REGINA - With the Saskatchewan Roughriders off to an abysmal 1-4 start, the focus has shifted from a Swiss cheese defence to an offence that frightens only the coach staff.
Through the first three games of the CFL season, Saskatchewan’s porous defence surrendered an average of 38 points in lopsided losses to Edmonton (42-28), Montreal (39-25) and Hamilton (33-3).
The defence has been considerably more effective in the last two outings — a 27-24 victory over the Alouettes and a respectable 22-18 loss to the Calgary Stampeders — but now the offence is floundering.
Offensive co-ordinator Doug Berry believes the problem is largely the team’s inability to make the proverbial “big play” when the opportunity presents itself.
By “big play,” Berry means a gain of 20 or more yards. He crunched some numbers on the weekend and discovered that to this point in 2011 the Roughriders have made 22 big plays, whereas through the same stretch a year ago, they had made 44 and were sporting a 4-1 record.
Berry is keeping his fingers crossed that will change on Friday night when Saskatchewan takes on the winless B.C. Lions (0-5) in Vancouver.
“We need the guys to step up and make some big plays,” Berry stated quietly but emphatically following the team’s 90-minute workout on Monday, the first of only three practices it has to prepare for the Lions.
“When there’s an opportunity to make a big play, we need to make more big plays than we’re making now.”
Berry would not single out any individuals. The responsibility, he said, must be spread among the 12 starters. Nor could he identify any one specific aspect that can be held accountable for the problem.
“If you could say that 85 per cent of it was one thing, it would be easy to correct,” said Berry. “But it isn’t.
“There’s been a bit of miscommunication on some plays, and on other plays it’s been the (lack of) finish.”
Quarterback Darian Durant agrees.
“We just have to get better,” he said. “We have to make plays when they present themselves.
“You have to give Calgary credit,” he added in reference to the four-point loss to the Stampeders. “For the most part, they played a great defensive game.”
Neither Berry nor head coach Greg Marshall is blaming the veteran pivot for the team’s substandard performance on offence.
Marshall, however, did mention wide receiver Terrence Nunn as a player whose production has not lived up to his considerable potential.
“He’s one of the guys who needs to step up and do more,” Marshall said.
Another player the Roughriders are looking to for better things is tailback Hugh Charles. He started against the Stampeders in place of Wes Cates, who is sidelined with an ankle injury, and although his play improved in the second half, Marshall said “he missed a few holes” in the first half.
Marshall is concerned with poor execution in general and the absence of big plays in particular.
“We definitely have missed those aspects in our offence,” he said.
Marshall does not foresee immediate roster changes as a means of bringing the team out of its lethargy, or to send messages, but he hasn’t ruled them out, either.
“If we make any moves, it won’t be to shake things up,” he said. “It’ll be to make things better.”
Veteran receiver Jason Clermont believes the solution to what ails the Roughriders on offence could be as simple as self-sacrifice to make a circus catch, an electrifying run, or a key block.
“We have to play with courage,” he said. “When there’s setbacks, you get discouraged.