Friday, October 29, 2010

Riders vs. Lions: Halloween Spooktacular

Welcome to this Friday edition Canada’s Best Sports Blog (just so you know I will be finding ways of incorporating that into everything I write from now on)...

Sunday the 9-7 Riders travel to BC to take on the 6-10 Lions on Halloween. For the Riders this is a meaningless game and all they are really playing for is pride and to get tuned up for the playoffs. By contrast the Lions are in a fight with the Esks for the final playoff spot. The Esks hold the tie breaker so a loss to the Riders plus a home win by the Esks over the last place and QB-less Bombers (which is only moderately more difficult than beating an amputee in a boxing match) will end the Lions season. Bottom line the Lions are desperate.

The West Division has undergone a head scratching role reversal. Through the first 11 games the Stamps and Riders went a combined 16 and 6 while the Lions and Esks went an embarrassing 5 and 17. It was pretty much assumed that there were 2 tiers in the West and it was a forgone conclusion that the Riders and Stamps would be in the West Final. However, in the past 5 games the Lions and Esks have suddenly woken up and have gone a combined 7 and 3. By contrast, the “super powers” of the West have gone a combined 4 and 6. If the season were much longer I wonder how different the playoff picture might look.

The Riders come into this game on a 3 game losing streak (their worst in 2 years). While the game itself doesn’t really matter in terms of the outcome to Riders, they do need to start making improvements in their play if they hope to any kind of success come playoffs… unless of course this whole thing is just a crazy scheme by the coaching staff to make the other teams think we suck before opening the playbook wide open on Nov 14th and be completely dominant. … What? A man can dream can’t he?

Durant is clearly hurt. He is the top rushing QB in the CFL yet over the past 3 games he has only run the ball 5 times. As a passer, Durant is at his best when he is moving around, rolling out and making the defense respect the fact that at any time he could take off for a big gain. But since his leg is obviously not healthy he just sits there. This allows the pass rushers to just pin their ears back and attack. They know where he’s going to be and they don’t have to worry about him running or even handing the ball off for that matter… advantage defense.

Personally I would not let Durant touch the field. Let him rest up. He still has one more regular season game to get tuned up for the playoffs but if we keep subjecting him to the wear and tear of a game he won’t heal and we will be left with a QB who by comparison would make Jim Hopson look mobile while giving Chunky a piggy back. That said, it looks like a complete benching is not in the cards so I just pray they pull Durant early. Treat it like a preseason game. Not that I really want to see Dinwiddie on the field but for the greater good of the team I’d be willing to endure it.

Despite their recent victories I still don’t believe that BC is a very good football team. Basically their game plan has been assume Yonus Davis can return all kicks to within FG range, do next to nothing offensively and have Paul McCallum kick for 3 and repeat. If that fails either have Lulay run for his life or check it down to Robertson. The thing is, as ridiculous and terrible as that plan is… it keeps working! Barring Yonus Davis getting hurt or some sort of erroneous roster submission that prevents McCallum from playing (and really, what are the odds of that?), I expect this plan to continue. Unless of course they want to try the screen play to the O-lineman trick again.

Wally Buono is not blind… his tendency to squint all the time suggest some visual difficulties but he’s not completely blind… he will have seen what the 3 weaknesses of the Riders are and be prepared to attack them. Offensively: run the ball all day. Defensively: send more blitzers than there are blockers since we don’t really do hot routes. Special Teams: Be adequate and you will completely overwhelm us. Hell short of having all 12 of your special teams guys turtle on every play, you will have a good chance at big plays against us.

In the 2 previous meetings, the Riders completely manhandled the Lions and embarrassed them worse than the time Man in the Bush found out the hard way that a Cleveland steamer is not a sauna from Ohio. They have the worst O-line in the league, a laughable passing attack and the worst run defense in the CFL (yes it is somehow worse than ours). Problem being, we’re not really great at pressuring the QB and don’t run the ball so only 1 of those deficiencies really helps us much.

Keys to the game offensively are to get Durant back in sync with his receivers (particularly Fantuz). Tad Crawford is far from an elite safety so there is bound to be match-ups that can be exploited for big yards. Given BC’s inability to stop the run, logic would dictate a heavy dose of Cates or Charles… but we don’t really believe in that so I’m no holding my breath.

Defensively, do everything you can to stop both Robertson and Lulay from running. Lulay is not a very gifted passer. He has thrown only 3 TDs in his past 5 games and statistically speaking is only slightly better than Cleo Lemon (which is a more polite way of saying he’s crap). Stack the box and go to man coverage on the receivers. BC won’t beat us through the air. Actually, if we are serious about stopping the run we should just make Doug Berry our Defensive Coordinator… he seems to have an innate ability to make the run a non-factor.

Lastly, we need to stop Yonus Davis on the returns. I think he is the most dangerous returner in the CFL and is the guy I fear the most on the Lions’ roster. If we keep him in check, BC’s chances of winning drop faster than a drunk guy’s standards.

As much as I’d like to believe that the Riders will come out strong and make a statement and stomp the Lions, you have to factor in the fact they we simply don’t care about the end result and their season will likely hinge on the end result. Let’s not forget that BC has beaten the Stamps twice this year so they are no pushover.

I’d like to think that this team will rally, if for no other reason than they are sick of fielding questions about the losing streak, and I honestly expect us to play better than we have the past 3 weeks. That said my gut instinct says a road game that we’d don’t care about equals a loss.

Lions by 3

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