But regardless of the outcome of that game, the 2018 regular season will be viewed as a success for the Riders. Chris Jones delivered a home playoff game in his 3rd year on the job (and if he wins a Grey Cup his green shirt will be immediately inducted into the Plaza of Honour). As I did at the 6 and 12 game mark, today I'm going to dive deeper into the progress the Riders have made as compared to the same point a year ago.
|After 18||217||2018||Difference||% Change|
|Passing Yds allowed||4890||4425||-465||-10%|
|Rushing Yds allowed||1734||1655||-79||-5%|
|Punt Return Avg||12.2||11.9||-0.3||-2%|
|Opponent Punt Ret Avg||9.8||9.2||-0.6||-6%|
|Kickoff return avg||23.4||25.3||+1.9||+8%|
|Opponent Kickoff Ret Avg||19.6||20||+0.4||+2%|
|Net punt avg||34.9||33.4||-1.5||-4%|
Obviously the first line is the most important one. A 12 win season is quite an accomplishment. What makes it even more impressive is how we got there. We went 7-3 against western opponents (by far the best record in the division). There were questions coming into the season as to whether the team had improved enough to be competitive in the stacked West division. Well they answered that emphatically.
Offensively, the early season trend of running being way up, sacks being way down and everything related to passing and scoring dropping faster than Ty Long trying to draw a roughing the kicker call continued. For context we scored just 1 more offensive TD than the expansion RedBlacks in their initial season. They managed 2 wins out of that, we managed 12. To me the story here (at least the positive one) is the O-line. There were huge questions about this unit coming into 2018, many of them coming from me. But once Cofield and Bladek joined the starters they really stepped up as a unit. The last few games also proved we have depth there. For an offense with as little firepower as we have the turnovers are a concern.
Defensively, I would have to learn 3 more languages to find enough words to adequately describe how awesome they have been. The additions of Hughes, Evans and Brooks to the D-line had the desired effect on sacks. It also freed Jefferson up from the triple teams he got last year to actually display his game changing abilities. The only negative was a slight increase in points allowed but to me the fact that we only allowed 14 more points than last season despite more offensive turnovers and next to no offensive support at times is impressive in and of itself. Turnovers were actually about the same as last season. We just took a lot more of them all the way back.
Special Teams continues to be an area of strength under Craig Dickenson. We had 5 kick return TDs and a lot of big gains from many different returners (Jones, Thiggy, Moore, Purifoy, Marshall) that tells me our blocking is doing well. Coverages were also rock solid. Punt return yards allowed went down despite allowing a lot of punt return TDs. Bartel statistically had a down year but I believe our strategy was to sacrifice distance on his kicks consciously in favour of hang time and placement to allow our cover guys to handle things. Not included in this chart is the fact that Brett Lauther had better kickoffs and was more accurate (and longer) on FG attempts. I liked Crapigna but given the choice between the 2 Lauther is far ahead at this point.
The last 2 stats are important in my opinion. Penalties are declining and this was despite starting the season with more penalties than last year. Finally the Players Dressed category is getting to a great spot. Remember that Jones set a record by dressing 100 players in 2016. The side benefit is that we are probably saving a bundle in sewing costs when it comes to putting names on jerseys.
Hopefully the trend of improvement over last year continues into the playoffs.