This week will be an interesting one for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
The Riders have had two weeks of relative peace and quiet after beating the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and now go into Calgary on Saturday to face the Stampeders. The Stampeders are coming off their first regular season loss against Montreal and a spate of injuries especially on their defensive line seem to indicate that there is an opportunity for the Riders to capitalize if they play well.
That is big because one characteristic of this team is a tendency to take undisciplined penalties as a result of perhaps inexperience or over-eagerness. They also have the odd team stroke on the field where being able to recognize and play their own defensive signals seems to be a bit more than they can handle and then we can enjoy the spectacle of watching Weston Dressler run for days down the field with nary a Rider in sight.
The Calgary injury situation kind of reminds me of the Western Final in 2013 when the Stampeders had lost two defensive linemen in the last regular season game and then were run over by the Riders after serving up fumbles on deep passes by their receivers. Calgary has done an excellent job of plug and play with their reserves and have brought in some former Stampeders in an effort to shore up the defense, but in watching the Montreal game, what struck me was how physical Montreal played on defense against Calgary, even prompting an ejection of Jerome Messam.
On offense it seemed Montreal was able to run the ball effectively against Calgary and use the running game to set up deep passes to Ernest Jackson and BJ Cunningham. The Riders seem to have an adequate running game and I like their receiving corps, but the question is whether the Riders can get under the Stampeders skin on defense while playing a disciplined defensive game.
The Riders continue to tinker with their defensive backfield with reports they are in talks with former Ottawa Redblack defensive back AJ Jefferson who was released at age 29 because perhaps Ottawa wanted to get younger. The Riders signing of Jovan Johnson formerly of Montreal has worked pretty well and the Riders have some defensive backs on the injury list and practice roster who may merit a look later on.
So realistically, it would take a lot to see Calgary losing this game, but some of the signs are in place for the Riders to show they are a contender this year. The Hamilton win was major for the team because if they had lost that, their schedule heading up to Labour Day would be at best a 1-9 and that would not do well when paying for overpriced treats at the new stadium.
However the Riders need to move on from being a team rebuilding or perhaps being on a verge and show some signs they can be a force. They could easily be 3-0 if they played just a bit better and the margin of losses suggests this is a team that may be close. But as Ottawa if finding out, close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades and the question this team needs to answer is if it has the maturity to turn the close losses into wins and perhaps beat the teams that on paper are better than they are.
Well, as the classic line in Strange Brew goes…no point in steering now as the CFL starts on Wednesday and goes through to Monday!
Montreal at Ottawa (Wednesday) – Ottawa is close, but they keep shooting themselves in the foot and losing. And they played Calgary twice already so that doesn’t help. Montreal also played Calgary and beat them. But that was in Montreal. Can Montreal handle the time change to Ottawa and the fashion plates of Landsdowne Park? Montreal’s release of Ryan Phillips apparently indicates they are going with a cheaper Canadian at safety. It could be argued that Wally Buono was right about Phillips getting up there in age and slower in foot speed and more expensive in the pocketbook. However, considering his record of interceptions against Darian Durant, I would humbly suggest the Riders sign Phillips in October when Montreal comes to town. Just throwing it out there…Anyway Ottawa is in the midst of a killer stretch and they need to win just to get back into the Eastern race. However I don’t think Ottawa’s offense can handle Montreal’s down and dirty defense. Montreal 25-24 (because when Ottawa loses, it isn’t by much)
Edmonton at Hamilton (Thursday) – Hamilton is another team going through growing pains, especially on defense, and for my CFL fantasy draft, I picked Mike Reilly because this will be a bombs away affair in the nation’s armpit. Edmonton is another team going through growing pains as they deal with injuries at linebacker and running back, but they seem to holding it together better than Hamilton. In the game against the Riders, I had the impression Hamilton has tuned Austin out, and maybe that is the case, but what I saw against BC was a bunch of guys who haven’t played together much and will get another bombing this week thanks to Edmonton 31-20.
Winnipeg at BC (Friday) – Of course the Blue Bombers would screw over one of their own fans from winning a million dollars because Winnipeg is the place where dreams go to die. And this week they go to BC where the status of Jon Jennings is in question, but the performance of Travis Lulay sure made the game against Hamilton a victory for old men everywhere. Part of me thinks that after getting three straight wins in eastern Canada, BC would be well pleased with their effort and this would be a trap game. It might be pretty good because if BC’s offensive line lets Lulay get crunched and if Jennings ain’t back, then BC might be in some difficulties. Winnipeg can put the pressure on BC and Lulay did throw some interesting interceptions, but how much of that was due to rustiness? It will be interesting to see…BC 30-25.
Saskatchewan at Calgary (Saturday) – it has been a great two weeks in Riderville with nothing to do but bask in the glory of beating Hamilton. But then again, who isn’t beating Hamilton? So in the category of what have you done for me lately, Chris Jones takes his road show to Calgary where Bo Levi had his 19 game undefeated streak smashed on the rocks of the Montreal defense. Not sure who if anyone is coming back off the injury list for Calgary, but they are definitely hurting on their defensive and offensive lines. Now the odds of Calgary actually losing two in a row, especially after Rod Black talks about Calgary having a season for ages, much like Edmonton did in `1989, seems pretty low. But I’m sure the Eskimos in 1989 didn’t think they would be staying home after the western final. Maybe it’s the hangover talking, but Saskatchewan 29-28.
Ottawa at Toronto (Monday) – So if Ottawa barely loses (or wins) against Montreal, how will this affect this game? It shouldn’t, because four games in 17 days is ridiculous, especially if you are concerned about player safety. Ottawa will have the air of desperation as they attempt to scramble back into the eastern race while Toronto deals with an offensive line that may or may hold up for Ricky Ray. If Ray gets pressured, Ottawa wins, if Ray goes bombs away, Ottawa loses. I have more faith in the Argos than their fans do – Argos 27-26
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