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Coach Craig and the Case of the Curious Coaching Calls

Published: Monday, Jul 24th 2023, 5:07pm

By: Stephen Safinuk (@Safimod)

It’s often been said that the CFL season can be divided into thirds. This has certainly been a strange third for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, but they sit at 3-3 through 6 games. Had you told me at the start of the season that the Riders would be at .500 following a 6-game stretch versus Western opponents, I would have been ecstatic. Yet now, its easy to look back and wonder how many potential wins we’ve squandered away.

While it’s easy to point at injuries as a reason for their current two game slide, there is one glaring problem that has reared its ugly head through the first third of the season. That problem is currently employed as the Head Coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

We all know Craig Dickenson was the ultimate convenience hire after Chris Jones left this team high and dry following the 2018 season (but not before he made sure his entire coaching staff signed extensions, forcing the Riders to hire from within to fill the late vacancy). It also would not be a stretch to say the Riders likely would have moved on from Dickenson following the 2022 season were it not for the CFL’s ridiculous coaching cap. But here we sit in 2023, with Craig Dickenson still making head coaching decisions that we can no longer excuse as “rookie mistakes”. Let’s look at a few of those baffling decisions from this weekend’s 19-9 loss to the BC Lions:

  • Trying to run the ball on 3rd and 2 in the 3rd quarter, in our own end, despite Jamal Morrow not being able to run the ball at all, all game long.
  • Not kicking a 51-yard field goal, with 30 seconds left in the 1st half, in a domed stadium. (Can also add, getting Korsak to pin the Lions deep – if you’re going to punt it there in a very tight football game, punt for the single. Might as well get something out of it)
  • Not kicking it deep with just under 2 minutes left in the game. Failing an onside kick puts BC immediately in Field Goal range in a 7-point game…because they trust their kicker.
  • Not taking the points on 3rd and 2, down 10. You need 2 scores. Take the points and save the clock. But once you’ve decided to go for the touchdown, not going for it on 3rd and goal is equally baffling. They killed a decent chunk of clock for the same outcome.

It would be worrisome if that many questionable coaching calls were from the entire 6 game stretch, but that was just from this past week’s game in BC. Four obvious errors in coaching judgement, several of which had multiple mistakes within them, in a football game that came right down to the wire.

We don’t even have to go that far back to look for more potential game changing decisions from our head coach. Last week versus Calgary, Dickenson opted to kick a 54-yard field with the Riders down 3 with over 7 minutes go. In years past, trotting Lauther out there would absolutely be the right call. He used to be money from behind 50. This year, he has unfortunately been questionable at best and his leg strength has been questioned week in and week out. Unfortunately to the surprise of nobody, the kick came up short and wide, and Stamps Returner Clark Barnes brought it back out to the Riders 24-yard line. The Stampeders would ultimately punch it in for a score to go up 10 points, and the rest is history.

Obviously, its easy to look at decisions made after the fact and point to them as glaring errors when things don’t work the way they are planned. Hindsight is 20/20 after all. People were less concerned with Dickenson’s errors when the team was eking out wins versus Calgary (once) and Edmonton (twice) through the first 4 games, but as the injuries pile up and our depth gets tested, the errors are becoming more obvious and costly. I haven’t even touched on his terrible clock management (which has been an issue since his first season) or his inability to utilize his challenge flag (or pick a good time to throw it when he does).

With the injuries this team has faced, and the depth being tested to the extent it has been thus far, this team just doesn’t have the talent on the field right now to make up for consistent questionable coaching decisions from Craig Dickenson. Looking back at the first 6 games of this season, this Rider team could easily be 5-1 with better coaching, and we’re honestly lucky to be sitting at 3-3. Perhaps what the Riders need is someone to walk along side Coach Dickenson throughout the game and get in his ear anytime he appears ready to make a game management decision that could bite the team in the butt. I’m sure there are many folks in Rider Nation that would gladly do it for free.

As the eternal optimist, I will always hold out hope that brighter days are ahead, but I am beginning to think that those days are far off in the distance.



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