Saturday the 9-6 Riders take on the 5-10 Eskimos in front of an estimated crowd of 50,000 at Commonwealth. If you want a sign that things are good for the CFL, just look at ticket sales for this game. When you can sell that many tickets to a game featuring one of the worst teams in the league facing a team that has absolutely nothing to play for, you are doing pretty good. Though, given the current popularity of the Riders, the league could probably sell thousands of tickets to a lawn bowling tournament in Dildo, Newfoundland featuring the Riders. … It’s a real town, Google it… On second though maybe you should just take my work for it, doing a search for that town could lead to some unintended results… though if you are in to that sort of thing, Google away.
The final 3 games of the regular season will be very interesting for the Riders. Barring some sort of monumental choke by the Stamps (which is very unlikely but if there was a man capable of it, it would be Burris), they are essentially meaningless. All we are really playing for is pride and tuning up for the playoffs. It will be interesting to see how the team comes out given those circumstances. They could play it safe, protect players from injury and coast into the playoffs. They could also play hard, finish strong and gain momentum going into the playoffs... I expect a mixture of both.
Even though we have nothing to play for, we have lots to prove. We were supposed to be an odds on favourite to return to the Grey Cup and even though we are playoff bound we are heading there with a list of deficiencies that would put Toyota to shame. We have lost 2 straight (at home no less), we have no ground game (generally important come playoff time), we can’t stop the run, learning to tackle properly seems to be akin to learning quantum physics for our team and each week our special teams find a way to sink to a new low.
It’s kind of a sad statement on the level of competition in the league when a team can’t stop the run, can’t tackle, has no running games and has a special teams unit that is so terrible that you can’t even call them retarded since that would be extremely insulting to actual retards, yet is still among the top teams in the league.
It’s even sadder that a team that has scored the 2nd least points, have allowed the most points, commit more turnovers than anybody, had to fire their GM partway through the season and only won 3 of their first 12 games still has a good chance of making the playoffs.
Oh well at least the League can take solace in the fact that is hasn’t made any major public relations gaffes recently… oh wait. Awkward.
Don’t let my repeated listing of our team’s shortcomings fool you… I am actually not a doom and gloomer. Fact remains we are still a team that is laden with talent and despite the many issues we face, we have been competitive in all of our recent games (all but 2 of our loses were by a TD or less). Bottom line is we are playing at a high level despite having many glaring weaknesses. Hell as long as you have a talented QB you have a shot at winning any football game (just ask the Indy Colts). That said if we hope to accomplish anything in the playoffs we can’t afford to turn a blind eye to our problems, we need to start addressing them now.
Problem the 1st – Running the ball. Wes Cates started the year on fire racking up 400 yds on the ground in his first 4 games. Unfortunately in the ensuing 11 games he has mustered only 468 yds and has been held under 50 yards in 7 of those games). Hell, Darian Durant has out-rushed him on 4 occasions this year. Now admittedly this is not all Cates’ fault. For one, he ahs to deal with an OC who avoids running the ball like it was a diseased prostitute (unless you are into that sort of thing). Second, on those rare occasions when a running play mistakenly gets called, it is always a run up the middle for a negligible gain. There is zero commitment to the run and zero creativity. If we hope to ever have a formidable running attack we need to a) commit to it and b) change things up (test the edges with Charles, actually run a reverse instead of faking it all game, put both Cates and Charles in on the same play, run off tackle, anything). I realize that we are a pass first team but you need to at least make an effort to run to remain successful in this league.
Problem the 2nd – Stopping the run. Much like our running game started strong but then faded into the abyss, so too has our run D dropped off. In the first 6 games we allowed a team to exceed 100 yds rushing only once. In the ensuing 9 games we have kept teams under 120 yds rushing only twice. A major part of this is our inability to tackle. Might as well just have the D hold their hands behind their back like they are impersonating a sperm for as good as they are at wrapping up on initial contact (there’s a joke in there somewhere about wrapping up, initial contact and sperm but I won’t go there today). Our schemes also play a role in this Etch consistently subs out our big boys and lines up guys like Kitwana, Freeman and McCullough on D-line not exactly what you’d call a run stopping wall. If we want to stop the run we need to stack the box with big bodies and tackle properly.
Problem #3 - Special Teams. Since the logic solution of firing Daley doesn't appear to be on the table, I will decline further comment and just pray that no one else gets injured because of our ineptness in that area.
As a side note turns out our emergency back-up punter is Dinwiddie. I actually like that because it takes advantage of his biggest strength... getting the ball into the hands of the opposing team.
Since getting hired in Edmonton, Eric Tillman has done a good job of changing their attitude. He is also doing his best to bring in all his favourite players that he had with the Riders. Namely Joe Sykes, Mike Stadnyk, Carlo Thomas and most recently Jason Armstead. Armstead is a dangerous returner that the Esks were in need of. People on wondering what the best way is for the Riders to stop Arsmtead. I would say just fly in his girlfriend and give them a car. If hisotry has shown us nothing else its that that is guaranteed to end up with a gun related incident and the cops showing up.
My gut instinct would be to lean towards the Esks winning. Simply put, they care... we don't really have any reason to. However, I think Riders will be eager to atone for their last 2 loses and prove they are still a force to be reckoned with. That and I think the 50,000 plus fans will give the Rider the emotional boost they need to some out strong. Close game...
Riders by an Eddie Johnson FG.