The Saskatchewan Roughriders blew another late fourth quarter lead on Friday night, falling 35-32 to the BC Lions (who aren't expected to be very good this season) after they led 29-18 with about two minutes left. The Riders are now 0-and-3 despite allowing only nine more points than they've scored this year.
Saskatchewan's record since Darian Durant got hurt last September is 2-and-13. Hardly that of a contender, but everyone seemed to feel this was a roster that would be in the mix this season with Durant coming back and a capable back-up (Kevin Glenn) having been signed in case something disastrous happened to Durant (which it did).
First of all, the CFL is the easiest professional sports league (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL) to be competitive in and the Roughriders have a war chest of money and resources with which they could be competitive; yet they have four Grey Cups in over one hundred years of existence and there have been many years where they have not been competitive at all. While I don't expect Grey Cups every single year, I do expect a team that contends for one. There's really no excuse to have your starting quarterback go down and discover the back-up isn't much better than a direct snap to the running back on every play. Look around the league. Montreal, Edmonton, Toronto, Calgary, and Hamilton all have back-ups that can get them through if need be. This season, some of those teams have needed to rely on their back-up. Last year, Saskatchewan got caught with its pants down. Tino Sunseri can't play (although he's good enough to bring back and not take a look at someone else). This year, the Riders have themselves covered. Glenn will be serviceable; but he isn't the answer in a close game or a big game. The proof is in the pudding on that. It's, partially, why they've lost every single close game they've been in this year.
Kicking. Why go down the Chris Milo street again to start the year, only to discover what everyone in the province has known for quite some time already? Now, they've added a 45-year-old former kicker, who isn't going to be much better in the grand scheme of things. You are the New York Yankees of the CFL. Get a kicker.
John Chick. Unfortunately, the results speak for themselves since about week eight of last season. Is he washed up? If the answer is 'yes', will the Ricky Foley trade be one Saskatchewan will regret? Personally, I wouldn't have traded Foley. He brings too much to the table to move out of here. I think Emry is a nice player; but if you are doing your homework in the offseason; you can find guys like him without having to make a trade.
Injuries haven't helped. Durant, obviously, is the huge one although I can't say Saskatchewan has lost any of their three this year because they didn't have him. Perhaps they win week one against Winnipeg; but that was a tight game at the point he went down. Ryan Smith looks like a breakout candidate and he missed week three. Shea Emry, Nic Demski, Weston Dressler, and Tyron Brackenridge have all also missed time.
I'm not going to critique Corey Chamblin's call of going for it on 3rd and short; but I will critique all the coaches who seem to think that putting a cold back-up quarterback in for a crucial play is a smart idea. Brett Smith dropped the ball and also got hit really hard as he dove into the pile. Guess what? He is not injured and there is no reason to think your starter would get injured either. I don't know why teams do this. I feel Glenn makes that play on third and short; but if you also don't have a running back on the field, it's pretty easy for the defense to put all their eggs in one basket. To me, 3rd and less than a yard in the CFL should be automatic. You get a yard at the line of scrimmage! Yet, the Riders, it seems, have been less than efficient at this play over the last number of years.
So, if Chamblin goes for it on 3rd and short late in the fourth to try and seal the game; surely he's going for it in overtime isn't he? Nope. He kicks a field goal. Field goals are, pretty much, automatic in overtime and anything less than a touchdown puts you at serious risk of losing. So, why kick it? A field goal is the same as turning it over on downs. You are screwed. His decision to kick is a damning indictment of the offense. They failed in the fourth, and he wasn't going to trust them to try again. Really? They are going to be 0-for-2 on third and less than a yard? Just mail in the season then.
Players aren't stupid. They can see Chamblin doesn't have faith in them. If they don't mail it in on Friday; then they deserve a lot of credit for sticking together. Chamblin holds them all to very high standards. One fumble and you are out. One mistake and you are out. Well, he should hold himself to that same standard and, at least, admit he's wrong whenever he's wrong.
A guy who prides himself on being an aggressive coach showed the complete opposite on Friday when the offense took a knee at the end of the fourth and then kicked the field goal in overtime.
Chamblin won a Grey Cup in 2013 and he deserves added rope because of this accomplishment. I don't, necessarily, think Chamblin did a great job; but he didn't screw it up like we've seen many, many times over the years of Rider history and their ability to write tragic endings. The list of Rider coaches who have won a championship is extremely short. Having said that, I remember when Kent Austin (who also has a Grey Cup title as Rider head coach) announced he was returning from the NCAA; I felt Jim Hopson should have sat him down and given him the keys to the franchise. All Austin has done is appear in the Grey Cup game every single year he's been a head coach. The man gets it done. He's a pro. At the time, fans told me we had someone better than Austin in the fold as Chamblin was coming off an impressive rookie year; but my feeling is that when the best becomes available; you do whatever it takes. Get him in here. Now, we've got Austin in Hamilton and they look like the best team in the league. Chamblin, if you listen to fans, has forgot how to run a team. Nice.