Heading into their week 10 matchup with the Edmonton Elks, the Saskatchewan Roughriders find themselves precariously dangling on the edge of a cliff, figuratively, of course. With a 4-4 record, the Riders haven’t quite lived up to the lofty Grey Cup expectations set for them by their fans at the start of the season, and now they prepare to face the gauntlet in the latter half of the season.
In the final 10 games of the season, the Roughriders will only face one East Division opponent, coming in the form of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Despite the Cats’ record, Riders fans shouldn’t be quick to celebrate an automatic win there, as the Riders themselves have already lost three games against the East Division, the worst mark in the league, including other East Division teams.
In the other nine games, things don’t at all look easy. They will play the Elks twice, the BC Lions twice, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers three times, and the Calgary Stampeders twice. In other, perhaps simpler words, the Roughriders will only play three games against teams below them in the standings currently in their remaining 10 games.
This difficult end to the season comes on the back of a real missed opportunity for the Roughriders. The opening eight games of the season saw them play six games against the East Division where they went 3-3 (including two losses to the Toronto Argonauts and another at the hands of the Montreal Alouettes). Of course, there was a game where the Riders were without many players, including their starting quarterback Cody Fajardo, but still, they needed to earn more than four wins in the opening stretch.
But why are the Roughriders in the mess they are right now? For one, the Riders have been one of the most undisciplined teams across the entire CFL so far this season, and although the exact numbers aren’t readily available (although they seriously should be), we know that they have had their issues this season.
It isn’t just penalties taking chunks of yardage away from the Riders, either. Offensively, the Riders rank second to last in yards per game with 319.4, above only the Elks across the league. They have scored 177 points, ranking fifth in the league, while ranking second to last in yards per play. Defensively, the Riders have allowed 169 points, eight fewer than they have scored, but that differential is hardly anything to write home about.
In the West Division, the Blue Bombers have a differential of plus 88, the Lions are plus 119, and the Stampeders are plus 56. Those three teams make up the CFL’s elite as of week 10, and it’s not hard to see why when you see how many more points they have scored than they have surrendered. At plus eight, the Roughriders are closer to the Argonauts (minus 21) and the Alouettes (minus 17) than they are the top teams.
Points differential in and of itself isn’t exactly indicative of where a team should be in the standings. There are circumstantial things to consider when looking at it, namely a game where the Riders played many backups, but considering they only lost by 10 points in that game, the difference is negligible, and really isn’t doing a whole lot to change anything, statistically, at least.
Much of the blame for this is being placed at Fajardo’s feet. Quarterbacks get the credit when things go well, but they always take the heat when they don’t. Fajardo shouldn’t be given all of the blame for the current situation, however, he isn’t completely devoid of criticism. He has been playing on a bum knee for some time, but he hasn’t been close to the form he was in during the 2019 season, when he won the starting job in Regina. In 2022, Fajardo has completed just under 69 percent of his passes, fourth among starters, for 1656 yards, ranking sixth among starting pivots in the CFL.
The Riders’ woes can also partially be attributed to suspensions and injuries, although those suspensions have been self-inflicted injuries. In the case of Garrett Marino and Duke Williams, those are simply instances that Craig Dickenson can not accept on his team. Not only was neither player punished internally (as far as we know), Dickenson and other members of the Riders have defended those actions. Those undisciplined moments have forced the Riders to play shorthanded, and if the coaching staff can’t keep a lid on that, it will come back to bite them if they make it into the playoffs.
If there is any big positive for the Roughriders in 2022, it comes in the form of their defence. Through nine weeks of football, the Riders are second in the league with 10 interceptions, and lead the way with 28 sacks. Before he was injured against the Ottawa Redblacks, Pete Robertson looked like a frontrunner, if not an early lock, for the Most Outstanding Defensive Player award. Through five games, Robertson had 11 tackles, with seven of them being sacks, and he forced an additional three fumbles. Finally, at practice this week, Robertson has returned after missing three games. If he is in fact ready to roll against Edmonton, it would be a massive boost to the Riders’ front seven.
So with all of the noted struggles so far for the Roughriders, should warning alarms be sounding off inside the minds of fans? Part of the beauty of the CFL is you can make it into the playoffs with a losing record, so this isn’t the time to blow things up and restart. There shouldn’t be panic right now in Regina, the games still need to be played, and you never know how they are going to go, but there should be an element of caution.
Right now, the importance of this week’s game against the Elks can not be understated. A Riders loss would not only move the Elks one game closer to them in the standings, but it would spark a new hope in the Edmonton locker room. The Riders have control of their own fate right now, and they need to slam the door shut right now, and let Edmonton know that they are not getting back into this fight. If they can’t do that, it will (and should) be panic station in Saskatchewan.
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