Thursday, September 23, 2010

Riders vs. Ti-Cats: On The Road Again

Saturday the 7-4 Riders travel to Hamilton to take on the 6-5 Ti-Cats. Both teams are coming off dramatic come from behind victory (though to be fair the Ti-Cats’ victory was aided by a blown reffing call and the repeated ineptness of BC). Outside of Edmonton and Winnipeg, the Riders boast the worst road record in the CFL having only managed 1 solitary victory on the road (which was also aided by the repeated ineptness of the Lions).

The roster could look very different from the last time we played. Some changes are being made because we want to, others because we have to. Under the “we want to category” is Joel Bell being made a starter again. He will replace Geno at tackle and Geno will move back to guard. This will approximately attempt number 27 to make Geno a guard. We have been trying to do it since 2008 but injuries always end up forcing him back outside (or in some cases to centre). With all due respect to Geno, Bell we be a massive upgrade at tackle due to his pure athleticism. Geno’s veteran savvy will be better put to use on the inside. The line played well against Calgary last week and should be even better this week. Also under “changes we want to make” it looks like Grice-Mullen will make his debut. If nothing else he will add speed to our return game… I say that because there really isn’t anything else he adds… other than maybe increasing our dreadlock ratio.

We will also be forced to make a couple changes due to injury. Hawkins and Chunky are both hurt so that means 2 DLs will get promoted from the PR. Though I’m still holding out hope that the Rider Prophet endorsed Ike Squared will make his debut it looks like Montez Murphy and Ryan Lucas will get the nod. Dang. Hamilton’s OL has been pretty solid so this group will have their work cut out for without 2 of their better players. Though since Jimenez has figured out how to intentionally injure players for the low cost of half a game’s salary I do worry about escaping this game without further injuries.

Coming into this season, I thought Hamilton was in for a big season. Given how bad they used to be, 2nd in the East is hardly something to complain about but the general consensus is that the Ti-Cats should be doing better. Though they are a game above .500, only 2 of their wins have come against a team with a winning record and those 2 were against Toronto which can hardly be considered a powerhouse.

Their record is really quite amazing given their talent laden roster. Kevin Glenn is 2nd in the league in TD passes. Arland Bruce is hands down the best receiver in the CFL. They have arguably the best LB group in the league and their front 4 is pretty good (and should only get better with the addition of Stevie Baggs). Many people will point to Marcus Thigpen as another star on there team… I will not. Thigpen went from the most underrated guy in the CFL to most overrated one in a matter of 3 weeks. Honestly what has he done since his monstrous first few games… the answer is be very average.

In terms of weaknesses, Hamilton has 2 key ones… well 3 if you include the fact their decision to invest heavily in Sandro DeAngelis has gone as well as previous high profile free agent acquisitions such as Kenton Keith and Casey Printers. Maybe Sandro just needs Eric Wilbur to beat the crap out of him so he feels more at home.

Weakness the first… Running Game. It is the worst in the CFL by a large margin. That is mainly due to the fact that people are finally realizing what I knew all along… DeAndra Cobb isn’t that good. I have no idea how he go it so many yards last year because he looked only slightly more impressive than Henri Childs. He is thus far averaging 60 yards per game. Admittedly Cates is faring only slightly better but at least he is a scoring machine. Plus Durant’s legs give our run game a boost. The threat of Glenn running ranks right up their with the threat of Nick Hutchins running a deep flag pattern in terms of things that concern a defense.

Weakness the second… Pass Coverage. Their secondary gives up a lot of yards through the air and there aren’t really any game changers in that group. That is where they are vulnerable.

Keys to the game are fairly obvious. Offensively we need to lean on Fantuz. We need to balance that by running Cates and Charles to keep the defense honest but the air is where we need to attack the Cats. Fantuz is coming off a career game but he second best game as a pro just so happens to have come at Ivor Wynne. Simply put good things happen when you throw to Fantuz… not only does he rack up the yards but it will also open things up for the other receiver (i.e. Dressler’s long TD). This of course will require a strong performance from our revamped O-line.

Defensively… For the love of god somebody cover Arland Bruce!! He pretty much had his way with our secondary last game en route to tying a CFL record. It was as if we were intentionally not covering him for how often he got open. That needs to change. Our pass coverage in general needs to be tight because Glenn is an accurate passer and Stala and McDaniel give him some legitimate options to work with. I’d add Maurice Mann but he needs illegal blocks in order to do anything of value.

After watching us go toe to toe with the best team in the CFL I’d really like to say the Riders should win this game. That said I have also watched all our other road games and for the most part they have been about as pretty as a Hamilton cheerleader. For some reason we just seem to forget how to be good when we leave Mosaic. Not sure if this is because the road schedule doesn’t allow our coaches their accustomed nap time or what. The Riders are a bad road team with a ton of roster changes facing a Ti-cat team at home that is generally intact. Logic would favour the Ti-Cats.

However, being a Rider fan for as long as I have you quickly learn that logic gets thrown out the window when it comes to the green and white. I think the dramatic win against the powerhouse Stamps will be the catalyst this team needs to take their game to the next level. Our pass protection is improving, our offense is showing some diversity and is starting to lean on our top play makers. We are making changes to address out weaknesses along the OL and in our return game. All signs that this team is heading in the right direction.

As usual we won’t do this the easy way but I expect a back and forth game that is decided late in the 4th quarter. Much to the chagrin of my heart…

Riders by Darian Durant rushing TD

TJ Karwandy

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