Top of the World Ma!

September 23, 2014 - 11:08am

If you want to get a little teary-eyed, go to YouTube and call up the CKRM highlights of the Saskatchewan Ottawa game and listen to Rod Pedersen blow his vocal chords out calling the 60 yard touchdown reception and run by Weston Dressler.

That play in my mind is already the play of the year and demonstrates what Weston Dressler means to this team and by extension, this province.

This short guy from North Dakota through hard work and sheer heart has come to symbolize the Saskatchewan Roughriders and what they mean to the people of Rider Nation, spread out not just across Canada, but the world. And that 35-32 win will go down as one of the more entertaining games seen at Taylor Field, although for my money, the Canada Day shoot-out of 2010 between us and the Godless Montreal Allouettes comes first.

The Rider loss against Hamilton demonstrated the team seemed to be waiting for someone to step forward to claim the mantle of leadership vacated when Darian Durant went down with an injury. For this game, Durant was on the sidelines to offer advice and counsel to Sunseri but more importantly, Dressler stepped up to provide the Rider passing game with the shot in the arm it had been so desperately needing.

What Dressler does is open things up for not just himself, but everyone on the field. For some strange reason Ottawa had a rookie Canadian defensive back on Dressler playing man to man for most of the game and by moving Dressler and the pocket around, the Riders were able to create the space needed to get him the ball, and when Dressler was covered, Chris Getzlaf was open.

The quarterbacks and the receivers have been putting extra time in getting to know each other and the one thing that really intrigues me is how fast Sunseri gets the ball into the receiver’s hands, when he finally feels confident in his reads. If Durant is a touch passer, very adept at putting the ball into locations for his receiver and his receiver only to get the ball, Sunseri relies on his arm strength to hit the receivers running and having them add on the yards on their own.

The Riders though had some problems with their offensive line when Xavier Fulton was scratched before the game due to illness and Levy Adcock had to be added. I hesitate to mention that Chris Best is still out and Dan Clark is filling in. A healthy Chris Best adds a very nasty note to the offensive line which is essential for moving 300 pound plus defensive linemen out of the way so our running backs can find work.
It’s an attitude which is essential for the Riders to successfully run their offense and while Clark has done well, certainly much better than last year, Ottawa jumping ahead of the Riders and forcing them to the air took the ground game out of the equation. We are fortunate that Tino Sunseri brought his game in the second half to show the Riders can pass the ball and do so effectively.

The other area of concern is the middle linebacker position where Chad Kilgore, said to be the next big thing, was kind of not the next big thing. An ideal middle linebacker is a Rey Williams with great knees who can attack the other team and disrupt not just their passing game, but trip up the running game. The Riders are too slow in pursuit of opposing players when they run, and perhaps the answer lies in bringing back Sam Hurl if he is fully recovered from his injuries.

OK, the third thing is the snapping on field goals. Due to injuries, Brad Peters, the linebacker, is doing the long snapping, but Peters has a hand/shoulder injury which makes getting the ball back to the holder an adventure at the best of times. Having a consistent long-snapper is essential to a football team and I point to the example of Jürgen Huss, formerly of the University of Regina Rams, who is getting an NFL shot because of his long-snapping ability. If I had a son, he would be a long snapper because those guys are like gold.

The Riders lucked out in that all western teams except for them lost, allowing them to move within two points of Calgary with Calgary in town next Friday. This week the Riders play Edmonton in Edmonton, the start of a three game series with the Eskimos that will likely determine who will finish second and if things really work out, first in the west.

Edmonton is coming off a loss to Hamilton and has no running game. What they do have is an aggressive defense which is second in sacks. I can see Edmonton using the game plan Hamilton used to beat us, load up the line to stop the run and put lots of pressure and different looks to make Sunseri guess at coverages.

If Sunseri is going to solve Edmonton, he is going to have time and confidence in springing receivers, which means probably moving the pocket around. If the Riders get their running game going, and Fulton should be back for this game, that will take pressure off of Sunseri and allow him to weather the storm that Edmonton will have waiting for him in the first quarter.

Our defense compares quite well with Edmonton’s offense and while TSN likes to sing Adarius Bowman’s praises as the leading receiver, Bowman had some drops which reminded me of his start in Saskatchewan and a similar problem. If Tyron Brackenridge or Macho Harris smacks him around some, he will start hearing footsteps and more importantly, will cough up the football for the Riders.

But the two factors to determine this game and it is going to be a close one will be the Rider offensive line/running game and special teams. If the Riders can sort out their long-snapping problems and if they can get their running game going to provide a balanced attack, there should be no reason why late Friday night the Riders are 10-3.

But, this is a three game series, the Riders are going to have only one practice before this game and this game may come down to a test of character for the Riders as they look to show they are for real. If the Riders lose, they are tied for second, but have two games left against Edmonton, so they are not totally snookered.

I am thinking Edmonton takes this game, they are coming off a loss to Hamilton they should have won, but Edmonton is not as good as they think they are. The problem is, I don’t think the Riders expose them as the pretenders they are until the last few weeks of the schedule.
In other CFL games, Montreal is at Ottawa and while Ottawa put in a great performance, you have to wonder about the emotional effect of losing the way they did to the Riders on Sunday. Burris played his best game of the year but still had the brain cramps that made his stay so enjoyable/miserable in Saskatchewan.

Montreal has a solid defense and Straight out of Crompton is 3-1 as a starter for Montreal. I think Montreal got more out of their win over Calgary than Ottawa did in losing to us, so go with Montreal.

On Saturday we have Hamilton at Winnipeg which should be interesting. Drew Willy is not expected back for Winnipeg, but they are coming off a bye and teams coming off a bye are tending to look pretty good. For Winnipeg, this is a do or die situation as they see their potential playoffs slide away from them. I am not sure about their back-up quarterback, but Hamilton has no running back and Winnipeg’s run defense would be better served by throwing rolls of tissues at opposing players so Winnipeg doesn’t have that to worry about. I’ve got Winnipeg taking this only just because I have sat in their stadium and know how loud it is and that is a game where crowd noise may come handy in the late stages of the game.

BC at Calgary – Either Calgary or Jon Cornish decided to sit out the last game and the redone Stampeders looked far from a divisional champ in a loss to Montreal in Montreal. Calgary seemed to have an emotional letdown against Montreal after coming back to beat Toronto, but this week is different. If Edmonton beats Saskatchewan, a Calgary win would put them two games up on us and Deadmonton before Calgary comes here for a Friday night thriller. If we beat Deadmonton, then Calgary would want to be a game ahead before coming here.

Calgary has more motivation for this game and BC has been too inconsistent to figure out. Take Calgary here.

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