“Do not confuse activity with achievement.”
That was a quote from former NCAA basketball coach John Wooden, who won 10 national championships with the UCLA Bruins.
Craig Dickenson likely has it framed and hanging somewhere, because the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ head coach was quick to pull it out of his bag of lines to describe his team’s play on Saturday night.
He praised the Riders’ efforts in their 22-19 loss to the Calgary Stampeders, but then slammed them for not playing very well.
In other words, what good is running your butt off if you don’t know where you’re going?
“I think when you play well you’re precise and you execute, and I don’t think we did that,” said Dickenson shortly after the team’s second straight loss to their western counterparts.
What was a six point advantage on the Calgary Stampeders in the standings is now only two.
The Riders have already lost the season series to the Stamps, which could prove to be costly should the two teams end up tied at season’s end.
If the Stampeders win this weekend in B.C., Saskatchewan could actually be two points behind should they lose again in Calgary in less than two weeks.
Dickenson summed up Saturday’s loss by saying he was proud of the boys for the effort, but that they have to be better.
“Players, coaches, we all have work to do. We’re trying hard, we’re working hard during the week, so there’s no complaints about that. But we gotta be able to make the plays that are there to be made and we gotta improve our technique and our execution, and that just comes from repetition in practice.”
It could also come from upgrading personnel.
That box should be checked, at least on offence, when receiver Shaq Evans returns from injury and newly signed Duke Williams joins the team after COVID protocols.
The offensive line could use some help. If not for Fajardo’s exceptional scrambling ability, the Riders sacks against (21) would be a lot higher.
Brendon LaBatte, who is currently on the club’s suspended list, comes immediately to mind, but his COVID hiatus is starting to look more like retirement. If he’s not on the field when the team returns from the bye-week, I think we can close the book on that career.
As for Cody Fajardo, he needs to be better too.
There is no questioning his heart. While Fajardo was running like Walter Payton in the latter stages of Saturday’s game, Bo Levi Mitchell on second down was sliding five yards short of where he needed to be.
However Fajardo’s quarterback efficiency rating has slipped from league’s best to the bottom half. He has thrown as many interceptions as touchdown passes. Other attempts are simply off-target.
Fajardo called out his receivers after the previous loss to the Stampeders.
After the latest defeat it was Micah Johnson calling out his defence.
The Stampeders Ka’Deem Carey was the difference Saturday, with more than 170 all-purpose yards including 109 rushing.
Johnson didn’t criticize his teammates’ tackling ability, rather their desire to tackle the 210 pound running back.
“He’s physical as hell and you’ve got to want to tackle him,” said the Riders defensive tackle.
“If you don’t, he’s going to expose you. He’s a big guy, he’s gets north and south fast. You’ve got to make up in your mind that you want to hit him. If you don’t, he can feel that.”
No doubt the coaching staff noticed too, as their first signing after the latest loss was an American linebacker named Alvin Jones Jr.
Six of the top seven tacklers from the Riders’ 2019 season are no longer with the team, or sit on the injured or suspended lists.
Craig Dickenson knows what a good team looks like and right now he’s not seeing it.
“When I see teams that play well, I see no drops, I see guys blocking and I see the quarterback with plenty of time to look around and throw. I see tackles and guys coming up and making tackles instead of missing tackles,” the coach said.
When the Riders return from the bye, they will be thrust right into a playoff drive with only five games left, four of which will be on the road.
The Riders need both activity and achievement to come together in a hurry, or that hold on second spot — and a home playoff game — will be nothing more than wishful thinking.