Missing Evans, Riders expect Redblacks to challenge their aerial attack

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REGINA — Cody Fajardo hasn’t connected on any long touchdown passes this season, but the Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback isn’t worried about it.

The Riders are 2-0 heading into Saturday’s game at Mosaic Stadium against the Ottawa Redblacks, and Fajardo isn’t about to get caught up in a discussion about not throwing the ball deep on a regular basis.

“At the end of the day, I could care less about any statistics or numbers other than wins and losses,” said Fajardo, who is 45-of-60 passing this season for 452 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. “We are a dynamic offence but we haven’t been presented with very many opportunities (to go deep).

“I’ve talked with the receivers and I think the biggest place we can improve on is on the 50-50 jump balls. Sometimes you throw it up in one-on-one coverage and coming down with a few of those will help us offensively.”

The Riders lead the CFL with 31.5 points per game but Fajardo will have a couple of challenges with stretching the defence against the Redblacks. One deterrent is that the Redblacks play mostly a zone defence, which forces teams to use short and intermediate passing routes.

The second obstacle is the Riders will be missing deep threat Shaq Evans, who suffered a broken foot in the 30-8 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Aug. 14. Evans is expected to miss six-to-eight weeks.

“It’s tough. Shaq’s obviously one of the best receivers in the league, he’s an all-star. He’s a guy who knows the offence inside and out and who will always be at his spots,” said Fajardo. “When we’re in a little bit of a rut, I lean on him where I can throw him up a 50-50 ball and he can go make a play. I call him our flint because he can ignite our offence when we’re in a bit of a lull.

“Losing a guy like that is extremely tough but I’ve got a lot of confidence in that receiver room.”

In the absence of Evans, Jordan Williams-Lambert will move into the slot with Paul McRoberts joining the lineup at wide receiver. McRoberts, who spent the 2019 season on the Riders practice roster, will be seeing his first CFL regular season action on Saturday.

The Riders will miss Evans, but Kyran Moore believes the receiving corps will be up to the challenge against the Redblacks.

“Next man up, that’s the type of mentality we play with,” said Moore, who has 10 receptions for 110 yards and two touchdowns this season. “Before we broke practice today I brought the receivers together and told them, ‘Just do what you do. There’s no pressure. Don’t do anything more than this. Just continue to do what you’re doing and it shouldn’t be too big of a drop off.’ “

Another area of concern for the Riders, who are in the midst of a nine-game home winning streak, is the amount of penalties they took in the win over the Ticats. The Riders had 20 penalties for 187 yards in the contest. Head coach Craig Dickenson said after the game that he would address the issue with his players.

So does Dickenson think his message was received?

“Well, we’ll see . . . We talked about it quite a bit. We want to eliminate the silly ones, like offsides and procedure,” said Dickenson. “And we want to eliminate the holding in the return game and the stuff after the whistle. We’ll see how it goes. I don’t anticipate having 20 penalties in this game. We’ll have a few and I can accept a few but we don’t want so many that it makes it hard for us to win the game.

“We want to play hard, play fast and be physical without too many penalties.”

OTTAWA REDBLACKS (1-0) AT SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS (2-0)

Saturday, Mosaic Stadium

DEFENSIVE IMPACT: The Riders defensive line has been outstanding in the first two games, registering a league-leading eight sacks along with two forced fumbles and six pass knockdowns. Jonathan Woodard leads the CFL with three sacks, all of which came last week against the Ticats. A.C Leonard has two sacks, one interception and two pass knockdowns.

WARD CONTINUES IMPRESSIVE RUN: Redblacks kicker Lewis Ward went 3-for-3 on field goal attempts against the Edmonton Elks in the season opener. Lewis is the CFL’s all-time leader in field goal percentage at 92.4 per cent with 97 field goals in 105 attempts. Calgary’s Rene Paredes is second at 87 per cent (403 out of 463).

LATE SURGE FOR POWELL: Riders running back William Powell gained 89 yards on 18 carries against the Ticats with 70 of those yards coming in the fourth quarter. As the Riders were trying to run down the clock in the fourth quarter, Powell had five consecutive carries for 50 yards.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 20, 2021.

Jeff DeDekker, The Canadian Press

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