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Riders will have to make some adjustments to beat Calgary

Ed Kapp
Contributor

Although the Saskatchewan Roughriders picked up a victory against the British Columbia Lions to advance one game closer to their second Grey Cup appearance in as many seasons, last week’s West semifinal win revealed many glaring holes – primarily on offence, that must be patched up if Saskatchewan hopes to knock off the Calgary Stampeders on the road in the West Final.

Offensively, the Riders were a wreck for the first 30 minutes of last weekend’s game.

From a defensive standpoint, however, the Riders played fairly well.

Despite Travis Lulay throwing for over 350 yards through the air, the Roughriders bend-but-don’t-break defence held tailback Jamal Robertson to 75 yards, nearly 40 of those coming from one carry, en route to forcing B.C. to attempt five field goals. Had it not been for Paul McCallum nailing all five kicks, the outcome of the game may have been very different.

If Saskatchewan is planning on going to the Grey Cup, they are going to need to get through Calgary, and if they plan on getting through Calgary, then their offence is going to have to work hard in the coming week to iron out a few problems – most of which have consistently plagued the Riders all season. 

Arguably the biggest concern, from an offensive standpoint, against B.C. and throughout the season, has been quarterback Darian Durant’s inconsistency.

When Durant gets off to a slow start, as he did against B.C., the rest of the offence sputters too, and after stumbling out of the gate, it makes it that much more difficult for the offence to establish a rhythm later on.

If Durant and the Roughriders offence stumble early, like last week’s opening quarter that saw an out-of-sorts signal caller only notch one completion, it will be hard to compete against the Stamps, who have a dynamic offense that can put big points in little time.

Although Wes Cates did a nice job rushing and receiving, running hard and showing tenacity in his limited reps, the Riders’ 2010 leading rusher’s performance was hindered by generally unimaginative play-calling, again.

It’s far from an official stat, but it seems that nine out of every 10 of Cates’ rushing attempts are the same predictable, played-out draw from the shotgun formation.

I realize this play is used as somewhat of a decoy, used to keep defences on their heels and weary of a possible run, and by running the ball, the Riders can open things up downfield later on, but all season long defences have consistently done a nice job of shutting these types of running plays down – often before they even start.

Cates ran the ball hard last week – you can tell by the way he fights for extra yards and plows through would-be tacklers, but it probably won’t matter much if the Riders continue with their unimaginative play-calling, as Calgary, a team with five all-star selections on defence has done a good job reading and reacting to opposing offenses all season.

Thankfully for Durant and the rest of Riderville, while Jason Clermont, Cary Koch, Andy Fantuz, and Chris Getzlaf were relative non-factors in the first half, Weston Dressler enjoyed one of the biggest games of his career.

Had it not been for Dressler, who snagged eight balls for 150 yards and a pair of very important touchdowns, last week’s game would’ve probably had a very different outcome.

Yes, when it really mattered the Riders receiving core came through in the clutch, but if they get off to the slow start they did last week, it will be easy to fall behind the highly-powerful Calgary offence.

To ensure a future trip to Edmonton, it will be important for the Riders to get their “Canadian Air Force” in flight early and make Calgary’s defence think twice about which weapon to focus their attention on.

When it comes to the offensive line, where everything starts – and at times ends for the Roughriders – has also proven to be very inconsistent in keeping Durant off of his back.

Although Durant has made a career evading would-be tacklers in the backfield and throwing balls on the run, there’s no doubt that he, and any other quarterback for that matter, is much more efficient when he can set his feet, find a receiver, and get the ball to him.

Calgary, which boasts 2010 all-star selections DeVone Claybrooks, Charleston Hughes and Tom Johnson on its defensive line alone, has done an excellent job getting pressure on quarterbacks all season.

If the offensive line, which gave up five sacks last week and allowed Durant to be hit nearly 20 times, continues to struggle with their pass protection, Durant is going to have a hard time establishing any type of momentum on offence against a Stampeders defence that notched nearly 50 sacks during the regular season.

With the prospect of another Grey Cup appearance weighing heavily on the minds of everyone in Riderville, this week’s game against Calgary is one of the most important in franchise history. If the Riders are going to win, then they are going to need to tighten things up on offence and keep the same intensity shown on defence, because if they fall behind against Calgary early, the Stampeders may not look back.

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