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Monday, August 10, 2015



It was a popular joke making the rounds in the Wheat Province on Sunday: "At least the Roughriders won't lose this week!"

It's true, the Saskatchewan Roughriders won't lose in the upcoming Week 8 of the 2015 CFL season because they have a bye and the scheduled break has temporarily paused this disastrous start to the campaign which has the club at the bottom of the league standings at 0-7.

The latest defeat came at the hands of the Toronto Argonauts Saturday night at Rogers Centre, 30-26, before a surprisingly enthusiastic crowd of 20,642 in the Argos' home-opener.  The attendance was almost 5,000 fans more than Toronto's seasonal average over the 2014 season, but the game itself was an eyesore.

It was the second-highest penalty total in a single CFL regular season game with a whopping 24 infractions being assessed to Saskatchewan and 15 more flags being thrown at Toronto.


Angry Rider fans weren't even blaming the referees for the loss, saying nothing was called which wasn't warranted.  But can the officials at least tell us who the penalty is on?  "Procedure, Saskatchewan, five-yard penalty, repeat second down," referee Tom Vallesi was heard to say time after time.  It makes it difficult for those of us tracking these sorts of things in the press box.

Even more disturbing is the fact observers noted three Roughrider scores were called back due to penalties, ultimately leading to another demoralizing defeat.


"Write it like the other (games) and you have the same story," Riders coach Corey Chamblin said after the game.  "Tight loss.  We did some good things but negative things hurt us.  Everytime we had big plays, penalties killed us."

And that, perhaps, is the most maddeningly-frustrating thing about this horrendous season for your friendly neighbourhood Green & White.  It's the same annoying story being played over and over again on a weekly basis.

Is there reason to believe it will ever turn around this season?  I get the sense the Riders are at the apex of this situation and they can go one of two ways in their next game on August 22 when they host Calgary: 1) they finally get some breaks and the bubble bursts or 2) they continue to shoot themselves in the foot and they give up hope.

Going into Saturday's game I chatted with the exasperated General Manager of the Roughriders, Brendan Taman, on CKRM's pregame show and he pointed out the biggest culprit in all of their losses so far.

"Turnovers," Taman blurted, taking less than a second to answer.  "(Going into the Toronto game) we're minus-9, we're the worst in the league, and you don't win games when that happens.  A big part of that is we're not taking the ball away.  Everybody associates the turnover ratio with offense, but we've had two takeaways all year on defense which, we've all seen, is below normal and that's an understatement."

The CFL record for the least amount of defensive takeaways in a season is 25, set by the 2006 Edmonton Eskimos.  The 2015 Saskatchewan Roughriders are on pace for only six.

"I don't know what I can say on top of that.  That really sums it up," Taman continued.  "The penalties and tackling are part of it but I think the turnovers are huge.  If we don't take the ball away, we're going to have issues to win games."

Saturday was another game where Saskatchewan came out on the losing end of the turnover battle (1-0), failing to record a takeaway while rookie quarterback Brett Smith served up another pick six interception.  That dropped the Riders even further to a league-worst minus-10 statistic.

"When you make mistakes like that - however you want to interpret it - that's a problem," Taman said.   "When you add in who we're missing, that is a recipe for disaster.  We haven't had a good start."

So the football club couldn't wait to get to this bye week to reassess and chart the course for the final 11 games.  A playoff spot, remarkably, is not yet lost despite the record.  Corey Chamblin has gone from Coach of the Year to Coach For The Year and each mounting loss has those wolves back howling outside his door.

Last week in this space I noted that losing would not be tolerated by the decision-makers of this franchise however that notion seems to have cooled.  Chamblin's been given a vote of confidence by his bosses and that appears to have set him at ease somewhat in the days since.

However that hasn't stopped the braintrust from holding emergency meetings and seeing how best to manage this crisis.  Former Roughrider President Jim Hopson is rumoured to have offered a helping hand, with his replacement Craig Reynolds treading water in the deep-end.

To quote singer Glenn Frey, the "Heat Is On".

"Oh no.  It's been clearly stated that we're in the business to win games," Taman concluded.  "We all get that.  We've tried to tinker with the lineup, getting young guys in to play, and getting a change.  We have to change what we're doing.  We started that scheme-wise and lineup-wise with the Toronto game.  That happens when you lose."

So many have asked what you'd put your finger on for the reason why this club keeps losing games at a pace not seen since the Pierre Trudeau administration.  But it takes too many fingers.

The Roughriders' defense continues to let the team down when it's needed the most, like allowing the Argos to move the ball 98 yards in two plays to provide the winning points in the fourth quarter on Saturday night.

Perhaps they're just not good enough?

It's a question the team is reluctant to answer, but has to be taken into consideration.  The personnel department would bristle at the notion, but everything's up for review at this point.

"That thought hasn't even entered my mind," said star slotback Chris Getzlaf.

All the gloom and doom is understandable because, as I've noted countless times, nobody's used to this and it certainly wasn't expected.  But the Riders are still the league's flagship franchise and the preferred destination for players to play.  They're getting more publicity now than when they were at the top of the podium.  Make no mistake, the brand is still incredibly strong.

But it can't take a prolonged hit and everybody is aware of that.

All I know is I'm glad I'm not the one who has to find the answers.



Here's the postgame analysis from Rider Radio's Carm Carteri:

CC:  It's unfortunate for the young rookie QB Brett Smith because I thought he did everything he could in this football game to try and make it happen.  Unfortunately again, we'll talk about penalties that killed the Roughriders again here in Toronto.  When you look at great efforts, you had to be impressed with both Nic Demski and Steven Miller.  I thought they both played their hearts out and made big plays when they needed too but unfortunately for the Riders - and we've talked about this all year - when they needed big plays on defense, they couldn't get it done.

Tonight though, they stopped the Argos late with a 2-and-out, gave the offense the ball back with 1:37 to go, down by four, they had the opportunity to win the game inside the Argo-20.  Unfortunately they couldn't put it in the endzone and that's been the whole problem with this team all season long; they can't put it in the endzone.  That's why we're staring at 0-7.


CC:  It certainly is.  This was a great opportunity to win here tonight and when I make the statement above, I make it because it's tough with a young head coach, who's won a Grey Cup, but is also surrounded by all new personnel except for Bob Dyce.  I'm not saying that's a bad thing but they haven't grown as a team or as a coaching unit.

They're not jumping on teams' throats when they have the opportunity and that's an instinct you can't teach.  It just has to come within a football team and right now it's not coming from this Rider team but they're so close.  That's what's so tough as a fan because you see they have the potential to win it, but then they end up finding a way to lose and they couldn't get it down again tonight.



1 - Toronto is not my favourite city to travel to but once we're there, it's very enjoyable.  It was especially exciting this year to be in the epicentre of Blue Jays Fever.  Canada's Major League team has won eight in a row and is within striking distance of the division lead with tons of time left in the regular season.  This week's homesets against Oakland and the New York Yankees are all sold out.

Imagine - Toronto's on fire because their team finally has a chance after a generation of futility.  Meanwhile we're pretty lucky in Saskatchewan to have enjoyed the success of our football franchise over the past decade.  And every year, the Riders have a chance.

2 - The Argonauts are just biding time until they move to BMO Field next season.  It's clear they're unwanted guests at Rogers Centre, as all the signage around the stadium pertains to the Blue Jays.  It's understandable, but imagine how the Argos players feel walking in for home games and all they see are three story banners of Blue Jays players.

3 - There were protesters at Saturday's Toronto FC game toting signs saying the Argos aren't welcome there either.  However you know how we feel about protesters.  The Argonauts are coming no matter what, and will make it work.

4 - The Argonauts are planning to be bumped from Rogers Centre if the Blue Jays make a playoff run in October.  Options for other venues include Toronto's Varsity Stadium, Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton and may even Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo.

5 - The average ticket price for Toronto Maple Leafs tickets is $446.  The average cost for a Blue Jays ticket is $129.  Just for spits and giggles on Friday, I tried to get ticket prices for the Argos.  They weren't even listed in the top five events on and when I called the Argos' ticket line, I was cut off after two minutes on hold.  I called back but was cut off after waiting another five minutes on hold.  The first lesson of marketing -- make it easy for consumers to buy your product!

6 - Ran into a typical Toronto sports fan while watching the Jays and CFL game Friday night on TV at the Firkin On Bloor.  He was a local bar owner who said, "It's tough to take the CFL seriously when there are only nine teams.  That's almost a whole division in the CFL".  I countered with, "So was the NHL not to be taken seriously during the Original Six Era?".  He responded, "That was before I was born, so it doesn't count".   Tough to argue with that logic.

7 - Former Rider linebacker Brian Peters made a great case for himself in Sunday's NFL Hall of Fame exhibition game when he came up with an interception for the Vikings against the Steelers.  It was later changed to a fumble recovery.

NBC play-by-plan man Al Michaels made a curious comment at the opening of the telecast when he said, "What a wild off-season!  You didn't miss a thing if you watched Court TV".   NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell must've frowned when he saw that.

8 - The WHL's Kelowna Rockets announced the hiring of Brad Ralph as head coach, replacing Dan Lambert who fled to the NHL's Buffalo Sabres.  Ralph joins the Rockets from the ECHL's Idaho Steelheads.

9 - I thought something didn't add up when the Patrick Kane police investigation story broke last week.  Stories are emerging that he was a "target" of the alleged victim in that Buffalo bar last week.

10 - The Regina Red Sox are up 2-0 in their second round WMBL playoff series against Weyburn coming home for Game 3 tonight at Currie Field.  We plan to broadcast the SportsCage's Rider Monday live from Currie Field today at 4:00 pm.