REGINA — The 2017 Saskatchewan Roughrigers are better than last year's underperforming squad so far, but just barely.
One-third of the way through this season, the Roughriders (2-4) have just one more win than they did at this time last year as they prepare to try and even a home-and-home series with the visiting B.C. Lions on Sunday.
Quarterback Kevin Glenn, who wasn't part of last year's squad that had a dismal 1-5 record at this point, said inconsistency is his team's biggest stumbling block.
"Roller coaster — up, down; up, down; up, down. Plain and simple, it's a roller coaster," Glenn said.
The Roughriders have yet to win a 2017 game against a West Division opponent, a crucial must if the team has any hope of making the playoffs.
Their latest loss was a 30-15 defeat to the Lions (5-2) in Vancouver last Saturday. It was second time this year that Saskatchewan beat an East Division team (a 38-27 win over Toronto on July 29) only to squander its momentum with a loss to a West opponent in the following game.
"We've got to stop it," Glenn said of the inconsistency. "I mean, it's frustrating, because we want to try to make sure that we put wins together, especially when we're playing West teams. So that's something that we need to focus on and we need to get better at, plain and simple."
On the offensive side of the ball, he said all 12 players need to be in sync on every play.
"Sometimes we have 11 guys doing the right thing, and the twelfth guy doing something different; it's not necessarily the wrong thing, but it’s something different and then we slip up and we get an accident or a negative play," he said.
Running back Cameron Marshall agreed, saying everyone on offence must "play on the same page."
Glenn completed 19 of 27 pass attempts for 186 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions in Saturday's loss. He was pulled and replaced by backup Brandon Bridge at 10:54 in the fourth quarter. The Riders' 15 points were scored with Bridge under centre.
The Riders have won just one of their last 13 games against West Division opponents, a Sept. 18, 2016 victory in overtime against Edmonton.
"It's something we've talked about, and we're going to meet it head on," head coach and general manager Chris Jones said of the western drought. "We've got to play better football against those top opponents."
As to why his team struggles against western teams, Jones said most teams in the CFL struggle against Calgary, Edmonton and B.C.
Competing with those three is the goal, he said.
"We're trying to get to that level where we can run the football effectively, protect our quarterback and we can play better defence."
Running the football is a good place to start. When Marshall has at least 12 carries, his team wins.
But in the Roughriders' losses to Winnipeg, Calgary and B.C. this year, Marshall has had seven, nine and five carries, respectively.
Overall, the Roughriders are second-last in the league in rushing attempts with 82, sitting only ahead of winless Hamilton.
Jones noted that if his team gets the lead in a game, then they'll run the football more frequently.
He said that when the Riders fall behind by two touchdowns, "the clock's against you.
"Most run plays average between four and six yards a play, whereas pass plays are averaging more in the lines of seven to nine yards per play."
That makes for a more efficient way to erase a deficit and potentially take back the lead, according to Jones.
"You can't just abandon the run, which we haven't, but you've got to run it enough to keep (defences) honest."
NOTES: The Roughriders will be without centre Dan Clark, who's been placed on the six-game injured list with an elbow injury … Clark's absence means that either guard Brendon LaBatte or rookie Dariusz Bladek will start at centre, Jones said … Reports out of B.C. indicate that Lions quarterback Jonathon Jennings looks set to start under centre on Sunday in Regina.
Evan Radford, The Canadian Press