Coach Craig Dickenson summed up the state of the Riders after their loss to the Blue Bombers in the Banjo Bowl by stating Winnipeg is quite a bit better than the Riders right now. He then stated he believes the Riders will get better.
Belief is a good description of the situation. No one can say the Riders will get better after the two decisive losses to the Bombers. There are lots of areas where the Riders need to get better.
I believe they will be better as they get healthier. The Riders have too many starters out to be at their best. Last weekend they were missing two of their top three receivers (Shaq Evans and Jordan Williams-Lambert) and their starting defensive halfbacks (Ed Gainey and Loucheiz Purifoy). During the game they lost quarterback, Cody Fajardo, and safety, Mike Edem. The series of Achilles tendon injuries before the season further weakened the team.
As I write this story I am not sure of Fajardo’s status for Friday. Dickinson described Fajardo as having a minor concussion. I did see his head hit the turf hard.
Dickenson explained there is no immediate airlift possible for anyone in the CFL this year. With COVID-19 protocols everyone coming north will have to go through isolation.
Dickenson actually provided that information in the context of another area where the team needs to get better. With 12 penalties to six for Winnipeg, they gave away too many yards. Dickinson said they have to get a bit smarter for, he said, you cannot replace players easily this year because of the protocols mentioned above.
His frustration was evident in his reference to penalty issues not limited to inexperienced players. Unlike his usual approach he spoke of defensive tackle, Mak Henry. He said Henry, a four year player, knows better than to go offside twice. Dickenson continued that if problems continue you eventually stop playing them. I do not expect Henry to go offside for the rest of 2021.
With regard to players you might have to stop playing unless they get better, cornerback Blace Brown needs to get better right away or he will not be on the field. Dickenson acknowledged the Bombers were isolating Brown and once again completed a pair of long passes against him. The Riders cannot afford a cornerback other teams can focus on. Dickenson said Brown had played pretty well for the most part but that is not enough to be a starting CFL corner. I do believe Brown can get better. He has faced adversity before. He was a walk-on receiver at Troy University before shifting to defensive back after he made the team. What I am not sure of is whether he can get good enough quick enough to stay a starter.
One area I am convinced the Riders will be better come Friday is in place kicking. It was something of a twilight zone during Saturday’s game for the Riders Brent Lauther and the Bombers Marc Leigghio. Lauther missed two field goals while Leigghio missed a field goal and two converts.
Dickenson said Lauther missed where he wanted to put the ball on one field goal but put the other missed kick was kicked where he wanted. The issue was a “tough wind”. He said it was affecting kicks more than realized.
Lauther will be back in the friendly confines of Mosaic Field on Friday evening. The configuration of the new stadium has meant few games are significantly affected by the wind in Regina. Where the wind could blast every which way down Taylor Field it is a rare game in Mosaic it is decisive.
Lastly, the Rider offence needs to get better at going deep. They had one pass (Brayden Lenius) over 25 yards (53 yards) on Saturday as opposed to none in the Labour Day Classic. In the previous game against the Redblacks they had two passes over 25 yards (31 yards to Lenius and 25 yards to Kian Schaffer-Baker). CFL defences have little reason at present to worry about the Riders going deep.
In another curious timing the Riders get to play the Argos in a game that is to start at 7:45 on Friday evening (It will be 9:45 in Toronto). It has been quite awhile since the Argos were in first place. The Riders will need to be better if they are to beat the Argos.