OFFENCE CANNOT BE A LIABILITY SUNDAY
The Saskatchewan Roughriders must prevent both offences from generating touchdowns for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The toughest challenge, oddly enough, will be to ensure Winnipeg does not score when Saskatchewan has the football.
Consider the past two games between the Roughriders and Blue Bombers, who meet Sunday, 3:30 p.m., at Mosaic Stadium in the CFL’s West Division semifinal.
The Roughriders’ alleged offence failed to score a touchdown in both contests, even though the league’s rules are rumoured to be friendly to quarterbacks, receivers and the like.
Making matters worse for the Green and White, the Bombers scored a defensive touchdown in each of the two aforementioned games.
Anthony Gaitor scored on a 55-yard interception return Sept. 8, when the Roughriders countered with two pick-sixes of their own en route to winning 32-27 at Investors Group Field.
The Roughriders returned to Winnipeg on Oct. 13, when the hosts opened the scoring on a 45-yard fumble return by Gaitor.
And get this: Winnipeg scored on one of the few Roughriders offensive plays that actually worked!
Roughriders quarterback Zach Collaros threw a quick pass to Kyran Moore, who had gained 10 yards — first-down yardage! — before offering up a room-service fumble. Gaitor took it from there.
Collaros finished the game with a quarterback-efficiency rating of 8.4. Subtract the play that ended with a scoop-and-score and his rating was 1.9.
By now, you may have ascertained that it was not a banner day for the Roughriders. They lost, 31-0.
Saskatchewan failed to eke out an offensive touchdown in four games this season — including two against Winnipeg.
The Roughriders did register three offensive touchdowns Sept. 2 in a 31-23 home-field victory over Winnipeg, but one of those majors punctuated a two-play, one-yard possession.
All in all, it was an atypically decent day for the Saskatchewan offence, which registered 22 first downs. Over the remaining eight regular-season games, Collaros had QB ratings of 59.9, 39.4, 80.9, 99.0, 74.3, 8.4, 101.1 and, in one quarter of duty, 81.3.
For the season, his rating was 79.5. (Kevin Glenn — the Roughriders’ starting quarterback last season — sported a rating of 100.0 in 2017.)
It should be noted, though, that Collaros was named one of the CFL’s top performers of the week following Saskatchewan’s 29-24 road victory over the first-place Calgary Stampeders — whom he dissected for 352 aerial yards — on Oct. 20.
He peaked, in terms of passing yardage, Sept. 30 in a 34-29 conquest of the host Montreal Alouettes. The Roughriders piled up 32 first downs and 394 passing yards that fine afternoon at Percival Molson Stadium.
However, the Roughriders have not thrown a touchdown pass since the final play of the first quarter in Montreal. The drought is at 19 quarters and counting.
Yet, the Roughriders have continued to win. Their 12-6 record (and 9-2 run to finish the regular season) is largely attributable to a dominant defence that can change a game in an instant.
The formula has been successful to this point. But now, with the playoffs looming, the margin for error is scant. Every mistake is magnified.
The Bombers, for their part, do not want to reprise Sept. 8, when they were ahead 10-0 — and seemingly destined to fatten the lead — when Willie Jefferson changed everything.
The Roughriders defensive end intercepted Nichols, jogged 97 yards for a touchdown, and later distracted the Bombers quarterback before he served up a 103-yard pick-six to Samuel Eguavoen.
Winnipeg ’s offence does have considerable upside, though, as demonstrated by the Bombers’ league-high total of 550 points.
The Blue Bombers led the CFL in offensive touchdowns (53), more than twice as many as the Roughriders (25).
Saskatchewan, for its part, had a league-high 11 defensive touchdowns, two of which were at Winnipeg ’s expense.
So the stage is set. Strength against strength — the Bombers’ offence versus the Roughriders’ defence — promises to be a compelling duel.
Winnipeg also sports a respectable defence — see: Bighill, Adam — whereas there are times when a Saskatchewan first down warrants a “breaking news” advisory.
Such a mismatch places the onus on the Roughriders’ offence to make some plays or, failing that, at least get out of the way.
Roughriders quarterback Zach Collaros must ensure the offence does its part if Saskatchewan hopes to beat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the West Division semifinal Sunday afternoon at Mosaic Stadium.