What a difference a win makes.
The Riders 31-23 win over the Edmonton Eskimos was the perfect birthday gift. Last year the Riders clinched first place against Calgary on my birthday, which set new records for alcohol consumption and cost me my voice for four days. This year they won the day before my birthday, making it a perfect set of bookends.
But better yet, the Riders needed to break their four game losing streak and did so, with a determined offensive push that featured Darian Durant calling his own plays and moving the ball down the field. Durant’s mobility and the defense playing well in spots helped the Riders launch a push in the last two minutes of the first half and finished off the Eskimos in the third quarter.
That being said, the Riders field-goal kicking had enough people gulping and wondering why the Riders didn’t add former University of Regina Rams kicker Perri Scarcelli to the roster. Scarcelli kicked at Taylor Field for four years and at least knows the wind currents. He’s also kicked from well beyond 40 yards.
The Riders running game got underway with Wes Cates running well in a strategic sense. Cates is not running like Cory Boyd of the Toronto Argonauts, but in this throw first and run second offense, the Riders are picking their spots well when it comes to running the ball.
The Riders offense has gotten a good jolt in Cory Koch, the wide receiver who has great soft hands and tremendous intensity. To think that Prechae Rodriquez was wasting this spot while Koch paid his dues makes one more than just a little angry. This type of intensity would have seen the Riders likely have four 1,000-yard receivers.
The offensive line performed better, but still got overwhelmed at times. This is where people like Neal Hughes and even Cates need to step up and help with the blocking. The effectiveness of the Riders running game makes me suspect the Riders might very well resort to a double tight end system against the BC Lions, especially if the forecast at this time of snow on Sunday comes to pass.
Another point in favor of the tight end system is the continued re-emergence of Jason Clermont. Clermont lined out on the wide side, which is a bit unusual, but when he ran his patterns, it was towards the middle of the field and even when he didn’t catch a ball, he was making strategic blocks.
The Riders made a few changes on defense, some due to injury, and while the Riders gave up another 100-plus yards on the ground, it was adequate because the Riders managed to get more pressure on the quarterback and got a couple of Ricky Ray fumbles.
People held their breath when Barrin Simpson went down with an ankle injury, but at the time of this writing, Simpson will be back for the Western Semi-Final. Marcus Adams will be back in the line-up and while their new defensive lineman was in, there wasn’t really anything pro or con to say about his play.
The Riders revolving chair defensive secondary will have to wait a bit to see if Sean Lucas comes back from an elbow injury. Lucas might be able to play, but if not, the Riders might want to think about bringing in Donovan Alexander to replace Leron Mitchell at wide side corner. Mitchell hasn’t brought a lot to the dance, but then again, maybe there is more going on than what the Riders are making public in terms of defensive injuries.
So with the BC Lions coming in, what should we expect on Sunday afternoon?
The Lions have been on a bit of a roll, and the release of Casey Printers is somewhat similar to the Minnesota Vikings releasing Randy Moss because he was not a team player. This seems to have brought the Lions together, but while the Lions have won, they have won due more to what could be described as divine intervention.
The Lions strong game is their passing game, and while their defense is aggressive, the only bit of advice is throw away from Ryan Philips, who has made a good living from intercepting Rider quarterbacks. The Lions do have a great return game, which considering the shaky state of our field goal kicking, would make me think that the Riders will either score touchdowns or punt, rather than try field goals.
The Riders will have to watch the tendency of Ryan Grice-Mullins to fumble, especially with it being chilly. To the Riders credit, they did get a few good returns and their coverage was pretty good.
The Riders will have to throw the kitchen sink at Lion quarterback Travis Lulay and ensure that former Rider running back Jamal Robertson is bottled up. I have confidence that will happen and if the Riders show the same level of ball security on Sunday that they showed against Edmonton, they should do well.
Well, I went 3-1 last weekend and Scott Schultz of TSN went 2-2. So my regular season record is 40-32 and Schultz went 35-37. So what to expect on this weekend?
Toronto at Hamilton (Sunday TSN Noon I think, but check your TV listings) – Toronto beat Montreal, but that game was notable mostly for the appearance of a Canadian quarterback. Hamilton put their starters in against BC, but still wasn’t able to beat them. Which makes me wonder if Toronto keeps the ball away from Hamilton by using Cory Boyd, can the Argonauts pull off the upset? Hamilton has beaten Montreal, but Hamilton didn’t show me much by losing to BC. Take Toronto in an upset.
BC at Saskatchewan (Sunday TSN either 4 p.m. or 5 p.m.) The BC Lions have been in the playoffs for the last 14 years, the second longest current streak in the CFL behind Montreal. BC came here in 2008 and beat the Riders, although the incredibly dumb Michael Bishop was quarterback at that time. BC has a tendency to beat us here at home, but I think the Lions Cinderella season will come to an end. The Riders have a tendency to turn it on when it suits them and now that it’s one loss and out, their focus seems to have come back, along with their confidence. The Riders are not looking back BC to Calgary, they have recent memories of four straight losses to remind them of where that type of thinking gets them. Take the Riders to win and win big.
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