To The Point: Rider Wrap – Has the CFL Destroyed Their Game?

The Saskatchewan Roughriders dropped their opening game of the 2015 season, albeit pre-season, 31-24 to the Edmonton Eskimos in Fort McMurray on Saturday.

While the result may not count in the standings the game was far from meaningless with a number of players auditioning for jobs on both sides of the ball.

It was also an opportunity for the Canadian Football League to show off some of their new rules aimed at increasing scoring and the flow of the game.

Here are some observations from the Northern Kick-off in Alberta.
– The pre-season opener was a short one for receiver Ryan Smith. The sophomore from Notre Dame made one reception and then left the game after what in my opinion was a blatant head shot from Adam Konar. The analysts described the hit as a good one, however, in my experience when a defender leaves their feet to deliver a hit that should be called a spear. Not sure why this one wasn’t.

– Any doubt that Darian Durant may not be ready to go should be laid to rest. The veteran pivot stood in the pocket and delivered the ball a number of times in the opening quarter. He also on a couple of occasions took a hit to deliver the ball. That’s extremely encouraging.
– At the other end of the spectrum should there be some concern regarding the offensive line? The Eskimos had a lot of heat on the Riders all night and completely disabled the Riders running game. Yes Edmonton’s defence is tough but the O-line needs to be better.

– What’s with all of the early game fumbles by the Riders? They have put the ball on the ground three times thus far but have gotten it back all three times. Early season fumble-itus was a concern at the start of 2014 as well. Ask Anthony Allen!

– Jamel Richardson appears to be a nice reliable target for Darian Durant. The two seem to have some nice chemistry. It should be noted that Richardson was playing in the spot normally inhabited by Weston Dressler.

– Full marks to Fort McMurray for the construction of the Shell Place Complex. The facility, not just for football, looks outstanding.

– As top notch as the facility appears it is disappointing that the 15-thousand seats only appear to be two-thirds full.

– That being said a two-thirds full stadium I’m sure would be an upgrade on a Toronto regular season crowd at Rogers Centre. The Argos have their “home opener” in Fort Mac in week one against the Eskimos.

– The Riders John Chick has just racked up his first sack of the campaign. The man is a beast! That being said did you notice that his sack came on a three-man rush from the Riders!

– The penalty flags continue to fly at an alarming rate. Yes it is the first pre-season game but there is a lot to clean up.

– On second and long the Riders have called a screen play. Some things, I guess, never change as that was a major criticism of George Cortez’s 2015 offence.

– That being said why is the team inviting pressure towards Darian Durant in a pre-season game. Yikes.

– Kevin Glenn now comes into the game to lead the Rider offence. You can see his veteran presence immediately as he has commanded the huddle just like Double-D.

– Should Tino Sunseri be worried that Glenn is getting number 2 reps?

– Taj Smith has just made a nice over the shoulder catch. Taj is going to have to come up big for the Riders in 2015. His 1000-yard 2013, was followed by a distraction-plagued 2014. First there was his injury abbreviated campaign where he suffered a broken clavicle. Secondly there is his on-going legal battle after a brawl outside of a Regina night-club that has yet to be resovled almost two-years after the incident.

– Jerome Messam is showing that he not only can carry the ball. Looks good in a protection scheme and has hauled in a couple of passes. They weren’t the smoothest receptions in the world but he got the job done. Will he be the feature back and ratio changer for the Rider offence?

– So the Riders defence is now being torched not by the Eskimos offence but by the officials. These new rules for DB’s (no contact beyond 5 yards) is incredible. If a receiver slows down and you bump into him you are at fault. If I’m a Quarterback the throw-behind pass is my new best friend.

– The inability to cover a receiver is really an embarrassment. The CFL has gotten this one wrong. I like and appreciate defence. The way that the DB’s hands are tied is incredible.

– With 32-yard converts coming this season the standard for kicking has now changed! 32 and in will now need to become automatic.

– Ray Early is making a statement for the Riders. The kicker booms a 56-yard wind aided punt from deep in his end. He follows that up with a pair of field goals from 40 and 30 yards. Not a bad outing. The lone blemish an opportunity to hem the Eskimos deep in their end from 44-yards out is kicked to the middle of the field, rolls into the end zone for a rouge. Not the desired outcome.

– Commentators mention that after every play the fans and players are looking to the officials to see if there is/isn’t penalty flags on the field. Again the CFL has taken the spotlight off the athletes and put it on their officials. NOTE: the officiating crew is getting it absolutely right. Everything they call is a penalty. I’m just not so sure that the teams can adjust to the new rules.

– With the number 2’s and 3’s starting to substitute in freely it appears as though the Riders 2’s and 3’s aren’t as close as Edmonton’s.

– More linen on the field as the teams have now combined for more than 50-penalties. Thank goodness for the wireless system the officials are using or this game could be timed with a sundial if officials had to meet to discuss every penalty like it has been done in the past.

– Nice grab and stretch by receiver Alex Pierzchalski to get into the end zone. Nice call from Jacques Chapdelaine to use the Eskimo’s defensive pressure to the Green and White’s advantage.

– Nice poise by Kevin Glenn to deliver the ball.

– At the half the Eskimos throw up a Hail-Mary. Watch for more of these at the end of halves as with the tighter standard for pass interference it appears more likely than ever to get a call on the defence.

– Update from Quebec City shows Ottawa getting thumped again. The REDBLACKS have been outscored 63-19 in the preseason. Here’s hoping the franchise can withstand another rough season on the field. Yikes! If there is little improvement how long can Campbell and Desjardins keep their jobs?

– Also from Laval not a great turn out in the stands. Yes it’s preseason BUT could prove that Quebec City and Laval is a College town not a CFL City!

– To start the third Quarter and lovely passing play from Rider quarterback Brett Smith to Greg Hardin for a major. Smith has been making things happen with his feet and looks very comfortable in the offence.

– Smith continues to extend plays with his feet which is key.

– Don’t read a lot into Smith playing ahead of Tino Sunseri in this ball game. The fourth quarter is longer than the third quarter which will give Tino more time on the field, theoretically.

– Nice to see an offensive pass interference call made. The no-contact after five yards goes both ways. Will it still be called throughout the season?

– Like the rule where if a team goes no-huddle offence they defence cannot substitute. This will make for some interesting match-ups and increase the pace of the game. Additionally, we may see some very quick decisions to gamble on third and short.

– Tino Sunseri has come into the game and is struggling. How much is it Sunsei, how much is it the offensive line working in front of him.

– Sunseri throws a pick and you can see the weight of the world seemingly bearing down on his shoulders after an impressive showing from newcomer Brett Smith.

– Sunseri isn’t setting his feet in the pocket. Not entirely his fault as he isn’t getting a lot of time as the Eskimos are bringing the pressure.

– Game is over and low and behold Chris Jones is making his way to centre-field to shake hands with Corey Chamblin. Jones avoided the hand-shake all of last year. Wonder if something was said to him? If so by whom, his GM, his team president, the league?

And that’s it for pre-season game one. The Riders are back in Saskatoon Sunday pouring over film before returning to the field at Griffiths Stadium on Monday. The Green and White will wrap up the pre-season Friday night at Mosaic Stadium against the defending champion Calgary Stampeders. Kick-off at Mosaic is at 7:30pm.