Here is the latest Rider Report from a regular contributor to this blog, Glen Sorestad:
Upon returning from their bye week, Rider players (and presumably, the coaching staff as well) talked about and stressed the importance of being and staying focused – as individuals and as a team. Last night in Edmonton the Riders appeared anything but focused. 17 penalties says it all. Going into the game, the Riders were the least-penalized team in the CFL. The penalties they took last night against the Esks, especially the delay of game and illegal procedure penalties, were a clear indication of a lack of focus. Even Jay Alford’s late hit from behind on QB Steven Jyles was either undisciplined or showed a lack of proper focus.The Riders looked like a team that was playing their first exhibition game coming out of training camp. It would certainly appear that there was a serious disconnect between what Coach Chamblin was preaching and what the team was doing on the field. That is not a good sign.
For the first half of the football game, both teams played like teams coming off a bye week and looking quite rusty, as if the practice week was insufficient to get them ready. However, Edmonton seemed to adapt better in the second half, even though the Riders took the early lead at 17-10 and looked as though they were ready to take control of the game. However, two turnovers completely shifted whatever momentum the Riders may have had and the Eskimos snatched the momentum and the victory from the Riders. It is an especially tough game to lose because Kory Sheets with something like 200 yards running and pass receiving would otherwise be considered the offensive star of the game and maybe of the week. He was outstanding. Darian Durant, too, deserved a better fate on his performance. But once again, the offense in the latter stages of the game seemed unable to mount the kind of attack necessary to score quickly when needed and the coaching decisions on more than one occasion seemed questionable. With first down on the five yard line(after Sheets’ 76-yard scamper with a pass), to fail to capitalize on this gift and have to settle for a field goal was a deflating point when it should have been a celebratory one.
I thought special teams might be the difference in this game and it turned out that the kick coverage teams on both sides minimized returns and basically played to a stand-off. Essentially it was our defence or lack of it that cost us the game. When Jyles is able to complete 75% of his passes and joins the growing list of QBs who pass for anywhere from 70 to 85% against the Riders, it surely emphasizes the evident fact that we have an exceedingly porous pass defence. You can chalk part of this up to an inconsistent pass rush because far too often Jyles had plenty of time to pick out open receivers. But what was also painfully obvious in watching the game was the inability of our defenders to cover receivers. Did any Rider DB actually have a hand on any ball thrown by Jyles? All my TV showed was open Eskimo receivers. I am not convinced that our crop of DBs is capable enough to do he job required of them. I thought Nick Graham was being consistently beaten, as was Chris McKenzie, And while James Patrick was more visible in last night’s game than he has been in past games, I have yet to see him close on any opposition receiver running a deep pattern. He seems to always be in a trailing position. Whether a much better pass rush would sufficiently mask the ineffectual pass coverage of our DBs is a moot point, but I rather doubt it. I rather expect that Brendan Taman and company will be beating the bushes to come up with a few more DBs who can cover receivers better than the current crew.
Both Mick Williams and Jay Alford were dressed and it seems Tearrius George was not playing, or was invisible on the D-line. I thought Mick Williams appeared stronger than Alford, although it may very well be that having been with the team longer than Alford, he was probably in better game shape. Williams certainly had some good moments, while Alford has a 15-yard roughing penalty to show for his efforts. Odell Willis is either hurt, lacking in interest, or is under some kind of handicap we’re not aware of because it is very hard to see Willis, based on his recent play, as a terrorizer of QBs and a sack leader. Neither did Brent Hawkins distinguish himself at the other rush end position. When they need to exert a strong four-m,an rush, as they should have in several second and very long (second down and 23, for example) situations, the D-line rush is just not there and Jyles had no trouble completing passes for more than enough yardage.
So, after a 3-0 start, we are now 3-3 and going to face the Lions in their den. It would be easy to discount them and bet on their record being 3-4 after the game. At the season’s one-third mark, having a 3-3 record should not be seen as entirely negative, especially in light of the early parity among the eight teams. In fact, I think this team is quite capable of surprising the Lions and beating them in Vancouver. Whether they will do this is another question. After the slipshod effort against Edmonton, they could turn their game around and get a solid effort out of everyone. An improved pass rush would help and even some minimal coverage by our DBs would help even more. However, it seems to me that the players are going to have to get on the same wave length as their Head Coach and start connecting with what he has been preaching. They certainly did not exhibit the self-discipline, nor the individual or team focus, that Chamblin has been insisting on. Perhaps what the Riders and their coaching staff are facing right now, in the wake of the Edmonton loss, is the kind of adversity that they will need to overcome in order to really start coming together as a cohesive team. Good teams overcome adversity and become better teams, winning teams. Until the Riders do this, wins will be hard to come by.