You can feel the excitement building, you can feel the tension rising, you can see work productivity dropping and that can only mean one thing… we are but one sleep away from the West Semi Final.
Saturday the Riders take on the Lions in front of the 18th straight sellout crowd at Mosaic Stadium. Just a note to those of you still complaining about not being able to get tickets to the game: A Rider Share is $250 and season tickets are under $500. Either one would have guaranteed you a playoff ticket (and given what I hear tickets are being scalped for, it would represent a significant cost savings). Furthermore, Jim Hopson doesn’t give a crap that you didn’t get a ticket. The team sold every ticket and he gets his money regardless of who buys them. Ticket reform ranks just ahead of adding a sushi bar to the concessions and slightly behind bringing back the east side troughs on Hopson’s list of priorities so quit wasting your breath.
Now that we’ve cleared that up onto the big game…
This year the edge in the season series goes to the Lions who won 2 of 3. At first this is a bit concerning but let’s look at the losses a bit closer. Our biggest margin of defeat in those games was 6 points. And that 6 point defeat was in spite of the 8 turnovers we committed that game. Not to mention the fact that those loses came at one of our most injury filled parts of the season and players such as Fantuz and Chick did not play. So although BC won the season series, they did so against many of our back-ups and we played them close both times despite numerous turnovers… which is actually a pretty sad statement on the once mighty Lions.
BC has the best front 4 in the CFL, a solid secondary (though I’m questioning the defense’s talent level after allowing over 100 points in the final 3 games), a good O-line, dangerous receivers and an elusive running back. How is it then that they only managed 3rd place? Well it’s quarterbacking. Pierce is the only QB I know who is more banged up than Ben Roethlisberger and Jarious Jackson is one of the few QBs in the league I would rank below Bishop (ouch if you’re Jarious). Buck’s body has displayed the durability of Dave Dickenson’s head and Jarious has displayed the intelligence of a jar of peanut butter so forgive me for not shaking in my boots at the prospect of facing the BC offense.
Speaking of QBs… well simply put, ours sucks and I’m worried sick about how he’s going to perform. Last year coming into the playoffs our QB was one of our biggest strengths. This year it’s our biggest liability. Since joining the Riders, Bishop has served up 12 INTs and 5 fumbles in a mere 9 games. To be fair, Ricky Ray beat him in both categories but balanced that off by throwing 26 TDs and taking a whole season to cough up all those turnovers. Bishop by contrast managed a whopping 7 passing TDs. He’s shown a consistent inability to make good decisions and protect the ball and that concerns me entering the playoffs where one mistake can end your season. Bishop I’m begging you please don’t screw this up… please! Repeat after me “Short passes”.
Bold prediction: I envision only 2 scenarios that lead to a Rider win. 1) The defense stands on their heads and offsets a mediocre-at-best performance by Bishop or 2) Bishop gets pulled at halftime and Darian Durant scores the winning points.
For the Riders to be successful we need 3 things. 1) Control the ball – running, short passes, dump passes to the RB, quick hitters to slow the pass rush down (and lower the risk of being intercepted). 2) The O-line needs to step up. In 3 games this season, they allowed 17 sacks against BC. That simply won’t cut it. The return of Jeremy O’Day will hopefully solidify our pass protection. 3) The defense needs to keep it close. We will not win a shoot out against BC so we will have to contain their offensive weapons (Simon, Jackson, Logan) and get pressure on the QB to force mistakes.
Generally speaking both teams are fairly evenly matched but I’m confident that our defense will step up big time and I’m cautiously optimistic that the playmaking abilities of Fantuz, Dressler, Cates and Hughes will be enough to overcome the severe handicap of starting Bishop at QB. You also can’t forget about the intangibles such as having a kicker who doesn’t choke and most importantly the energy of a home crowd 30,000 strong.
Riders by 5
I want to see everyone be louder than they’ve ever been before on Saturday as we cheer our team on to victory. Let’s give Wally Buono 30,000 reasons that home field advantage does indeed exist (and just to be clear I’m talking about 30,000 cheering fans, not hurling 30,000 beer cans at the BC bench). See you in the stands.