Death of the Riders Three Man Rush
In university my friend Tyler taught us a game called “3 Man”. All these years later I couldn’t remember the rules if I tried, but I do remember you either finished the game very confused or very drunk.
I feel like that’s how the 2018 Riders defence made opponents feel with their version of “3 Man”— confused and/or drunk. The 3-man rush was a staple of the Riders defense last season. They threw three men at the QB almost three times as much as the next-highest team.
3-man Rushes (2018)
Saskatchewan - 205
Ottawa - 72
Calgary - 63
It helped having two dominant ends in Charleston Hughes and Willie Jefferson to anchor those 3-man rushes. No surprise that they finished 1st and 2nd in QB pressures on 3-man rushes (Riders DT Zack Evans was 3rd).
As it was, they got fewer sacks when they rushed 3. But fewer rushers means more players to cover downfield, and could the Riders ever cover.
When the Riders dropped nine, their interception percentage almost doubled over when they dropped eight, an eye-popping development.
With all that success, I thought the 3-man rush would continue to be a staple of the Riders defence. Sure, Chris Jones is gone, replaced as Defensive Coordinator by Jason Shivers and Willie Jefferson is gone, replaced as defensive super-stud Micah Johnson but the Riders were so effective rushing three, surely it would continue.
Not so much.
3-man Rushes (through Week 5 of 2019)
Hamilton - 25
BC - 23
Ottawa - 22
Edmonton - 19
Winnipeg - 18
Montreal - 16
Saskatchewan - 13
It’s early, sample size is small, that’s all fair and maybe Shivers is keeping 3-man rushes in his pocket for later in the season. Versus last year, they’ve all been replaced by standard 4-man rushes (64% of pass rushes this season vs. 37% last season).
The Riders defence hasn’t been the same this year allowing 44 points to Ottawa, 37 to Calgary and intercepting only two passes in four games.
There’s an argument to be made that bringing fewer rushers would bring them more success.
Derek Taylor is the radio play-by-play voice of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He's also the creator of "The Details on the CFL"--his stats-based segment that originated on the CFL on TSN.