It has now been 2 full weeks since the Riders last played. While I’m sure the players were grateful for the break, us fans were certainly not. For a football junkie such as myself, having to spend 2 Rider-less weeks is more excruciating than a Celine Dion/Justin Beiber marathon. I tried filling the void with pre-season NFL but that’s only good for about 6 plays. Then the starters call it a day and I steadily lose interest. I also tried filling the void with East Division CFL games… but again that only provided about 6 good plays.
Anywho, the long wait is finally over as the 5-2 Riders return to the field to take on the 1-6 Eskimos at Commonwealth Stadium. Over 45,000 tickets have already been sold for this game. No doubt the increased demand for tickets is coming from Edmontonians who want to support their team and rally behind them… oh hell I can’t even type that with a straight face! Rider fans are yet again set to descend on an opposing team’s stadium and turn it into a home game for the green and white.
The massive ticket sales for Saturday’s game is about the only thing going right for the Eskimo organization at this point. They have only won 1 game this season, they fired their GM, the names being floated around for a replacement GM include Ed Hervey and Warren Moon (who have absolutely no experience as a GM), they fired 2 assistant coaches, they want to fire their head coach but can’t because the other coaches they employ are far too inept to replace him with (so by default they are forced to keep him), their top receiver is hurt, their franchise QB is just coming back from injury and their only decent defender has cancer according to some reports… oh, check that, he is reported to be a cancer, my bad (wish I had clued into that before sending him that card). And that is just is a list of what is going wrong off the field. On the field, there is a whole new list of concerns.
While people in Edmonton seemed to be shocked by the sudden collapse of their storied franchise, people outside the organization have seen this coming for years. The day the salary cap came into effect, Edmonton’s days at the top became numbered. While other GMs adapted well to the cap and made the necessary roster adjustments to remain competitive, Maciocia’s big plan was to pay Ricky Ray a lot of money and assume he could carry a roster full of inexpensive and talentless players to victory. This plan failed miserably because though Ray was good, when he had no O-Line, run game, Canadian talent, defense or competent coaching to support him, he just couldn’t carry the whole team. The problem was further compounded because rather than recruiting and drafting talented players to address their weaknesses, the Esks simply assumed that throwing a truckload of money at an all-star MLB would fix everything. Again, though Lloyd was good, to the shock of the Eskimos he was not able to single-handedly make their crappy defense awesome, turn their piss poor Canadian content into something of value or make their coaches less retarded.
But enough about the myriad of reasons that the Eskimos are screwed, let’s talk about the game.
Simply put there is a lot wrong with the Esks. They have committed a league high 24 turnovers compared to a league low 10 takeaways. They have scored the 2nd least points of anyone so far. They have allowed more points than anyone. They have atrocious run defense (allowing an average of 164 yds per game). They have the 2nd least sacks and they have an O-line that is only slightly better than BC’s which isn’t really a compliment. It’s kinda like being an Asian among eunuchs.
But despite all this, they still aren’t a team that can be taken lightly. They have Arkee Whitlock who I think is one of the best RBs in the league. Last time Ricky Ray used Fred Stamps to shred our secondary. Stamps may be hurt but Ray still has Jason Barnes (who I think is an underrated receiver) and Kelly Campbell who is very dangerous… at least those rare time where he’s not freelancing, being lazy or just mentally checked out of a game.
The Riders get many favourable match-ups in this contest. Our league leading rushing attack gets to face an embarrassingly bad run D. Our potent offensive attack gets to face a defense that gets scored on more often than a drunk girl with low self esteem. Our sack happy defense gets to face an O-line that must have some personal vendetta against Ricky Ray given the amount of time they let defenders through.
Defensively the keys to the game are stop the run and get pressure. I know we got shredded through the air last game but the key to beating the Esks is to make them one dimensional. If we can take Whitlock out of the equation it will allow our pass rushers to pin their ears back and attack the QB. Their O-line sucks and I’m convinced Ricky Ray is coming back too soon so if we can get a few good hits in on him, the passing game will quickly start to crumble. Ricky Ray loves the short passes… actually its pretty much all he can do anymore. Interesting stat for you: Ray is completing close to 70% of his passes but is 5th in passing yards and has less TDs than any QB who doesn’t wear an orange jersey. Ray is extremely risk averse. We need tight coverage on the short-medium routes which will force Ray to either make bad passes or hold the ball longer allowing our pass rush to get there.
Offensively, we need to exploit their inability to stop the run. We need to go to Cates early and often to chew up yards and move the chains. Durant’s ability to run will be a difference maker in this game as well. I see 1 rushing TD or 2 in store for him. Fresh off a week in the film room, Durant’s reads and decision making should be improved. As long as he doesn’t turn the ball over, the ground game should open things up for our receivers. Whichever crappy safety the Esks decide to start should be very exploitable.
The Esks can be dangerous but their O-line and their defense as a whole are just too big of a weakness to overcome against a talented team like the Riders. While I expect them to come out motivated to play and to play a decent game, bottom line is … Eskimos Suck! (which coincidentally is the title of a weird fetish movie that Man In The Bush just purchased off the internet…though I would have preferred if he had not shared that information with me).
Riders by 10.