Winning is not enough in Riderville for Saskatchewan Roughrider quarterbacks.
In the three seasons Cody Fajardo has been the Rider starting quarterback, the team’s regular season record is 27 wins and 13 losses. Going into Aug. 13’s game against the Edmonton Elks, you would have thought the record was reversed.
Fans were complaining. On quarterbacks, Rider fans are chronic naysayers going as far back as Ron Lancaster. If the quarterback is not winning every game by double digits and doing it with style, there is discontent.
On Saturday night, the Riders won 34-23 over the Elks.
This week a trio of former CFL players added to the complaints. Former All-Stars Wes Cates, Nik Lewis and Milt Stegall all disparaged Fajardo’s abilities.
In a 3DownNation article referencing their appearance on The Rod Petersen Show, Cates and Lewis are quoted speaking critically of Fajardo. Cates spoke of poor footwork and failing to step into throws. Lewis said Fajardo’s “skill set is very limited”. Stegall added to the criticism later in the week.
As I look at this season, I see Fajardo playing behind the worst pass blocking line in the CFL, playing on one leg and playing without two of his best four receivers.
Cates recognized the porous line is impacting Fajardo: “He’s just always expecting a rush, always trying to escape the rush, even when there is no rush and it’s affecting his accuracy and just hitting guys on time...”
Michael Reilly was justly ranked as an elite CFL quarterback, but when he had a bad offensive line in B.C. after leaving Edmonton he was ineffective and the Lions had losing seasons.
Despite the offensive line woes, Fajardo had a winning record last season and the Riders are above .500 this year.
Last year he was leading the team to victories because of his mobility and a good receiving corps. While Shaq Evans struggled, Kyran Moore had an exceptional year until he was hurt.
On Saturday night Fajardo showed the importance in his skill set of mobility both with regard to escaping the pass rush and running the ball.
Whenever Edmonton’s right defensive end went inside, especially when the Elks were sending three rushers, Fajardo was free to pivot to the left and gain time or yardage going outside.
It was bewildering to me the number of times the Elks sent three rushers and the Rider centre and both guards blocked the nose tackle leaving the tackles one-on-one with the defensive ends. I hope Dan Clark is soon back at centre.
While calling runs for the quarterback is risky if done often, Farjardo and Elk quarterback Taylor Cornelius each showed the benefit of the quarterback draw near the goal line. Each scored a touchdown. Rider fans will remember Kerry Joseph and Darian Durant each making exciting quarterback draw runs for the Riders.
If at least one of Evans or Moore can return to the lineup, I believe Fajardo will be the passer he was in 2022. There is not enough receiving talent without them in the lineup.
Concerns over Fajardo throwing the deep ball are real. On Saturday night he was short on long throws. It is infrequent, if not rare, that he overthrows a receiver on deep routes. I know sometimes he is under such pressure he is just chucking and ducking but I have an unease about his deep throws.
There was an issue with the passing game on Saturday night that did not come through on the TSN broadcast. The wind was making it difficult at Commonwealth Stadium. After the game Fajardo spoke about trash and balls rolling around. He said both teams found it hard going into the wind. He said defences were playing zone when the wind was against an offence. He said it was hard to make the perfect throws needed in such circumstances.
What none of the All-Stars spoke about is Fajardo’s ability, when mobile, to lead the Riders to wins in the fourth quarter. The ability to perform at your best under the pressure of the game on the line is a skill of elite quarterbacks.
Bill Selnes, who’s based in Melfort, has written about the Saskatchewan Roughriders since the late 1970s. He was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, Football Reporters of Canada wing on Nov. 24, 2013.