Thursday, November 5, 2009
Riders vs. Stamps: First Place Showdown
The year was 1976, Pierre Trudeau was Prime Minister; the first Rocky movie dominated the box office; Iceland and the UK ended the infamous Cod War (that was a relief); Apple Computers, the Toronto Blue Jays and U2 were formed… 2 of the 3 went on to be highly successful while, with the exception of a mysterious 2 year span of success, the other settled into the perennial failure that Toronto sports teams are famous for. But more importantly (and I know you’re asking yourself what could possibly be more important than a war over cod)… ’76 was the last time that the Riders finished first in the West Division.
Saturday night the Riders have a chance to do it again.
The Riders and Stamps square off in a winner takes all showdown on Saturday. For the curling enthusiasts among you, the situation in the west is essentially a page playoff system now. 1st and 2nd place square off with the winner advancing directly to the final while the loser will play the winner of the 3-4 game for a second chance at qualifying for the final. The stakes are higher than that airship that Teddy Ruxpin and his comrades used to fly around in. Don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about.
The Stamps come into this game on somewhat of a hot streak, having lost only 1 of their previous 6 games. The Riders have lost only 1 of their past 4 games (unfortunately that 1 loss was a defeat about as embarrassing as the time that Man in the Bush violated that poor fan's watermelon helmet in celebration of our last win in Calgary).
Offensively the Stamps are loaded with weapons. Joffrey Reynolds is the top RB in the league, Rombie Bryant is enjoying a big resurgence, Jeremaine Copeland and fat ass Lewis are dangerous and of course Burris is a dual threat under center (by that I mean he can be dangerous to both his opponents and his own team). The thing with the Stampeders is that despite an arsenal of offensive weapons, the key to their success lies with one guy… Reynolds. They have only lost twice when he has exceeded 100 yards rushing but have struggled when he doesn’t. That’s a big concern because a) the Riders aren’t that good at stopping RBs in general and b) the Riders are even worse at stopping Reynolds specifically (he has amassed 242 yds and 3 TDs along the ground against us in 2 games).
Defensively the Stamps are not really that impressive. This is partially due to complete instability. After winning the Grey Cup based on strong defensive play they pretty much replaced every starter over the offseason. Then they realized that that group sucked and replaced most of them by midseason… and seem to have replaced a bunch a people again once more just for fun. They feature 2 of the most overrated defensive players in the league in Brandon Browner and Tim Johnson (who is as useless as Viagra to a unick in pass coverage). They aren’t a terrible unit but as we showed last time, they can be exploited for big yards. Not to mention they rank among the worst in the league in sacks and INTs. Surprising as it may be though they are one of the most penalized teams in the league.
Despite an embarrassing performance last week, the Riders have some things working in their favour this week. Lance Frazier will be back in the line-up to help solidify things in the secondary. Gerran Walker is healthy again and his speed should help open up our passing game. Also the flu bug seems to have worked its way through the team so they should now be able to focus on the game as opposed to the location of the nearest garbage can, toilet or opposing player’s helmet.
The keys to the game are simple. Defensively we need to eliminate Reynolds and keep Henry in the pocket. When Reynolds can’t bail him out and Burris can’t escape the pocket and run himself, he starts to make mistakes and against a defense that is #2 against the pass and #2 in takeways, I like our odds of success. So Etch I’m begging you, please, please, please do something to stop the run… I would suggest doing the exact opposite of what you did the last time we faced Reynolds.
Offensively, we need Darian Durant to show up. At his best Double D makes clutch throws, controls the ball and puts up points. At his worst he makes me wonder when we re-signed Nealon Greene and made him our starter again. He needs to have his head in the game from the first snap and take command of the offense. Other than a couple games that I’ll assume were flukes, the Riders haven’t had a relevant ground game for most of the season so yet again I’m going to go ahead and assume we won’t suddenly discover how to run this week, so it’ll be up to Durant and the receivers to chew up yards. The bonus will be if Durant starts playing well it will make Burris jealous meaning he will quit handing off the ball and try to be the hero (which as history shows, leads to tragically hilarious results).
This is by far the biggest regular season game played at Mosaic in a long, long time. Win and we are only one more win away from getting to the Grey Cup. The energy at the stadium will be off the charts (much like my heart rate). Traditionally, the Riders aren’t a team that does well with seizing opportunity in the regular season but I believe this year will be different. They will come out fired up in front of the home crowd and fight hard for 60 minutes (yes we will even show up for the 3rd quarter). The Riders have that precious first week bye in their grasp and they will no let it slip away.
Riders by a Luca Congi field goal in the final minute of play. (Hopefully someone sitting near me is trained in first aid and CPR because I will be in absolute shambles if it goes down as I predict).
One last bit of Rider news for you…
It seems former Rider Yo Murphy is enjoying his retirement (and enjoying may be an understatement). Yo has landed himself a job as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Breeze of the newly formed Lingerie Football League. The man played in the Super Bowl, won 2 Grey Cups and a World Bowl and now he is spending his retirement coaching scantily clad hot women… I am insanely jealous. I wonder if he needs an athletic trainer, equipment manager or massage therapist to help him out. What I lack in actual qualifications, I will more than make up for in enthusiasm.