Thursday, September 17, 2009

Riders vs. Eskimos: Let’s Try This Again

Sunday the Riders host the Eskimos in the first game of a back to back series. The Riders (6-4) come into this game on a 2 game win streak with homefield advantage while the Esks (5-5) come in on a 2 game losing streak. Things are definitely shaping up in the Riders favour. What’s that? …. Oh right… there’s that whole “monumental collapse” thing in week 4 when the situations were pretty much identical coming into the game. Almost forgot about that embarrassing ordeal.

Before the game even kicks off you have to think that the Riders will have the emotional edge in this game the moment that the team is led out of the tunnel by… Kitwana Jones!! It will be awesome to see that again and it will surely fire up the team and the fans.

The Esks come into this game struggling to say the least. They have lost 3 of their last 5 and needed last minute heroics to steal the 2 games that they won. Ricky Ray has looked terrible his last couple outings and the Esks still have one of the worst ground games in the league. Problem is that we all know Ray can still be very dangerous and that hapless run game victimized us in the first encounter.

As many concerns as they have on O, they pale in comparison to the ones on D. They are currently the worst defensive unit in the CFL having allowed the most yards and the most points (over 31 per game). Add to that the fact they are the worst in the league when it comes to sacks, interceptions and creating turnovers. About the only thing they seem to excel at is not allowing FGs (among the least allowed in the league)… though the reason they allow so few FGs is that they prefer to let their opponents score TDs instead (most TDs allowed in the league) but let’s focus on the positives here. It boils down to what I’ve been saying since the start of the season about the Esks: Mo Lloyd may be good, but he’s not good enough to compensate for the lack of talent on the part of the other 11 defenders (no to mention the lack of talent in his defensive coordinator).

Last time we played the Esks we got beat by the run, a 3rd quarter implosion and offensive play calling that was as questionable as that South African sprinter’s gender (though the sprinter had one thing our play calling lacked… balls). Fortunately since that Buffalo Bills-esque collapse we have been steadily improving in these areas. We just shut down the league’s top runner 2 weeks in a row. We have been playing progressively better in the 3rd quarter and I have been very happy with our play calling of late. If we can keep this up we should be fine.

Offensively the key to the game is the passing game. Edmonton has the worst secondary in the league so Durant has an opportunity to exploit them for big yards. We need a strong running game to keep our offense on the field but passing is where our points will be scored. Defensively, the key will be stopping the run. Ricky Ray may be better than Bishop (talk about the understatement of the century) but if he has no ground game to take the pressure off him he will struggle just the same… okay he probably won’t struggle near as bad as Bishop, but he’ll still struggle. Forcing Ray to drop back and pass plays right into our 2 biggest strengths. 1 being our sack happy D-line and 2 being our pass coverage which is the best in the league at this point (least yds allowed, 2nd most INTs).

The only thing that worries me coming into this game is special teams. Our foibles (good word) in this area have cost us big on numerous occasions. Tristan Jackson’s punt return TD was the catalyst to the Esks’ comeback last time. Hopefully Kitwana will be looking to knock his former team mates senseless.

Edmonton is not that good of a football team and if the Riders play anywhere close to their potential they should have no problem proving it on Sunday. Look for the Riders to come out pumped up for the hometown crowd and exact vengeance on the Esks for last time.

Riders by 10.

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