Seldom do so many respectable-looking pieces make for such an ugly puzzle.
Yes, the Saskatchewan Roughriders were blown out on the scoreboard in yesterday's game against the B.C. Lions. But on a closer look, there's far more reason to see the result as a matter of every small break going the wrong way, rather than the result of a serious gap in talent or preparation.
Saskatchewan's special teams continued to be effective, with the cover team keeping the Lions in check and the return game ranking as solid (with potential to have been even better if not for a couple of holding penalties).
On the defensive side of the ball, the one inexcusable play was Arland Bruce's 100-yard touchdown reception - featuring a blown coverage, two missed tackles, and a conspicuous lack of defenders in pursuit as Bruce sauntered into the end zone. But otherwise, the defence was able to make plenty of plays throughout the game - only to have trouble lining up two in a row to allow the 'Riders to take the ball back. And it came close to forcing a couple of turnovers, but fell just short. (Just think how different the game would have looked if Chris McKenzie had held onto a possible interception with nothing but open field in front of him.)
Likewise, the 'Riders' offence avoid the type of multi-series slumps that have marred the 2011 season. Instead, it regularly managed a couple of first downs, then either stalled or turned the ball over just before getting into scoring range - with two of the three turnovers while the game was in doubt (Marc Parenteau's bad snap and Anthony Reddick's pickoff of a pass which bounced off Weston Dressler's hands) falling under the category of freak occurrences rather than problems with Darian Durant's management of the offence. And the offence too was just inches away from turning opportunities into points at several turns in the game, as several drives ended on passes which barely hit the turf before finding their way into receivers' hands.
Mind you, there was one area where the 'Riders made plenty of avoidable mistakes: the team was penalty-prone throughout the game, with the defensive line looking particularly vulnerable to being drawn into the Lions' backfield long before any play was in motion. (Indeed, Dario Romero is probably tackling a Lion quarterback as I write this.)
But that problem aside, the 'Riders' loss looks to have been a matter of getting absolutely no breaks in a game which was far more evenly matched than the scoreboard showed. And while plenty of fans seem eager to panic, there's still time to get enough of those breaks going the 'Riders' way to make something of the season.