Its time for the annual Rider Prophet Team road trip. This weekend Man in the Bush, Media Consultant and myself will be hitting the road to go see the Riders take on the Stampeders in a first place showdown. Normally a good boss would reward his employees’ hard work by covering their expenses. That will definitely not be happening in this case for a number of reasons. #1 – I am not, nor have I ever pretended to be, a good boss. I tend to subscribe to the sweatshop style of management. #2 – my employees don’t work hard. I would be better off replacing Media Consultant with a monkey (and believe me I’ve tried, unfortunately it truly is the blurst of times) and Man In the Bush’s only tangible contribution to this site of late has been being the punch line for my jokes. #3 – This blog currently lags behind buskers, dumpster divers and sweatshop employees in terms of yearly income. But being the generous boss that I am, I will not leave my employees empty handed. They will be offered first choice of items to pilfer from our hotel room. Choose wisely my friends.
Onto the game…
Last time the Riders played in Calgary I had an ominous feeling that we were going to lose… mainly because Calgary looked to be the better team. This time around I have that same ominous feeling but for a very different reason. I’m convinced we have enough talent on this team to go head to head with the Stamps, the problem is our propensity for choking. For as long as I’ve been following the Riders headlines such as “Riders Have Chance At 1st” and “Riders Control Their Own Destiny” tend to be followed up by headlines such as “Riders Blow It Again”, “Riders Come Up Short” and “Michael Bishop Is A Giant Piece Of Dog Feces”. We always seem to come up short when we get a chance at first place.
The Stamps come into this game reeling from 4 straight lacklustre performances, though there’s no real reason why they should be sucking. Their defense is second best in the league in points allowed and third best in total yards. Their offense has scored the 3rd most points, has allowed the 2nd least giveaways and sacks and features the top running game in the CFL. How can you explain their struggles despite this embarrassment of riches? Two words… Henry Burris.
He has three former 1000 yard receivers to throw to, the best RB in the league to take the pressure off, a solid O-line to protect him, a defense that can keep games close and is blessed with 3 of the top offensive coaches in the league… yet he still manages to suck. Good Ol’ Hank, nobody can choke quite like him. In his past 4 games he has only 1 TD and 4 INTs while struggling to complete 50% of his passes. Actually that 4 game span coincides with when Ryan Thelwell went down to injury. Who knew he was the key to this offense?
The problem is you just know Burris is capable of breaking out of this funk at any time. With him struggling, the key to beating the Stamps will be to eliminate Reynolds. If we force Burris to try and win the game by himself by beating us through the air you just know he will self destruct and serve up the patented Burris turnover trifecta. I’m confident in our secondary’s ability to cover the Stamps receivers so it’s up to our front 7 to stop the run and just as important, keep Burris contained in the pocket and knock him on his ass.
Offensively, we need consistent production. We are the #2 scoring offense in the league (and have the most TDs) so we know we are able to put up points… we just need to do it consistently (cough… 3rd quarter… cough). The Stamps corners are above all else ball hawks, douche bags and overrated as well, but ball hawks nonetheless. Durant needs to make smart passes and exploit the corners with pump fakes and double moves. Strong running by Wes Cates was a key to victory last time around and we will need another strong performance to help keep Burris on the bench crying about his most recent INT. As always, win the battle in the trenches, win the game.
One area that does concern me is special teams. While it seems that our return game is finally kicking into high gear, we will unfortunately have to endure Luca Congi’s punts and kickoffs on the other side of things. Just so you're fully aware of how bad Luca is when it comes to kickoffs, he is currently dead last in the league in that department and has thus far been bested by the following “kicking sensations”: BC backup DB Tad Crawford, Hamilton receiver Dave Stala and currently unemployed RB Jarrett Payton. Hopefully Luca will step up his game a bit because if not that could put immense pressure on the cover team and defense.
Calgary will come out strong and if I were a betting man (which I most certainly am) I’d say Nik Lewis will reach the endzone for the first time this year. However, I think the Riders’ resiliency will shine through in the end and Rob Bagg will be the hero as he fills in for Weston Dressler.
Riders by 3 in yet another game that takes years off my life expectancy due to immense stress.
In other news…
Huge news is breaking today that Andy Fantuz has agreed to a contract extension with the Riders. We are still awaiting official confirmation but this absolutely awesome news!
There are some new faces appearing at practice this week. DE Willie Evans was added to the practice roster. The Riders also traded a 5th round pick in 2010 and conditional 2011 pick to Toronto for OL Cliff Washburn. More importantly they brought in a pair of kickers to hopefully help out with punting and kick offs. First was Ryan Elaschuk of Edmonton Wildcats fame (well okay, fame is probably not the right word) and second was Louie Sakoda of Utah Utes fame (and in this case fame is an accurate word since he was one of the top kickers in the NCAA last year). We actually acquired Sakoda’s negotiation rights from Winnipeg in exchange for the neg rights to QB DJ Shockley. Hopefully one of these 2 can get up to speed quickly because our only other option is to teach a horse to kick and that is apparently against the rules anyway.