with one to three yards required on Saturday: Saskatchewan 0-for-3; Winnipeg 7-for-7. Saskatchewan also squandered two second-and-fours.
• Saskatchewan has surrendered 22 sacks — 15 of which have been recorded in three games. The Roughriders have allowed five sacks in back-to-back contests.