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Time for Roughriders to make some adjustments

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REGINA — Victories have camouflaged the Saskatchewan Roughriders' deficiencies for much of the 2010 CFL season.

It was easy to excuse inconsistency on offence or special-teams foibles when the Roughriders were winning, given that the desired outcome was achieved.

But on a night like Saturday, when the Roughriders lost 17-14 to the woebegotten Edmonton Eskimos at Commonwealth Stadium, the visiting side's shortcomings were painfully evident.

The offence, which was not realizing its vast potential before Saturday's game, was aimless in Edmonton. Saskatchewan's failure to score one point over the final 46 minutes 29 seconds was downright exasperating.

How is it that the Roughriders — reputedly one of the league's elite teams — can be so punchless against a team that had become a punchline?

The Eskimos, and head coach/defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall in particular, deserve credit for devising a scheme that kept the Riders off-balance. But the Riders didn't do themselves any favours.

Darian Durant has emphasized that he needs to cut down on interceptions. However, the three picks surrendered by Durant in Edmonton fattened his season total to 12 — tying him with Henry Burris of the Calgary Stampeders for the highest total in the league.

Suddenly, Durant's interceptions outnumber his touchdown passes by one — a surprising development when you consider that he had five scoring tosses, without being picked off, in the regular-season opener. In seven subsequent games, Durant has registered six touchdown passes and 12 interceptions.

Durant will bounce back. He invariably does. But he could use a little help.

Schematically, the Roughriders displayed little in the way of diversity on Saturday. The offence was especially predictable on the final play of the third quarter when, on second-and-three, offensive co-ordinator Doug Berry called for a (yawn) handoff to Wes Cates out of the shotgun formation.

If a lowly columnist is correctly diagnosing the play, it stands to reason that the opposition knows what was coming. Cates was stuffed for a one-yard gain, after which overworked punter Eddie Johnson was summoned.

The mention of Johnson provides a convenient segue into the biggest problem that afflicts the Roughriders — the inaccurately named special teams.

Rare is the game in which the Riders' special teams do not experience a meltdown. The latest forehead-slapper came early in Saturday's second quarter.

Somehow, the Riders ignored Edmonton's Corbin Sharun, who blocked Johnson's punt without breaking a sweat. The loose ball was retrieved by Jason Barnes, who motored to Saskatchewan's eight-yard line. Edmonton scored its lone touchdown on the next play.

Leading up to the game, the Riders' brass underlined the necessity of burying the Eskimos if and when the opportunity arose. Instead, the Eskimos were exhumed after they fell behind 14-0.

From that point onward, the onus was on Saskatchewan's defence to salvage the day. Safety James Patrick was especially conspicuous, intercepting three passes to run his league-high total to six.

The problem, though, was that Patrick caught one more pass than Andy Fantuz. How can the Roughriders not get him the ball more frequently when it is imperative that they move the chains? Some ingenuity, please.

Sure, the opponents are paying attention to Fantuz and the Roughriders' other elite slotback, Weston Dressler. So what? Once upon a time, rival teams knew that Ray Elgaard and Jeff Fairholm would be primary targets. Did that deter Kent Austin from throwing to either one of the Slot Machines? No.

Dressler did not register a reception Aug. 12, but that was palatable in light of the Riders' 37-13 victory over the visiting B.C. Lions. But when Dressler catches only one more pass than his team's starting safety in the next game — in which Fantuz is an afterthought — serious questions have to be asked about the deployment of resources.

The offensive strategy was pointless, as were the Riders over the final 46:29 against an Edmonton team that had surrendered 56 points in its previous game.

Evidently, the Eskimos' coaches made some adjustments after an embarrassing defeat. Now the onus is on the Roughriders' strategists to do the same.

rvanstone@leaderpost.canwest.com

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