OK, who saw that happening?
The Riders 41-8 win over the BC Lions was a glimpse of how things might be, if only the Riders were consistent. The Riders have veered from being close, to winning to getting pummeled and just when you think you are ready to write them off, they come off the canvas in a defensively decisive win.
What was fascinating about the game was something that I had noticed in earlier games about BC. Their offensive line is sometimes not very good. So from an armchair defensive coordinator perspective, if you can get pressure on BC’s quarterbacks, you can disrupt their passing game which is pretty good now that you have Chris Williams added to the equation.
Last week the Riders went with their three man rush and BC exploited the lack of pressure with deep passes and runs up the middle, running up a 30-0 lead before the Riders responded in garbage time with a couple of touchdowns.
The Riders this past week were faced with the return of BC QB Jonathon Jennings, who had never lost to the Riders and who adds the added challenge of being mobile and burning teams with either his passing or running. So what did the Riders do?
Rush three people and drop the rest in coverage, with the result that this time the Riders got five interceptions and chased Jennings and Travis Lulay out of the game, although Jennings came back to confirm he was actually getting his ass kicked.
So the difference it seems is execution. Getting the right players into position to make plays is the job of the coaching staff and the Riders coaching staff did their job.
So as they head into their second bye week with Edmonton and a home and home series with Winnipeg coming up, the Riders are in a better position than they were before, even though they are still two games out of a playoff spot in the West but would be tied for first in the East if an alternate universe.
The challenge for the Riders, besides beating a western team, will be winning on the road in the West. If the Riders can’t make a dent against Winnipeg, then an improved fifth spot seems about right. The key is consistency and away from new Mosaic Stadium the Riders are not consistently competitive.
So that likely means the Riders will be entertaining at times, likely for home games, and raise the level of hope among their fans for road games, only to crush their spirits with the flair of a heartbreaker at a Junior High Dance. This will result in record amounts of self-medication for Rider fans as they debate whether or not they can afford to replace their current management and coaching structure for something out of a Sears Clearance Bin.
It can be argued the Riders are ahead of last year or two years ago record wise, but consistency is something that is more mental and psychological than anything else. For the Riders to move into the upper areas of the Western conference will require the ability to adapt and respond to the challenges of other teams and forcing them to respond to what the Riders do.
A good example would be Winnipeg who after a year of coming close but not quite to winning, have now turned into a team that wins close games. That comes from confidence and it is something that is demonstrated through experience.
So if you want to argue that judging from Wally Buono’s pre-game speech to the BC Lions that their heads weren’t in the game because they thought all they had to do was show up and the Riders then took advantage of that, well, that would be reasonable. However I can’t see other teams taking the same approach BC did when preparing to face the Riders.
So the Riders will no longer have the element of surprise on their side when facing their western counterparts. They will have to compete and scheme better than their counterparts and that isn’t something that they have demonstrated they can do on a consistent basis.
That consistency is what separates them from the Calgary and Edmonton and dare I say the Winnipeg’s of the CFL. Winnipeg is somewhat similar because while they can beat teams of lesser talent or cohesion, they have yet to show they can beat the big boys and only when they do will they be in a position to bury the #1990 that makes them the longest running franchise without a Grey Cup.
So the Riders have two weeks to tweak their lineup and consider what alterations are needed to their Canadian content. The injury to Dan Clark forced Brendan LaBatte to centre and brought in Bruce Campbell (the offensive lineman the Riders traded for last year who retired and came back this year) and forced the Riders to start Rob Bagg and Nic Demski at receiver.
The Riders also have an interesting situation at running back where Cameron Marshall seems to be doing a solid job, but Greg Morris has been making a position contribution and Kienan LaFrance seems to have wandered back from the injury list. Before LaFrance got injured in training camp, or before training camp, a backfield of him and Morris seemed like a nice problem to have.
Morris has done a good job of running back kicks and being a change of pace back and having more Canadian options at skill positions would make it easier for the Riders to work Campbell into the offensive line. That raises the question of Josiah St. John, the former first overall pick of the CFL draft a year ago.
It may be early to write St. John off as a contributing member of the Riders because three years seems to be the usual time to develop a Canadian starter. Experience and strength seem to be things St. John needs to work on, especially since his name hasn’t come up on starting rosters much this year.
Having the right back-ups in position is crucial for success in an 18 game schedule as Edmonton is making their 18 man injury list no deterrent to a 7-0 start. Calgary has also pursued a plug and play system with their players and the Riders are trying to develop their players along the same lines.
So for Rider Nation, the 41-8 win combined with a bye week means two weeks of feeling good about themselves before the Riders go to Edmonton and the Riders either prove they are for real or not. What this does is prolong the interest in the Riders which will help with merchandise sales and television numbers which helps the team and the CFL. So everyone them becomes a winner.
On to this week.
We start off with Edmonton at Winnipeg and this is a statement game for Winnipeg like last week was a statement game for the Riders. Winnipeg has been knocking on the door since they got Matt Nichols and while they are beating the teams they should be beating, they seem to have a problem with teams of equal or greater talent or character.
I thought Edmonton might be due for a loss last week, which was foolish because they were playing Ottawa, and while Ottawa might be defending Grey Cup Champions and hosts for this year’s Cup, they lose close games and seem unable to take the leap of being able to put teams away. Edmonton has probably the one quarterback who can will a team to victory in Mike Reilly and as mentioned, with an 18 man injury list, Edmonton still finds a way to win. One thing to consider here is Winnipeg is not a very good team at Dollarama Field. So let’s say Edmonton even with an 18 man injury list is a 30-29 winner over Winnipeg.
Then we get to the Desperation Bowl, featuring the defending Grey Cup Champion Ottawa Redblacks against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Hamilton is one of the big surprises with their lousy start, which you could blame on injuries, or more likely, Kent Austin realizing the end of his shelf life as a coach in Hamilton. Jeff Reinbold was thrown under the bus and June Jones was brought in because Austin seems to realize his temperament is not suited to reaching Zach Collaros.
Rich Campbell is facing a rebuild due to losing Ernest Jackson and Chris Williams at receiver and the alternate dimension at running back that like the video in The Ring that kills whoever watches it within a week, apparently sends to an injury list any running back who lines up in the Ottawa backfield. Ottawa has been competitive, which is more than what Hamilton can say, and as the Riders can attest, beating Hamilton does tend to do wonders for a team’s self-confidence. So let’s say Ottawa wins this one 33-23 over Hamilton and gets itself back into the Eastern playoff race.
Then we have Calgary going to BC which would have been real fascinating if BC had beaten Saskatchewan. Instead BC was fat and sassy and gave up a chance to be a point up on Calgary in the standings. The return of Jennings was no great shakes, but the bigger issue for BC has to be the play of their offensive line.
If the Saskatchewan Roughriders with a three man rush could confuse the BC quarterbacks, Calgary could do so much more with a better defensive line. It will be hard for Jennings or Lulay to complete many passes when they are lying on their backs. Calgary is coming off a bye week and BC is on a short week and I really like Calgary’s defensive line in this match-up. Calgary 31-24.
Finally we have the battle for first place in the East between Montreal and Toronto, completing the home and home to decide who gets first place. Toronto is competitive with Ricky Ray at quarterback, but injuries to their defensive line and the general shakiness of their offensive line and the possible absence of Ray means Montreal should be favored.
Toronto may hold out Ray for one more game since a loss with an expected Ottawa win will not knock Toronto from second place and a sure playoff spot. So Toronto may take the long view that instead of rushing Ray back behind a porous offensive line and losing him for the season, they can sit him out for another week to ensure his recovery and set up the second half of the season. Montreal should win this one 25-22.
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