In the last article I looked at what I surmised may be the problems with the ‘Rider offense. In this article, I will look at the defense. There are a lot of clichés that go along with defense; the best defense is offense, the defense must make a stand, the defense is tough against the run, you can’t spell defense without an “f”. Okay, I made the last one up, and it doesn’t make any sense, but the other ones don’t really tell the whole story either.
Ritchie Hall has a distinctive defensive scheme that he has developed over his many years as a coordinator. Its primary function appears to be to take almost any player and set them up to succeed at their position. It focuses on discipline and taking care of your responsibilities. I like the premise of this defense. It relies less on big plays by individuals, and instead stymies the opposing offenses with infrequent defensive mistakes. This scheme maximizes existing talent, but it unfortunately doesn’t allow exceptional defensive players to be exceptional. Right now, the ‘Riders need this type of scheme as they don’t have many defensive stars who can be game changers.
What they do have are some great athletes, and a lot of good players. This defensive scheme takes a while for it to mature with existing players. I think this is happening. Players are beginning to be confident in the players around them, and are instead focusing on what they need to do on each play. Make no mistake though; any pass defense requires at least an adequate pass rush. Currently the ‘Riders are sorely lacking this. If they can find one good pass rusher, then the defense can impose its will.
The largest aid to the defense would be a better offense. Defensive players fatigue quicker than the offensive players. I think this is because a lot of a defensive player’s energy is expended in ‘reactive’ mode. The offensive players know what they need to do on each play so little energy is wasted. Defensive players are consistently chasing other players. Accelerating to close gaps and attempting to fight through blockers. They need the offense to give them at least six plays off on every exchange of possession. Currently the ‘Riders’ offense isn’t achieving this. The defense is spending more than half the game on the field, and they have shown fatigue in each of the games once the fourth quarter begins. Defensively, the Ritchie Hall scheme worked very well against Montreal. Anthony Calvillo had some difficulty with the looks that he was given, but was beginning to move the ball when he was injured. The defensive line was able to get more pressure, and this directly led, not only to Anthony Calvillo’s early departure, but the interception that he threw as well. With Macpherson in at quarterback, the defense only had to worry about single moves by the receivers, as well as knowing that Macpherson’s progression tree only amounts to two branches. This allowed more zone defense, which allows the defensive backs to be facing the quarterback. This also allows more gap blitzes by the linebackers, which increased pressure.
Against veteran quarterbacks, the lack of a pass rush is lethal. Henry Burris is able to sit back and wait for coverages to break down, and he can also make plays with his legs. More emphasis is on containing him in the pocket, and getting a push up the middle. We are getting a push up the middle, but the defensive ends appear slow, and can’t seem to beat the offensive tackles of the opposition. I know it sounds like a broken record but we desperately need at least one defensive end who is capable of distracting the quarterback.
I’ve always had an issue with Ritchie Hall’s play calling on defense. He is far too conservative when the ‘Riders have a lead. Unfortunately for the fans, but fortunately for him, that hasn’t been an issue this year. I think that he’s terrified that he will take a chance and get burnt, and then everyone will question his call. That’s not the way that successful defensive coordinators become successful. I love his schemes, but wish that someone else called the defense during games.
With our lack of talented receivers and average offensive line, we will be counting on the defense to win games for us. Unfortunately, it’ll take at least this season for Ritchie Hall’s defensive schemes to have the proper personnel to make it work like it did in 2007. I’m confident that it will, just not this season. It appears that the ‘Riders may be experiencing one of those valleys that all teams face after a length of prosperity. So I end this rant with another cliché, patience will be rewarded.
In the next article I will take a look at the special teams of the ‘Riders. It will be after the home Calgary game, so hopefully I will have something positive to say about them. Enjoy the game!