Vanstone: Riders' playoff chances are anyone's guess

 

 
 
 
 
Montreal Alouettes defensive back Jerald Brown takes down the ball carrier Saskatchewan Roughriders slotback Chris Getzlaf during the second half of CFL football action in Regina, Sask., Saturday, October 20, 2012.
 

Montreal Alouettes defensive back Jerald Brown takes down the ball carrier Saskatchewan Roughriders slotback Chris Getzlaf during the second half of CFL football action in Regina, Sask., Saturday, October 20, 2012.

Photograph by: Liam Richards, Canadian Press

The Saskatchewan Roughriders could prove to be first-round playoff flotsam. Alternatively, they could be poised to stage a series of upsets.

With this inconsistent team, anything is possible.

The Roughriders have alternately impressed and imploded during this streaky season. They began the 2012 CFL campaign with three consecutive victories, which were followed by five losses in succession. Then came a run of five victories in six games, which has been partially counteracted by back-to-back defeats.

So here we are, 16 games into the season. November looms and a definitive assessment of the Roughriders remains as elusive as, uh, Anthony Calvillo.

One week ago on Taylor Field, Calvillo ran for touchdowns of 14 and 22 yards to help the Montreal Alouettes post a 34-28 victory over Saskatchewan. Those two plays underlined the confusing and often contradictory nature of the 2012 Riders.

On the second touchdown, Calvillo's closest pursuer -- linebacker Tyron Brackenridge -- was unable to gain ground on the 40-year-old quarterback. That was the very same Tyron Brackenridge who tracked down one of the league's fastest players, Chad Owens, when the Roughriders smoked the host Toronto Argonauts 36-10 on Oct. 8.

Last Saturday, Calvillo also demonstrated his mobility while rolling to his right, thereby evading pressure, and throwing a touchdown pass to Bo Bowling.

In so doing, Calvillo emulated his nimble-footed quarterbacking counterpart, Darian Durant. The inverse has also applied of late.

Despite being one of the league's best scramblers, Durant has been deployed almost exclusively as a pocket passer -- the style typically associated with Calvillo -- since suffering a hip flexor injury on Sept. 9.

Calvillo's outbreak of happy feet prompted some observers to wonder why Durant has not been more reliant on his athleticism. That is a fair point, considering that Durant is ideally a multi-dimensional threat.

Even so, the team enjoyed its most-recent success without Durant running at all. He did not carry the ball a single time while Saskatchewan won three consecutive games -- the latter of which was in Toronto -- to fatten its winning streak to three games. But as soon as he resumed running, effectively but selectively, the Roughriders lost two in a row.

Durant had two carries for 27 yards in a 37-20 loss to the host Edmonton Eskimos on Oct. 13. He then ran twice for 29 yards as the Roughriders lost to Montreal and saw their record drop to 8-8.

What does one make of a .500 team, anyway?

The Roughriders of 1989 won the Grey Cup while finishing the regular season at 9-9. In 2004, the Roughriders came agonizingly close to a Grey Cup berth after going 9-9. Yet, other 9-9 teams in Roughriders history have been accurately, and at times acerbically, labelled as mediocre.

Even if the latter description ends up applying to the latest edition of the Green and White, "mediocre'' is a considerable upgrade over whatever it was that the Roughriders served up last season.

You would think, though, that a mediocre team would win one, lose one, win one, lose one, etc.

Instead, there have been wild fluctuations in the team's performance -- and in the tenor of the critiques offered by perplexed pundits and fervent fans.

From this standpoint, it can be stated with certitude that the 2012 Roughriders have contributed to male pattern baldness. The stylish new toupee should arrive any day now.

In this cherished space, the Corey Chamblin-coached Roughriders have been portrayed as dynastic and dreadful, depending on the week or the streak. There is a middle ground -- in the form of an 8-8 record -- but this has been a season of extremes.

There have been forehead-slapping losses, such as the recent defeat in Edmonton, and victories that have been characterized (perhaps prematurely) as signature games. Consider two home-field victories at the expense of the formidable B.C. Lions. Entering this week's action, the defending Grey Cup champions had lost only four times, with two of those defeats coming at the hands of the Roughriders.

After defeating the Lions 27-21 on Sept. 29, the Roughriders travelled to Toronto and simply outclassed the Argonauts. Throughout the season, Chamblin has emphasized the importance of "playing fast,'' and his team did precisely that at the Rogers Centre. Especially on defence, the Roughriders played at a pace that overwhelmed the Argonauts, who are to provide Saturday's opposition on Taylor Field.

In two games since subjecting the Argonauts to shock and awe, the Roughriders have allowed 71 points and raised some questions -- and, yes, some doubts -- along the way.

Are the Roughriders as good as they looked in Toronto? Or, are the fans going to be fed a steady diet of the post-Toronto performances for the remainder of the season?

The answer is an unequivocal "who knows?"

This much is certain: The Roughriders are vastly improved from the cellar-dwelling season of 2011, despite their erratic tendencies.

"It has been a lot of ups and downs but, at the same time, coming from where we were last year I'm just happy to be a part of this organization -- happy to be a part of the growth of Coach Chamblin and the start of him and everything that he has brought to this organization,'' Durant said on Friday.

"(The season) has gone by fast, but I'm happy with where we are. Of course, we wish we had a couple of games back earlier in the season, but we clinched a playoff spot. This time last year, we were worried about getting tickets to go home, so I'm just happy we're in the dance.''

 
 
 
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Montreal Alouettes defensive back Jerald Brown takes down the ball carrier Saskatchewan Roughriders slotback Chris Getzlaf during the second half of CFL football action in Regina, Sask., Saturday, October 20, 2012.
 

Montreal Alouettes defensive back Jerald Brown takes down the ball carrier Saskatchewan Roughriders slotback Chris Getzlaf during the second half of CFL football action in Regina, Sask., Saturday, October 20, 2012.

Photograph by: Liam Richards, Canadian Press

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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