We’re going to go off the beaten path a bit and only answer one of the questions that we received for this week’s MAILBAG. We’re not trying to cut corners on Pro Perspective, however this question didn’t just pop up, it’s been the primary discussion point of all the football conversations I’ve been involved and heard of since the Saskatchewan Roughriders opening loss in Week 2 of the 2016 CFL season.
Feel free to debate this as much as you’d like, and as always we’d love to hear your opinion of today’s topic.
What we’re going to try and do is make sense of the road ahead for your beloved Green and White.
Via Twitter (@lucmull95) and every other vehicle imaginable…
Q: If you had to guess, what would the Riders record be this year?
A: I’m not sure people should look at this team and try to pinpoint records over the course of the 2016 season, which is part of the reason why I didn’t do some fancy write-up on Pro Perspective about the year.
Historically, we've always broken up a team’s campaign into 1/3’s (3 sets of 6) and used that as a vehicle to try and get a good benchmark for a team’s record, as well as its road ahead.
With the Saskatchewan Roughriders in mind it may do us some good to take that same format but instead of attach a number to it, simply look at the year in phases that will position this team to win a Championship.
This may go a long way for members of Ridernation that need to preserve some off their sanity for the turbulence that this team may experience.
In this case, turbulence is actually a good thing.
Let’s take each 6-game phase and actually give it a name. Then we’ll attach a WORST-CASE SCENARIO explanation and number. Once again, the main purpose is to paint a picture for many in terms of what this organization actually needs to do in order to set themselves up for a terrific playoff run and not necessarily focus on the W's and L's.
Phase 1: Fact-Finding (Games 1-6)
The first and most important phase of the year is all about discovering how to take all of the individual talent on this roster and convert it to on-field performance. People have asked me all morning about what my thoughts were on the game and my response has been, “it was about where it should have been.”
Now if I was a player or a coach in that Saskatchewan Locker Room there’s no way that the above response would be acceptable; the goal is ALWAYS to WIN! However, from an analysts POV this team (which has an EXTRAORDINARY amount of new players on its 42-MAN roster) needs to learn to how to play together within every stage of a CFL game.
This team has to experience what it’s like to have to deal with sudden-change, like a turnover, both offensively and defensively. The Riders need to feel what it’s like to play with their backs against the wall just as much as they need to understand how to convert plays when momentum seems like it’s about to tip in their favour.
Every situation, like having to get a stop in order to put their O back on the field, or needing to string together drives in order to keep the game close are scenarios that this has to learn to EXECUTE in.
The first few games of the year will be the platform in which the Green and White develop all of these abilities in order to springboard themselves into the next phase which can make or break them.
If the Roughriders came out of this phase 2-4, fans should not lose their minds. It’s a matter of learning and becoming DISCIPLINED in the first 1/3 of the year. 3 wins would be GREAT!
Let’s not forget that 3 wins would equate to the entire 2015 W tally.
Phase 2: Implement and GRIND (Games 7-12)
Not only is this a crucial phase for the club, it also comes during a span that features 5 TOUGH WESTERN CONFERENCE games and one of the better teams in the East in the Hamilton TiCats.
Ultimately, the Implement and Grind stage of 2016 is where the process of learning who and what they are about, over the first 6 contest, starts carrying the Saskatchewan Roughriders as this team starts capitalizing on its potential and developing the ability to COMPETE AND WIN IN CLOSE GAMES.
This will be a good time to highlight Saskatchewan’s Special Teams units especially the kickers. Coach Craig Dickenson was a big fan of the depth at the kicking position in early June.
Regardless if it’s Crapigna, Van Gylswyk, Bartel or someone else, whoever the team leans on will have a great opportunity to prove their worth when it comes to the ability for this team to CLOSE OUT THE FINAL 3 MINUTES of a contest.
With the Stamps, Esks, TiCats, and Bummers all waiting in line, this will be a tough road, however the benefits of having a relatively younger team in phase 2 may be come as an unexpected advantage. We all know that teams one or two injuries away from tanking in the CFL, and this particular stretch being the toughest on one’s body and mind, the Roughriders may be playing these teams with some of their key pieces being banged up.
It’s already happened a bit in Winnipeg with the loss of Jeff Keeping early, and our man Weston Dressler missing what was fundamentally the first two weeks.
As an analyst 3-3 would set THIS TEAM up nicely to walk into the final 1/3 with complete confidence in themselves and their ability to make a run.
Phase 3: FINISH!!! (Games 13-18)
Barring injury, which is something that no organization in the CFL can control; THE FINAL 6 GAMES OF THE YEAR IS WHAT THIS TEAM WAS BUILT FOR!
The FINISH phase is where all of the athleticism and TALENT that exists on this roster can officially take over!
Essentially…the light bulb should be on and burning bright. Over the course of the first 2/3’s of 2016 the Saskatchewan Roughriders will have fully developed its culture, expectations, and attitude. The final phase of the season is where the collective Football IQ of this team permits them to play in sync AND FAST.
4-2 should have this team playoff ready. If the Saskatchewan Roughriders get those wins in the last 5 games of the year; one may finally be primed to get a glimpse of what everyone else is so dam excited about.
Figure things out, learn to win, and FINISH.
Anything can happen (for better or for worse) but this semi-scientific way of looking into what the Green and White actually need to accomplish internally, in order to compete for a Grey Cup, underscores one major theme that onlookers need to understand.
Nothing is going to be accomplished overnight, but everything is doable.
The road ahead is tricky, but manageable considering the coaching staff in Riderville. They're not just saying the right things on camera. It's all been done before.